Year after year, SEC fans are used to seeing a conference teams playing in January with a national title at stake. For the ACC, though, it’s a bit different.
Monday night’s College Football Playoff final between Alabama and Clemson will, in fact, be a relative rarity in ACC history.
If the Tigers upset the defending champion Crimson Tide, the victory would mark only the seventh championship for an ACC team since the conference formed in 1953. Florida State (which became a full-fledged ACC member in 1992) has three championships during that span, while Clemson (1981), Georgia Tech (1990, shared with Colorado) and Maryland (1953) have one each since the league formed.
How many times has an ACC team played for a national title in a bowl? The answer: Not a lot.
Historically, the SEC holds by far the stronger résumé — the conference has won more national championships since 2000 than the ACC has earned in its entire existence.
It’s more complicated than it looks, though, because some ACC teams that have captured national titles (like Miami and Pittsburgh) weren’t part of the conference when they won them. Maryland, on the other hand, won the 1953 national championship (then determined by the vote in the polls before the bowls, not after) while in the conference, even though they’ve since left for the Big Ten.
For these purposes, the list includes only bowls in which a team then in the ACC was ranked first in the country at the time, or had a realistic chance to win the title with a victory.
Four times before this year, an SEC power was on the opposite side of the ACC’s quest. And when SEC and ACC teams have battled for a national championship, the SEC teams are 3-1.
1981 season, Orange Bowl: Clemson 22, Nebraska 15
The Tigers entered 11-0 and ranked No. 1, and had the chance to claim their first championship with a victory over No. 4 Nebraska. They used two Nebraska turnovers to jump out to a 22-7 lead and held on. Clemson managed only 289 yards, but a defense led by linebacker Jeff Davis and safety Terry Kinard contained the Huskers’ powerful ground game of Mike Rozier and Roger Craig.
1990 season, Citrus Bowl: Georgia Tech 45, Nebraska 21
It isn’t often that the Citrus Bowl decides the national title. Georgia Tech quarterback Shawn Jones starred as both passer and runner as the Yellow Jackets overwhelmed Nebraska, a performance dominant enough that the unbeaten-but-once-tied Yellow Jackets jumped from second to first in the coaches’ poll following the game. Their reward was a share of the national title along with Colorado, which was ranked first in The Associated Press poll.
1993 season, Orange Bowl: Florida State 18, Nebraska 16
Despite many close calls, this was Bobby Bowden’s first national championship. Though Florida State’s Charlie Ward and Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier led offenses that ranked among the nation’s best, the game turned into a low-scoring but intense contest. Nebraska kicker Byron Bennett booted a go-ahead field goal inside the last two minutes, but Ward engineered a drive to set up Scott Bentley for a winning kick with 21 seconds to go. When Nebraska’s Bennett missed a long kick as time expired, the Seminoles were champions for the first time.
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