Heading into the 2012 season with several key returning players that orchestrated last season’s run to a BCS bowl—like quarterback Tajh Boyd and All-American wide receiver Sammy Watkins—the Tigers are expected to be in the mix to defend their ACC crown.
Despite the way their season ended—with a brutal 70-33 loss in the Orange Bowl at the hands of West Virginia—the 2011 season will be remembered as a success for Clemson’s football program.
Dabo Swinney led the Tigers to their first ACC title in two decades, and in the process, he has re-established Clemson as one of the league’s premier gridiron powerhouses along with Virginia Tech and Florida State—two teams they defeated (they beat the Hokies twice) in 2011.
For a program that had been largely dormant, and known more for their recent history of late season collapses, the upcoming season represents a chance for Swinney’s club to prove that the culture in Clemson has indeed changed.
However, what would a second-place finish in the Atlantic Division mean for the program going forward?
Here are four things finishing second or worse in the ACC this season would mean for Clemson.