A lot of fans and media look back to Clemson’s win over defending national champion Auburn in 2011 as the game that started the Tigers’ current run in college football. And though that was a big win, and it was the first of three straight victories over nationally ranked opponents that year, it was actually the program’s last win during that stretch that signified the beginning of the current era of Clemson Football.
That win came in Blacksburg, Va., against a Virginia Tech team that was ranked 11th nationally and was the favorite to win a second straight ACC Championship.
“I remember not many people gave us a chance to win. I remember that,” Swinney said on Tuesday as the Tigers’ prepare to return to Blacksburg for the first time since their 23-3 victory over the Hokies that afternoon.
Also, like in 2011, second-ranked Clemson will be playing their third top 15 opponent of the season. That year, Clemson became the first ACC team history to win three consecutive games against top 25 competition … beating No. 21 Auburn, No. 11 Florida State and No. 11 Virginia Tech.
This year, the Tigers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) have already taken care of business against No. 13 Auburn and No. 14 Louisville.
“Similar to this year, it seemed like every week we were playing some ranked opponent,” Swinney said. “It was like, ‘Dang! Here comes another one.’ We had to go up to Blacksburg and it was cold and it was rainy and I just remember we played a big game and we played well.”
Clemson’s defense played its best game of the year that season, while Tajh Boyd threw a touchdown pass to tight end Dwayne Allen and Mike Bellamy broke off a long touchdown run.
“It was just a hard fought, tough, kind of a dreary night kind of a game,” Swinney said. “I remember it was a long ride to the stadium. I guess we are still staying there, but we stayed in like Roanoke or something but it seemed like it took forever to get there as we went down some back road. I just remember looking back and my whole team was a sleep and I was going, ‘we are going to get our butts kicked.’ They were all snoring, but we ended up playing a pretty good game.
“It is an awesome environment, but it was just kind of our night that night. They were really talented. I think that might have been their only loss until the championship game. They were really good. They were a really good team. We just played well.”
Clemson has come a long way since that afternoon on October 1, 2011. This time around, No. 12 Virginia Tech (4-0, 0-0 ACC) is the underdog as Vegas, as of Tuesday, has the Tigers as a 7-point favorite.
“I definitely think there is at least a 50-percent chance out there that we can go win the game, where as we probably had a 10 percent chance to win the game back in those days,” Swinney said. “And I think that is a credit to the amount of games we have been in and the consistency we have had. The people probably just believe in us more than what they did back then from the outside.
“We have always believed it in the inside even when it did not look as pretty. That was a fun night and that was a great, great moment. We kind of kept the momentum going and we kind of went on to our first ACC Championship in a long time.”
And who did the Tigers’ beat in the ACC Championship Game that year? That’s right, it was Virginia Tech.