CHARLOTTE — The Clemson takeover at ACC football Atlantic Division media day began in the morning with senior guard John Simpson making the rounds on radio row playing the role of Trevor Lawrence, complete with a wig of long, flowing blond locks.
The quarterback who directed the Tigers to the national championship last season as a freshman did not attend the event Wednesday at the Westin Charlotte, but Simpson proved a capable stand-in, calling himself “John Lawrence” and brushing his hair back in a manner that would have made Fabio proud.
“A lot of guys wanted Trevor to come. They really didn’t want to see me, obviously,” Simpson said, smiling. “So I was like, ‘This would be a great thing to do.’ Just represent him, represent Clemson.’ ”
Then came remarks from ACC Commissioner John Swofford to open a session that essentially morphed into an infomercial for the launch of ACC Network on Aug 22. It also could have served as an announcement introducing the Clemson Television Network.
Among the first pieces of original programming set to air on ACC Network, according to network officials, is titled, “Greatest Ever: The 2018 Clemson Tigers.” The 30-minute special chronicles the Tigers’ run through the College Football Playoff, culminating in a 44-16 win against Alabama.
“The fact that Clemson has won two of the last three national championships, timing couldn’t be better from a business standpoint and from a network standpoint,” Swofford said. “That kind of competitive success, as I said, it just simply is good for business.”
Coming off a historic 15-0 season, the first in modern major college football history, Clemson enters 2019 as the prohibitive favorite to run away with the conference title and extend its record of consecutive victories in the ACC championship game to five.
Last season the Tigers outscored opponents by an average of more than 31 points, including hanging 77 on Louisville and 59 on Florida State, the only other school to win at least four straight ACC championships.
They set school records for points (664) and total offense (7,718 yards, an ACC record) and led the country in scoring defense (13.1 points per game) for the first time.
The only other ACC school last season to win double-digit games was Syracuse, which lost to the Tigers —playing some of the game without an injured Lawrence — 27-23, during the regular season. Syracuse finished 10-3, underscoring the disparity between Clemson and the conference’s 13 other members.
“If it stayed that way forever, it’d be a problem,” said ACC Network analyst Mark Richt, a former coach at Miami and Georgia. “But that’s not going to happen. I’m not saying Clemson won’t be great for a long time, but if other teams rise up and take a share of those championships, even if you have two or three strong teams that could beat anybody in America, that’d be good.”
Tim Hasselbeck, also an analyst for ACC Network, pointed to the Seminoles’ superiority in the 1990s under coach Bobby Bowden, who led Florida State to nine straight ACC titles before Virginia Tech joined the conference in 2004 and won four of the next seven.
“I don’t think I will ever say that it’s unhealthy for a program that seems to have built it the right way that that’s a bad thing,” Hasselbeck, who played quarterback at Boston College and in the NFL, said of Clemson. “Sometimes having a target to go after can help everybody else.”
Still, there remain questions about the overall strength of the ACC compared to other Power Five conferences, most notably the SEC, which had five schools win at least 10 games last season. The SEC also had nine schools win at least eight games while the ACC had three, all from the Atlantic Division.
The Big Ten had six programs win at least eight games last season. The Pac-12 had five.
“I think our program gets tons of respect, that’s for sure, and I think ultimately that’s what it comes down to,” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said. “I don’t run around and talk about league supremacy. I mean, we have a great league, and there’s lots of great leagues out there. Certainly the SEC is a great league.
“To me it’s about the program. I mean, you can be in a great league and stink as a program. Well, what’s that do for you? To me, it always should be about the program, but I think our league is so [underrated], it’s not even funny.”