Though South Carolina is Clemson’s No. 1 all-time rival, there have been periods during the series where the Gamecocks have not really been much of a rival for Clemson. Though South Carolina has had its moments in the rivalry, like its five-year winning streak from 2009-’13 as well as the four-year stretch from 1968-’71, in most periods, the Tigers have owned the rivalry, which is why they own a commanding 68-42-4 record in the all-time series.
From 1976-2008, Clemson owned a 24-8-1 advantage in the series.
However, South Carolina isn’t the Tigers’ only rival. Over the years Clemson has had some other great games and stretches with other teams.
In the early years of Clemson football, Walter Riggs’ and John Heisman’s teams had a pretty good back-and-forth series with Auburn. The Auburn rivalry made sense at the time due to the two programs connections with Riggs and Heisman. Riggs played at Auburn and came to Clemson and started the football program. A few short years later, he talked Heisman away from Auburn to come and coach his team at Clemson.
In those days, Clemson also had a nasty feud with Georgia Tech as well. Clemson owned the Yellow Jackets early in the series by winning six of the first eight games. However, after getting tired of losing to Clemson and Heisman every year, the Yellow Jackets came and stole Heisman away, thus beginning the feud.
In the 1940s, the Tigers had a nice little spat with Boston College after the 1940 Cotton Bowl, and even had one with Wake Forest at the time thanks to the rift between Frank Howard and Wake head coach “Peahead” Walker.
Of course Clemson’s biggest rival is South Carolina, and it always will be, given the nature of the two schools and why Clemson was started in the first place. The two have hated each other since the beginning and the feeling is still mutual today.
Webster’s Dictionary says the word “rival” can be traced to the Latin word “rivus”, meaning “a stream.” From “rivus” came the Latin “rivalis,” which meant “one who uses the same stream as another.” It was common back then for two people, families or groups to fight over the same stream of water.
The Latin word “rivalis” in time came to be used for other people who are also likely to fight with each other. It meant “a man in love with the same woman as another man.” This sense of “rivalis” came into English as “rival.”
Over the years, Clemson has had its fair share of rivals, but which teams have been the best ones?
Understand that in this sense a rival just isn’t a rival because the two teams hate each other or live in the same state. No, it’s more than just all of that. It can be about conference supremacy, national perspective and general competition.
If one school beats up on the other, it’s not really much of rivalry is it?
Like I said, for Clemson its rivals, outside of South Carolina, have changed over the years, but here are the best rivals the Tigers have had and the era that made the rivalry so good at the time and why they are a part of Clemson’s history.
(Remember, this list below does not necessarily mean Clemson or its fans consider these teams to be Clemson’s rival at the present time.)
Florida State (2003-present): The Seminoles dominated the series from 1992-2002 as it won 11 straight. However, in 2003 Clemson finally broke through and won its first game over Florida State since it beat the Seminoles in Tallahassee in 1989. Since that 2003 game, the Tigers have won 8 and FSU 6. The game has become the best in the ACC. Each year since 2009, one of the two has played in the ACC Championship Game and each year since 2011, one of the two has won the conference. Since 2013, the winner of this game has played in the national championship game in three of the last four years, while winning it twice.
Georgia (1977-’87): Beginning with Clemson’s dramatic 7-6 victory over the Bulldogs in Athens, Ga., in 1977, this became one of the best and most competitive series in college football at the time. In was dubbed “The Eleven Year War” as Clemson and Georgia split the 11 games with the Tigers winning 5 times, Georgia 5 times and with one tie. Nine of the 11 games were decided by a touchdown or less. Like Clemson and Florida State now, the game played a big role in the national picture as the winner played for or won the national championship for three straight years from 1980-’82. The Bulldogs won the 1980 National Championship and Clemson did the same in 1981. Georgia also played for the title in 1982.
Maryland (1977-’88): Before Florida State came into the conference in 1992, Clemson and Maryland owned the ACC. The Tigers won the title 13 times, while the Terrapins won it nine times in the first 40 years. Beginning in 1977, when Maryland edged Clemson 21-14, one of the two won 9 of the next 12 ACC Championships. Clemson clinched the ACC Championships by beating Maryland in 1978, 1981, 1982, 1987 and 1988. The 12th-ranked Tigers’ 28-24 win at No. 11 Maryland in 1978, is still considered one of the greatest games ever played between two ACC schools. The Tigers also clinched an ACC title with a 17-17 tie in 1986 and would have won another in 1983 (a 52-27 win over the Terps) had the Tigers been eligible to win a league title at the time. From 1981-’88 one of the two won the ACC Championship. Clemson won 6 of the 12 games with Maryland winning 5 and of course the one tie.
