SUNSET — Future ACC-affiliated bowl games will have plenty of moving parts, but flexibility and finances benefit from six new agreements announced Thursday by the league.
From 2014 through 2019, a pecking order has been established for postseason opportunities going to an array of teams, from the conference champion to a 6-6 qualifier.
Adding to the College Football Playoff, South Florida’s Orange Bowl and New York City’s Pinstripe Bowl, the ACC will take involvement with a combination of at least six other bowls going forward.
Those are the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Tex., the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, the Music City Bowl in Nashville, the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and, conditionally, the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
Notre Dame becomes part of the ACC’s bowl participants in 2014.
“We are extremely pleased to announce relationships with this outstanding collection of future bowl partners,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a release. “Each of these premiere bowls is recognized for its excellence, and they collectively combine to offer our 15-member league more flexibility, improved financials, marquee matchups and attractive destinations.”
Unless the ACC has one of the four schools selected to the College Football Playoff, the league champ will play in the Orange Bowl as in the past — unless that bowl is hosting one of the semifinals, in which case that team would go to either the Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.) or Chick-fil-A Bowl (Atlanta.)
The Russell Athletic Bowl would get the next ACC selection. In years the ACC takes on the Big Ten in the Orange Bowl, the Capital One Bowl — usually an SEC-Big Ten battle — drafts the next available ACC representative.
After that comes the Sun, Belk, Pinstripe and either Music City or Gator Bowl. More bowl agreements are expected to be announced in the near future.
Most wonderful time
It’s not just college football fans who get antsy counting off the days of June, July and August.
“I mean, I miss it. It’s my favorite time of year,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday. “To be honest with you, it’s the easiest time of year for me, because there’s just so much structure. So I really look forward to the season, and I love being with the players every day. That’s my favorite part of this job.
“Let’s face it: we live in the South, and people love college football.”
To be sure, Swinney and his coaching staff are soaking up the final periods of solitude from the daily grind.
As Swinney spoke, he wasn’t on a practice sideline and wasn’t flanked by whizzing footballs or panting players. The visual background was a vast horizon of a state park, as Swinney invited school officials and area media to join him in a day on the golf course, benefitting from a rare day of sunshine this summer.
Yet there was an urgency to Swinney’s voice. A sense he can’t wait to see how close Clemson can come to matching — or even exceeding — the potential so many have lavished upon the program for this 2013 season.
Obviously, it opens with a bang: Georgia visits Death Valley Aug. 31, in a matchup of programs combining for a 23-4 record last year and harboring national championship dreams going forward.
“Every opening game always presents challenges,” Swinney said, “because you have more time to prepare for that one game than you do any game the rest of the year.”
All about the D
If the Tigers’ offense plays anywhere in the stratosphere of how it performed the previous two years, a winning season should be a given apart from any other factor.
It’s the defense, under second-year coordinator Brent Venables, which holds the key to unlocking Clemson’s ceiling. After more than a decade at Oklahoma, Venables has now been in the Upstate for longer than a year, a value not lost on his boss.
“This time last year, compared to where we are now, is just night and day, for everything. New voice, with so many new faces,” Swinney said.
There will still be some rebuilding, of course. Leading 2012 tackler Jonathan Willard graduated, and so did three key defensive backs in Rashard Hall, Xavier Brewer and Jonathan Meeks.
However, besides losing Malliciah Goodman, the defensive line features plenty of returning experience. Both tackles (Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson) and two linebackers (Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey) are more accustomed to what Venables asks of a defense that shaved 4.5 points per game off its defensive scoring average from the 2011 conference championship squad.
“Obviously, you expect growth, improvement, more consistency,” Venables said. “There’s no question we’ve developed more quality board across the board. I feel like we’ve got a much better understanding of our personnel; what we can, what we can’t do.”
In Venables’ first crack, the Tigers yielded 69 plays going 20 yards or longer, a number Swinney insists on decreasing for an encore.
“Big plays is our No. 1 objective, defensively this year,” Swinney said. “If we cut those in half, we’re going to be a much better defense.
“People have been not very complimentary of them — we were a very average defense last year. I really feel like that’s changed,” Swinney added. “I feel like when it’s all said and done, that defense will be a strength for us. And we need it to be a strength if we’re going to really be a great football team.”