By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — When Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney spoke with his football team last Thursday afternoon, he reminded them how far the Clemson program has come since he took over in 2008.
Before then the Tigers had not played for an ACC Championship. They had not won the ACC since 1991. And since divisions came into play in 2005, they had always just missed advancing to the title game.
“Four years ago we had not won a division, and now we have won three of them – two outright and one co-championship,” Swinney said. “Four years ago we started the journey we are on right now and we are competing for this conference consistently.
“I’m proud of what we have done there.”
The Tigers, who completed the 2012 season with a victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, have recorded back-to-back 10-plus win seasons for the first time since the 1989 and 1990 seasons, and that comes after going 21 years without a 10-win season.
“It was really a great year for us. I’m really proud of our team and proud of our staff,” Swinney said.
The 11 games Clemson won in 2012 marked the most by the school in one season since the 1981 squad won 12 in its run to a national championship. This year also marked just the fourth time in school history a Clemson team has won 11 games in a season – joining the ’81 team of course, the 1978 team and the 1948 squad.
“We have talked about winning 10 or more games and become one of those national teams that are ranked every year,” Swinney said. “We have been able to do that. I’m proud of their commitment to that.”
Clemson’s No. 9 final ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll also marked the first time since the 1990 season that a Clemson team finished ranked in the top 10 of a major poll.
“Before we played LSU, one of the things I told them is that you can’t win 12 until you win 11, and you can’t win the national championship until you learn to win games like this,” Swinney said. “Everything you do is an opportunity to learn and is an opportunity to grow.
“We are always studying and we are always trying to get better and correct mistakes. I’m really proud of our team and how they competed in our last game. It was an awesome performance. But the thing I’m the proudest about is that it was a top 10 finish for us and obviously that has not happened here in a long time.
“But I’m also proud that not only were we top 10 in football, but we were top 10 academically,” he continued. “That’s what we try to be. We try to be the best that we possibly can be in every area, not just on the field.”
Other accomplishments by the 2012 team:
- Won seven ACC games – tied for most in school history
- Ranked in every week for the first time since 1990
- One of six schools in the country ranked 29 straight weeks
- Set school record for consecutive wins at home
- Ranked in every BCS poll for 20 straight weeks
- Led the country with consecutive wins of 14 points or more (7). Also a school record
- QB Tajh Boyd 2012 ACC Player of the Year
- Boyd and C Dalton Freeman were first-team All-American
- Boyd and Freeman were first at their positions in school history to be first-team All-American
- WR DeAndre Hopkins and WR Sammy Watkins were named All-Americans
- Kicker Spencer Benton made an ACC record 61-yard field goal
- Set 85 school records
- Set ACC records for total offense, total plays and touchdown passes
- Led the nation in red zone scoring percentage (94.9)
- Clemson led the ACC in scoring, touchdowns, total offense and third down conversions
- Chandler Catanzaro made 20 straight field goals (school record)
- Boyd set 9 ACC records and 25 new Clemson records
- Hopkins set ACC record for touchdowns receptions in a season and consecutive games
- Hopkins finished first in school history in touchdowns and reception yards for a career
- Watkins set record for receiving yards in a game (202) vs. Wake Forest
- TE Brandon Ford tied Clemson record for TDs by a tight end in a season
- Led the ACC in red zone defense and was 20th nationally
- Clemson’s defense ranked 15th nationally in negative yards caused from tackles for loss or sacks
- Clemson caused 50 touchbacks as a team this year, fifth most in the country.