When he became the head coach at Florida State back in 2010, Jimbo Fisher already knew where his toughest competition in the ACC lied.
Clemson has always been dubbed a football school in a basketball conference. Before Dabo Swinney took over the program midway through the 2008 season, the Tigers were known as one of the more historical programs in the sport. However, the program had been in a drought when it came to winning ACC Championships and competing on the national stage at consistent level.
But with Swinney at the helm, Fisher noticed the commitment Clemson was putting into football with its facilities upgrades as well as the advancements and improvements behind the scenes and with their everyday operation.
“They changed their commitment, started building better facilities, building the things they’ve done and then they’ve been committed to their coaches,” Fisher said. “Dabo, and his players, he’s done a great job. He’s a great coach.
“He adjusted and has done the things they need to do. They’ve added to the program and they’ve created the surrounding things around them.”
Since 2011, no team in the ACC, including Florida State, has won more games than Clemson. On Saturday, when they host FSU in Death Valley, the Tigers will try to clinch their fifth ACC Atlantic Division title in the last seven years.
Heading into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. kick against the ’Noles, No. 4 Clemson has won 78 games since 2011, three ACC Championships, played for two national titles and won it all last year. Clemson and Alabama are the only two programs during that time to win at least 10 games every season.
“They made a commitment and they’re taking off,” Fisher said. “They’ve always had a great tradition, but I felt this coming all along. Even when we were winning those close games against them, you knew they were a tremendous program.”
Early in the series between Swinney and Fisher, the ‘Noles got the best of Clemson, winning four of the first five meetings. In three of those meetings, Fisher’s teams won close games. However, recently, the tide has turned a little bit.
Two years ago, Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) won a close game in Death Valley to win the Atlantic Division and last year Deshaun Watson engineered a last-minute touchdown drive to edge the Seminoles, 37-34, in Tallahassee, Fla.
A win by the Tigers on Saturday could mark just the second-time in the 31-year history of the rivalry that Clemson has won three straight against the Seminoles, the only other time that occurred was from 2005-’07.
“They’ve always had good players,” Fisher said. “Go back and look, they were supposed to beat us in ’10, they had it. And then we won. But in ’12, they came in, had everybody back, we won, 49-38. And in ’13 we hit it. In ’14 they hit it. Now ’15 was a possession game up there, which was a great game. I just got done watching it. We missed a few things. Missed a fourth-and-one, a third-and-one and another fourth-and-one, and they got the ball back with whatever the score was, 16-13, with six minutes to go in the game. And last year, 37-34, back and forth in a shootout, and what we were doing.
“We were just fortunate enough to make one more play early on against them. And lately, the last few years, they made the one more play. It’s kind of nip and tuck. But they’ve done a great job in their commitment to do things and their investment.”