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Where Does Clemson’s NCAA Football Championship Rank Among ACC Title Winners?

The Tigers were very, very good in the national title game.

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College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 07: The Clemson Tigers celebrate their 44-16 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Levi’s Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

USA Today just rated the national champions in football over the last 15 years. The newspaper put 15-0 Clemson, which beat a pair of undefeated, top-5 opponents in Notre Dame and Alabama in the FBS playoffs, as No. 1 among No. 1’s. That seems correct.

Writer Paul Myerberg didn’t employ any particular metrics, although he did point out the Tigers’ defense was the nation’s best, its offense third. He also ranked Florida State’s 2013 champs, led by reputed repeat sexual molester Jameis Winston, second-best since 2004, citing especially the team’s 42-point average margin of victory.

We’d been thinking of comparisons along similar lines, but rather in regard to the qualities of the eight national champions from the ACC between 1953 and 2018.

Three squads can immediately be dropped behind the others in rating overall excellence.

Georgia Tech in 1990 was the champion according to UPI, but shared the recognition with the more widely recognized AP winner, Colorado. The Jackets also were tied at unranked UNC in an era before overtimes were played.

Clemson in 1981 was terrific and undefeated, but its title was tainted by cheating in recruiting under coaches Charlie Pell and Danny Ford. Two years of NCAA probation and a third meted out by the ACC followed. (Yes, the conference used to weigh in on punishment, too.)

Maryland finished as the nation’s top-ranked team at the conclusion of the 1953 regular season, the ACC’s first, while playing only three games against league opponents – Clemson, North and South Carolina. Then it got shut out by Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

That leaves the five most recent champs from the ACC, of whom only Clemson just now and FSU in 1999 and 2013 went undefeated. FSU in ’93 and ’13 had the additional distinction of boasting Heisman Trophy winners in quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Winston, respectively.

Interesting to note that three different ACC teams topped Nebraska to win the title, official or otherwise.

Pitt (9), Miami (5), Georgia Tech (3), Maryland (1) and Boston College (1) claim national championships prior to joining the ACC. Notre Dame claims 11 or 13, according to varying sources.

ACC Football Squads Recognized as Major College Champions While In League
Team Year Record Final Game Rankings Opponent
Clemson 2018 15-0 44-16 2 beat 1 Alabama
Clemson 2016 14-1 35-31 2 beat 1 Alabama
Florida State 2013 14-0 34-31 1 beat 2 Auburn
Florida State 1999 12-0 46-29 1 beat 2 Virginia Tech
Florida State 1993 12-1 18-16 1 beat 2 Nebraska
Georgia Tech 1990 11-0-1 45-21 2 beat 19 Nebraska
Clemson 1981 12-0 22-15 1 beat 4 Nebraska
Maryland 1953 10-1 0-7 4 beat 1 Oklahoma

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