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ACC morning links

12/29/2014

Clemson routed Oklahoma, 40-6, on Monday night to win the Russell Athletic Bowl and lift the ACC to a 3-4 mark so far in the postseason. Depending on one's view of Notre Dame, or the ACC, or the program and league's arrangement, one or two more opportunities await the league Tuesday, against high-profile SEC opponents.

These are the games -- outside of the obvious New Year's Six games -- that the ACC needs to win to help turn around its national perception. The Tigers did their part in resounding fashion in Orlando, Florida, and it was a win that could go a long way toward reshaping the league's image.

Think about it: Everyone knows reigning national champion and current Playoff team Florida State, but the ACC needs to establish more national players. Clemson re-asserted this season, and specifically on Monday night, that it is darn close to that conversation, if not already there. Four straight 10-win seasons? A 34-point rout of a brand-name opponent, with much-maligned back-up quarterback Cole Stoudt leading the charge, no less? It certainly helps that the Tigers have scheduled aggressively as well, with South Carolina, Auburn and Texas A&M all on-deck in the next four years.

The fact that Clemson lost its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a season ago and still managed to reach double-digit win totals speaks volumes about the operation that Dabo Swinney is running. Throw in the fact that they had to work around the injuries that their stud freshman quarterback endured, and that they had to overcome the loss of their offensive coordinator — Chad Morris, who took the SMU head job — and Clemson's 2014 looks all the more impressive.

The decision by Swinney to bring aboard defensive coordinator Brent Venables from Oklahoma never looked more brilliant than it did against the Sooners, when the Tigers' top-ranked defense dominated from start to finish. The program has come a long way from its 70-33 meltdown against West Virginia in the Orange Bowl three seasons ago, as it has now won its last three bowl games, all against programs that have won national titles since the turn of the century (LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma).

Clemson will now say goodbye to the winningest senior class in school history (42), a group heavy on defensive star power, one that joins just three other programs in winning 10-plus games in the past four years (Alabama, Oregon, Northern Illinois). But the Tigers should return a Heisman Trophy candidate under center in 2015 — provided that Deshaun Watson is healthy — along with a number of standout offensive weapons (Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott and Mike Williams among them).

We probably learned more about the direction of Clemson through its ups-and-downs of this season than we had in recent years, and the possibilities that still await Swinney and the Tigers have to be enticing to the fan base.

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