Dabo Swinney said earlier this week if there was a Power 5 non-conference opponent he could play every year other than South Carolina it would be the Georgia Bulldogs. However, don’t think for a second Swinney isn’t excited about opening the season at Auburn.
As everyone knows, Clemson’s head coach grew up in Pelham, Alabama where he self-proclaimed himself the biggest Alabama fan there was growing up. He went on to play for Alabama and then landed his first coaching job there.
As a self-proclaimed Alabama fan, then it is only natural Swinney dislikes Auburn, the Crimson Tide’s biggest rival. It’s no surprise the win that ushered in the current state of the Clemson program came against the Auburn Tigers as Clemson snapped Auburn’s 17-game winning streak in 2011 with a 38-24 victory in Death Valley.
“I can’t think of a better place to end a streak than at Death Valley, South Carolina, baby!” That’s what an emotional Swinney yelled to an ESPN sideline reporter after the game that afternoon. It was the first of his many post-game theatrics the last five years.
Clemson went onto beat Auburn again in 2012 in the Inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta. The two teams will renew their series on Saturday as second-ranked Clemson visits Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium for a 9 p.m. kickoff on ESPN.
On a personal level, how important is beating Auburn to Swinney?
“I want to beat these guys because we are Clemson. That’s why I want to win because we are Clemson, and we want to have a great season. It is just that simple,” he said. “I don’t care if we are playing Russia. I want to win. It is certainly an easy conversation.”
Swinney understands the conversation, however. He and his distain for Auburn go back a long way, especially at Auburn where he has not had a lot of success as a player or as a coach. During his time at Alabama as a player and as a coach, Swinney’s teams were a combined 1-4 at Auburn.
The only other time he has taken one of his Clemson teams to the Plains, his Tigers blew a 17-point lead in 2010 and lost the game 27-24 in overtime.
“I have not had a lot of success down there. I will tell you that. That is a tough place to go win,” Swinney said. “In fact, I was part of the first win ever (for Alabama) in ’99 when we went down there and won. We won the SEC that year. That is just not an easy deal.”
It has not been an easy deal for Clemson, either. The ACC’s Tigers are just 4-20 all-time at Auburn and have not won on the Plains since 1950. In fact, Clemson has lost seven straight games there. However, they have only played once at Jordan-Hare since 1971.
“I don’t know how many times we have played down there since 1950, but it is probably not that many. But it is hard. It is a hard place to win,” Swinney said. “They have a great environment down there. They are confident just like when people are rolling (into Death Valley). But if you are going to be a great team, and if you are going to have a great season, then you have to find a way to win a game like this. We are fortunate because in four of the last five years we have played in games like this. We have won a couple of them and hopefully we can find a way to win this one.”