The ACC boasts by far the worst winning percentage of any conference to compete in at least five BCS games, amassing a paltry 3-13 record. Just one decade ago, the conference appeared poised for a spot among football royalty. Florida State made the first BCS Championship and won the second, and in 2004 the ACC added Virginia Tech and perennial power Miami, both of which had also appeared in a BCS title game.
Instead of improving, the conference has largely morphed into an afterthought. The three BCS bowl wins have come against current member Virginia Tech, Cincinnati and Northern Illinois. Now, the conference will play in the final two BCS games of the season, with the Tigers taking on Ohio State and Florida State attempting to end the SEC's streak of seven consecutive BCS crowns.
"We've made great strides," Swinney said on Thursday. "I've been in this league for 11 years now, so I have a very good perspective of where we were when I first came into this league as to where we are now, program-wise and league-wise. It's great that Florida State is in the National Championship Game.
"We're the only team in the league that's had three straight 10-plus win seasons. That's what we need. We've got to have a couple of teams each year that are in the mix, especially as we go into this college football playoff deal, because we want to – we think we have a great conference. You look at – I think, for the first time in history, all the major awards were won by ACC guys. It's a great league, great league. So we're excited about where we are, but we need to win these games. That's the next step. I don't think, record-wise, we kind of held up our end of the deal in these BCS games. We need to win these games."
Two years ago, Clemson famously failed at this same venue in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia. Swinney and the Tigers have spent all week distancing themselves from that debacle, but the fifth-year Clemson head coach was asked five times in 20 questions about the blowout defeat at the hands of the Mountaineers.
Each time, he gave a variation of the same answer.
"Bad night, and we don't dwell on that," he said. "But unfortunately, we don't forget it either. I don't think anybody, when you're a competitor, you ever forget the losses. I mean, heck, I remember every loss – every loss. There's no pretty losses. Lose by one point, well, that stinks too. A loss is a loss. They all go down the same."
He and his squad will be facing a kindred spirit when it comes to the Buckeyes. Although the Big Ten has consistently outperformed the ACC in every BCS measure, the Buckeyes' conference has still felt the brunt of the fallout from the SEC's unprecedented run. OSU coach Urban Meyer said he found himself rooting heavily for Michigan State to win the Rose Bowl, a game that gave the Big Ten a much-needed BCS victory.
Although the Buckeyes are missing would-be starters Bradley Roby and Noah Spence on a defensive unit that has struggled in the final three games of the season, Swinney still anticipates a formidable test from a team hoping to back up MSU's triumph with one of its own.
"You don't luck up and go 24-1," Swinney said. "This is a team that is truly a few minutes away – you saw a great team in Michigan State last night, but this is a team that is a few minutes away from being in the National Championship Game. So they're a National Championship caliber team. That's all I know. And I expect them to play that way, and I expect that our guys are going to be ready, and we're going to have to play and perform to a high level to have a chance to win."