Dinich: Euphoria, caution at Clemson

CLEMSON, S.C. -- At the top of the steep, tree-lined hill behind Clemson's Memorial Stadium on Saturday, 6-year-old Levi Murphy, decked out in his purple Clemson jersey, was buying a game program with his dad before the kickoff against No. 5 Georgia.

"I've been waiting all year for this," he gushed.

"So have I," said the vendor, handing the program to the wide-eyed, waist-high fan.

Finally, it was well worth the wait in the ACC.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock of Clemson's 38-35 upset of Georgia, the raucous crowd in Death Valley began to chant "A-C-C! A-C-C!"

From the SEC-type atmosphere surrounding the game days in advance, to the instant classic on the field, Clemson delivered. Not only did the win over Georgia soften the blow of Virginia Tech's loss to Alabama and North Carolina's loss to South Carolina, but Clemson's win made those games all but irrelevant.

With one win over a top-five SEC team -- and no embarrassing losses to FCS teams -- the ACC came out a winner in Week 1. Clemson, a microcosm of the entire conference in its search for respect, as well as its sensitivity to being perceived as failing to deliver on the big stage, has proved it is a program to be taken seriously.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, September started with a national title contender in the ACC.

Woe be to the naysayers who still dare utter the phrase "pull a Clemson."

It's a phrase those within the program have come to despise and resent, because it wasn't too long ago that it still rang true.

It took years for Clemson to develop the reputation as a team that collapsed in the clutch, one that struck fear into the hearts of its own fan base, which never knew what to expect against an unheralded opponent, let alone a ranked team.

It has taken years for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to change that perception, but the atmosphere alone this past weekend was evidence that he is succeeding, as so much of the anticipation and excitement leading up to the game was predicated on the fact that Clemson fans truly believed these Tigers had a chance to win.

To read more of Heather Dinich's story, click here.