In typical, blunt Tom O’Brien fashion, NC State’s coach cut to the chase about the importance of leaving Atlanta this week with two wins for the ACC.
NC State will face Tennessee on Friday night in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, and Clemson will face Auburn on Saturday in the Georgia Dome. Two wins in Week 1 would help bring instant credibility to a league that has been routinely labeled as the fifth best conference in college football.
“There have been other high-profile, ACC out-of-conference games and we haven’t won any,” O’Brien said. “Certainly that creates a perception and talking points for everyone else in recruiting against the ACC. It’s an opportunity. We’re playing this game first for our football team and for our school and our alumni, then we’re going to play it for the ACC, but certainly it’s not lost on me as a coach in the ACC that we have to start winning games like this.”
Especially considering the ACC hasn’t had a winning record against the SEC in nonconference play since 2003. The SEC has earned its place at the top of college football, but while O’Brien conceded the ACC is the “underdog” heading into Atlanta, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney took a different approach and downplayed the importance of both games to the overall picture.
“We’re just focused on Clemson,” Swinney said. “We’re just trying to be the best team we can be. Yeah, I’d love to see the ACC get off to a great start and win both of these games, but it really doesn’t matter if you don’t continue to play well the rest of the season. We’re not coming in carrying any kind of banner or anything like that, we’re just trying to be the best that we can be at Clemson, and hopefully when the season is over, as a conference collectively we will have played at a high enough level to gain the attention from a national standpoint, but I don’t think this one game is going to do that.”
Two games, though, would get the ACC heading in the right direction in 2012.