There is no question the Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup between No. 14 Clemson and No. 8 LSU is one of the best during bowl season.
What would make it even better for the ACC, of course, is for the Tigers to win. Especially after the league fell on its face in the final week of the regular season, going 0-4 against SEC opposition.
Clemson was one of the four teams saddled with a loss, unable to take down in-state rival South Carolina despite playing at home. Amazingly enough, the biggest story line going into the season opener for Clemson was roughly the same: The Tigers faced Auburn, and many felt a win in that game and the contest between NC State and Tennessee would help to change the perception around the league.
Though NC State lost, Clemson won -- and many perceived that to be a quality win. But Auburn went on to finish 3-9 and that game is no longer viewed as a quality win. Instead, the focus has turned to what Clemson didn't do against South Carolina. Coach Dabo Swinney deflected any questions about changing the perception of his program and the ACC with a win -- back in August and again Monday on a call discussing the bowl matchup.
"Well, as far as changing the perception, I’m not really sure what that is," Swinney said. "We want to finish our season. Our next goal is to win the bowl game. That’s always our last goal, and that’s exactly what this is. This one is a unique opportunity again to win an 11th game versus a Top-10 team. We’re trying to position ourselves to be one of the consistent elite national type programs out there. We’ve taken a step forward in that direction.
"This is back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since ’89-’90. It hasn’t happened very often. We’re making strides so to be able to win a game like this and win an 11th game for only the fourth time I think in Clemson history, certainly would be another step in becoming the type of program we want to be."
LSU presents quite the challenge, coming on the heels of South Carolina. The Gamecocks' defense proved to be too much for the Tigers to handle, as they scored a season-low 17 points and had only 328 yards of offense, second-lowest on the season.
Now they face a team that is known for its defense -- and ranks higher in total D than the Gamecocks do. Though the Tigers do not have the one-man wrecking crew known as Jadeveon Clowney, they do have Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, a formidable defensive end duo of their own.
Even before the exact matchup was announced, Clemson's players knew they would have a big opportunity in front of them, going against a top-tier SEC team. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, who struggled against South Carolina, offered this view: "It’s always exciting when you get a chance to play against a top-tier team. You get a chance to go out there and showcase again. We didn’t put our best foot forward in the game, and it will be nice to end the season with a win. So we’re excited about the opportunity."