Found October 31, 2011 on Fox Sports Carolinas:
Clemson's run is over, and with it so are the ACC's chances at national relevance come December. This will mark the 11th straight season an ACC team won't factor in the national championship picture, and all the league will try to hang its hat on are a stretch coming up versus Notre Dame, the annual end-of-season rivalry games with SEC teams and the mostly forgettable bowls its teams are aligned. But there's a different feel to the league's return to its usual place among the conferences that receive automatic spots in the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Clemson's 8-0 start generated legitimate enthusiasm and excitement, not just in South Carolina's Upstate, but throughout the ACC. Fans from every school were paying close attention to the Tigers. Many might not admit it, but a lot of folks wanted Clemson to run the table to give the ACC a place on the grandest stage, or at least finish the season unbeaten and forcing the national pundits to take notice. The wait has been a long one, and the hunger for establishing that relevance is intense. Even some North Carolina fans figured if it meant Clemson would have a chance at playing for a national title and ending the jokes about ACC football it was worth losing two weeks ago. A Georgia Tech fan said something similar just last week. But the Yellow Jackets found their September form and took care of Dabo Swinney's Tigers, 31-17, ending Clemson's and the ACC's dreams. But not all is lost. If Clemson wins out, which means winning at South Carolina to close the regular season, beats Virginia Tech in the ACC title game in Charlotte, and then wins the Orange Bowl, the Tigers at 13-1 can still finish ranked in the top five. The Hokies can finish 12-2 and also close among the top 10. If Georgia Tech goes 10-3 it will be in the top 15 and Florida State has a really good chance at ending up 10-3, as well, and also ranked among the top 15-18 teams in the nation. That would be a pretty nice finish for a league that just might be turning the corner, and will go into next season optimistic one of its teams could produce another exciting run like Clemson's. Maybe it will be the Tigers, who might be ranked No. 1 preseason next year if they win out this fall. Most of its skill-position players on offense will be back. Tajh Boyd will return under center, Sammy Watkins still has two more years wearing orange and purple, DeAndre Hopkins is just a sophomore, and so on. Plus Swinney will have been through it, so it won't be so new to him. Experience can only help. Florida State will have quarterback E.J. Manuel back plus many of its key players. This season was supposed to be FSU's return to its former dominant self. But that suggestion was obviously premature. Maybe that happens next year, instead. Virginia Tech can't help but improve offensively next season, as quarterback Logan Thomas should make major strides in the spring and summer, and the Hokies will be pretty stout defensively. So there's certainly hope the ACC can make an even stronger push next fall, but the only real reason that optimism is possible is because of the ride Clemson just gave the league. The Tigers weren't the best team in the country, we all knew that. But they were the best story for a while, and from the moment they touched Howard's Rock and ran down The Hill before the Auburn game until Boyd's interception in the fourth quarter Saturday night, they ignited a flame in this league that hadn't been lit for a while. Clemson made the ACC relevant enough that some national voices, who have almost seemingly purposely avoided discussion about ACC football, were forced to. That in and of itself is a small victory.
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