Last year, Clemson contributed to the ACC’s ongoing BCS bowl woes with one of the most embarrassing performances in the history of the Discover Orange Bowl.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is not a BCS bowl game, but this year’s matchup between No. 14 Clemson and No. 8 LSU has the feel of one and will present the ACC with a similar opportunity to make a national statement. This will be the highest-ranked team Clemson has faced in a bowl game since the 2003 season, when the Tigers upset No. 6 Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.
This season, Clemson has a chance not only to redeem itself and help fans forget last year’s loss to West Virginia, but also to give the ACC a much-needed boost after one of the worst regular seasons in league history. The ACC hasn’t had a winning record against the SEC since 2003, and it hasn’t had a winning bowl record since 2005.
Clemson has a chance to help right the ship, but those within the program are far more concerned about their own program than they are carrying the banner for the entire conference
“We’re just trying to win an 11th game,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “We have a chance to finish in the top 10. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to do anything other than do something special at Clemson and be the best we can be. To win 11 games at Clemson, that’s only happened a handful of times in the history of our program so that’s really all we’re focused on. All the rest of that stuff is pretty irrelevant to be honest with you.”
Center Dalton Freeman agreed.
“We have a lot of respect for LSU because they’re a consistent team and that’s what we’re trying to become, is consistent,” he said. “The past couple of years, we’ve showcased that but to take our program to the next level and to be in the national spotlight, such as LSU the way they’ve done it year in and year out, we have to win games like this.”
Clemson squandered a similar opportunity in its regular-season finale, a fourth straight loss to rival South Carolina. The ACC enters the Chick-fil-A Bowl with a 1-5 record against its SEC opponents this year with a win over Auburn and losses to Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and South Carolina.
LSU will present similar challenges to Clemson, especially up front. Clemson allowed the Gamecocks 4.5 sacks, and LSU’s defense is averaging 2.5 per game. Despite the loss to South Carolina, Clemson is still in the midst of a successful run under Swinney.
Clemson recorded its 10th victory of the year, including its seventh in a row, in a 62-48 win over NC State on November 17. It is the first time since the 1987-90 era that Clemson has had consecutive 10-win seasons. Last year, Clemson was 10-4 and won the ACC championship.
A win over LSU would prove Clemson is ready to take the next step and contend for the national title, but it would also be a major win for the struggling ACC.
“It’s a big challenge,” running back Andre Ellington said. “We’re ready for it. It’s just a great opportunity to take our program to the next level, that’s what we’re shooting for here at Clemson.”