As the 2015 season fades and gives way to 2016, we're taking one of our last looks at the departing season. The ACC had its share of spectacular games, from the national-title contest to an improbable eight-lateral marvel, and we're picking our best five.
But we're taking a look at the future as well, selecting our five most compelling games to come in 2016.
2015’s best games
No. 1: Clemson vs. Alabama
All that’s left is the name. What endearing label will college football fans call Alabama’s onside kick to flip control of the national championship? Or is the “OnTide Kick” finalized?
The New Year’s Six games were a letdown, but college football saved its best for last in the national championship game, a 45-40 Alabama victory.
Clemson and coach Dabo Swinney, whose authenticity made him one of the great stories of 2015, were a quarter from the program’s first national title since 1981. The Tigers led 24-21 entering the final period, but an Alabama field goal tied the game before Nick Saban made the call that secured his place among the Mount Rushmore of college coaches.
On the ensuing kickoff, Saban called for a pop kick. It nestled safely in the arms of freshman Marlon Humphrey, and the Tide scored two plays later to take a touchdown lead.
Behind Deshaun Watson, who put together one of the best performances in a national title game, the Tigers were able to keep putting together scoring possessions in the fourth quarter to stay within striking distance. Yet Clemson’s failures in the secondary and on kickoff coverage allowed Alabama to remain far enough head to claim its fourth national title since 2009.
2016’s most compelling games
No. 1: Clemson at Florida State
This game has been circled since the 2015 season ended. Now, fans can finally circle a date. Clemson will travel to Florida State on Oct. 29.
The last five winners of this game won the conference. The last three winners went on to either the playoff or the national championship game.
Entering 2016, both are on the short list as national title contenders. Clemson returns Watson and nearly its entire offense. Florida State returns every starter on offense and 21 players from its two-deep chart.
The average margin of victory in their last two meetings is eight points, and both came down to the final moments. The 2014 game ended in overtime with Sean Maguire at quarterback and Jameis Winston streaking across the field in jeans and a baseball cap. Last season’s meeting wasn’t settled until Clemson scored a touchdown with 2:34 left.
It’s a game already billed as a potential playoff eliminator in the same vein as the annual Alabama-LSU game. If the last two years are any indication, this will be among the best games of the ACC season in 2016.