Saturday’s season-opener at Auburn is a prime example of why Clemson is in favor of the eight-plus-two model (eight ACC games plus two Power 5 non-conference games) when it comes to scheduling. Head coach Dabo Swinney credits the scheduling format as one of the reasons why the Tigers’ program has become one of the nation’s elite.
Since 2008, Clemson has played a Power 5 non-conference opponent not named South Carolina every year but one – Swinney’s first full year as head coach in 2009. Of course the Tigers play rival South Carolina every year to conclude the regular season.
During that span, Clemson has played Alabama (once), Georgia (twice), Notre Dame (once) and Auburn. Saturday’s 9 p.m. kick at Auburn will be the fourth time the two Tigers have met on the gridiron since Swinney became the head coach.
“I think it is one of the reasons why we have been able to grow our program because we go and play people,” the Clemson coach said.
And Clemson just does not play them, but they have also won some of those games as well. In fact, the Tigers have a 4-3 record in those games, including last year’s 24-22 victory over Notre Dame.
What has also helped Clemson is the fact all seven of those opponents came into their game with the Tigers ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Clemson has won four of the last five against those ranked teams.
“I enjoy it. I think it has been a tough challenge the last seven years, and it is always better when you win those games, but I think, that is one of the things that allowed us to build the cultural of our program and the mentality you have to have to win those types of games,” Swinney said.
And though Swinney likes the fact his team gets to play other college football heavyweights from time-to-time, there is one team he truly wishes his Tigers could play every year.
“If it was up to me, we would play Georgia every year,” he said. “To me that makes sense. It’s down the road and there is a lot of tradition in that (rivalry).”
Just 70 miles separate Clemson from Georgia. The two have played 64 times over the years with the Bulldogs holding a 42-18-4 record in the all-time series. With the exception of 1966 and 1972, the two programs played every year from 1962-’87.
From 1977-’87, the game became known as The Eleven Year War as nine of the 11 games were decided by a touchdown or less, and the series record was 5-5-1. Three times the winner was decided on last-second field goals, and once on a failed two-point conversion attempt in the final seconds.
“I think it would help in what we are trying to do within our conference and then be able to step out and play Georgia and South Carolina every year, I think that is great,” Swinney said.
But that isn’t where Clemson is at. Instead the Tigers will play Auburn in Death Valley in 2017 and then have a home-and-home series against Texas A&M scheduled for 2018 and 2019. In 2020, 2022 and 2023, they will play Notre Dame.
Then of course there is the ACC proposal of a possible nine-game conference schedule that could affect Swinney’s scheduling philosophy going forward. The league’s athletic directors are expected to vote to go to an eight-plus-two model or a nine-plus-one model in October at the ACC’s Fall Meetings.
“We try to keep that ability to go play somebody that you really want to go see,” Swinney said. “Auburn is a great opponent. We played them like three years in a row at one point.”
“I like the fact we can step out of conference, and obviously we are going to play South Carolina every year, but to be able to go and play somebody, it kind of gives you a different feel outside of your league that you maybe don’t know much about or see as often,” he continued. “I think that is a good measuring stick as to where we are as a program.”