AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Dabo Swinney will not be sucked into the discussion.
“In the SEC, it's been top shelf,” Clemson's coach said from the ACC spring meetings. “They earned that, [but] we're right behind the SEC in recruiting. We're right behind the SEC in developing our players for the NFL. We're right behind the SEC in Pro Bowls, yet we're tops of all conferences academically. This is a pretty strong conference.”
Some of the stuff that Swinney mentioned was chronicled in Wednesday's column regarding ACC football. The league recruits top players and produces top players for the pros. But when ACC players actually get on the field, there is a disconnect.
A BCS-conference worst 3-13 in BCS bowls, there has been a lack of a national presence for about a decade now. Swinney has heard it all entering his fifth full season as the Tigers' coach.
“All I know is I've been in this league 11 years now,” he said. “We have to produce those few dominant teams. If you look at the SEC, they've had a heck of a run, but there have been only a few of those dominant teams. They've had an undefeated team or a 12-1 team. We have not produced that in our conference.
“A lot of time, people want to spin this perception that this is a basketball conference. It's a great league for athletics. … Listen, folks. Yeah, we got a bad run for eight years now. But the SEC had a bad run for a while, too. Somebody's gotta get hot.”
Clemson might be that team in 2013. The Tigers could be favored in the ACC over defending champ Florida State. Clemson is coming off an 11-win season that included a thrilling one-point win over LSU, one of those dominant SEC teams, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“You thought we were getting to play 14 [SEC] teams,” Swinney said. “We were playing LSU -- not S-E-C -- L-S-U. But the perception from y'all [print media] and the TV people is we were playing the SEC. It took a month for me to convince my guys we weren't playing the SEC.”
These Tigers have a Heisman candidate at quarterback (Tajh Boyd) and a veteran team that has paid its dues. Swinney pointed out how the 2011 team started 8-0 but stumbled through a 2-4 finish with 42 freshmen on the roster in winning the school's first ACC title in 20 years. After a deflating loss to FSU in the fourth game of 2012, the Tigers then won eight of their last nine.
“They learned from that process. They learned from that experience,” Swinney said of his players. “They understand it a little bit better because they've had adversity.”
As for those projections, Swinney will have nothing to do with them. If the Tigers are favored, so be it. If they're picked fifth, he still has to talk his team into not believing what they read. The coach was particularly put off about a question that he was asked recently about Boyd's Heisman chances against South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney.
“It's irrelevant,” he said. “I don't think there should be a poll released until October.”
Clemson certainly has the schedule to make a run. The Tigers open at home against Georgia and get Florida State at home. An ACC division title might be clinched by the time they travel to South Carolina for the regular-season finale.
“If we're going to change the [ACC] perception, we have to do it from the inside out,” Swinney said. “If we do that, maybe we'll be the No. 1-perceived conference.
“I think the SEC has earned everything they've got. They earned it on the field. Period. They produced a champion. I agree there's been three, four dominant teams in that league. It's like, a 4 x 100. We haven't had anybody carry the baton yet. Hopefully we can get that going.”