South Carolina (1960-’69): This was without a doubt the best 10-year stretch in the history of the rivalry from a competitive standpoint, and what was on the line in most years. In those days the Gamecocks shared the ACC with Clemson so the game meant more than just bragging rights. The 1960 season was also the first time the series was not played on Big Thursday and was played in Clemson for the first time. That made things even more intense. In the 1960s, the two teams split the decade 5-5 and occasionally an ACC Championship was at stake, which was the case from 1965-’67 and in 1969. The Gamecocks won the 1965 game, 17-16, to win the ACC that year, but it was later discovered they played an ineligible player and the ACC was awarded to Clemson and Duke instead. However, Howard never claimed the 1965 ACC Championship as he said USC beat them that day and that is all that matters. In the Clemson record books, the 1965 game is still indicated as a loss. The Tigers won the 1966 and ’67 ACC Championships with wins over South Carolina, while South Carolina beat Clemson in 1969 to claim its only ACC Championship.
North Carolina (1975-’83): This is the most competitive stretch in the history of the rivalry and many times it played a role in the national picture as well. Clemson won 6 of the nine games with there being one tie. However, in most cases the game played a big role in deciding the ACC. In 1977, the two played to a tie, which allowed North Carolina to edge out Clemson for the ACC Championship. In 1978, Clemson won the ACC Championship and in 1979, the Tigers defeated UNC to prevent the Tar Heels from winning the title, which went to NC State. In 1980, North Carolina squeaked out a win in Death Valley to win the ACC Championship, while Clemson beat the No. 8 Tar Heels 10-8 in Chapel Hill on its way to the 1981 National Championship. In 1982, Clemson won 16-13 to win another ACC Championship, while its 16-3 win at No. 10 North Carolina in 1983 prevented the Tar Heels, again, from winning an ACC title.
Georgia Tech (1983-present): This current 35-yard stretch is considered the most competitive between two ACC teams in the history of the conference. The Yellow Jackets officially started to compete for ACC Championships in 1983 and since then Clemson has a slight 18-17 advantage in the series. During the 35 years, the game has meant a lot in the ACC and in the national picture. The 1990 matchup not only played a role in the ACC Championship, but it led to Tech’s run to the national championship that year as well. From 1996-2002, all seven games were decided by five points or less, including six straight games that were decided by three points. In 2009, the two played two of the best games in the history of the conference with Tech winning both. The Yellow Jackets beat the Tigers 30-27 on a Thursday night in Atlanta and then again, 39-34, in the ACC Championship Game in Tampa, Fla.
NC State (1986-2003): Starting in 1986 with Dick Sheridan’s first team in Raleigh, the Wolfpack became a thorn in the side of the Tigers. Sheridan, who had led Furman to a national championship at the 1-AA level before coming to NC State, beat Clemson in each of his first three seasons there. His 1987 and ’88 teams ruined the Tigers’ opportunity at playing for a national championship. However, Clemson did end up winning the ACC Championship all three years despite losing to the Wolfpack. Though the series never really played out in any championships for the Wolfpack, the two shared some memorable battles. Like State hanging on for a 30-28 win in 1987 after building a 30-0 lead at halftime. A tropical depression in 1988, where heavy rains made the field sloppy, aided in NC State’s 10-3 win. A bad snap late in the game went over punter Chris Gardocki’s head and rolled to the Clemson one-yard line. State scored on the next play. The 1991 game saw the Tigers come out in purple jerseys for the first time since 1959 and roll to a 29-19 win over the undefeated Wolfpack. There was the shootout in Death Valley in 1998 where Torry Holt is still running wide open for the ‘Pack, and then Woodrow Dantzler outdueled Phillip Rivers in two classics in 2000 and 2001. The 2001 game saw Dantzler amass 517 total yards and total six touchdowns in the Clemson win. At the end of the 18 years, Clemson had won 9 games and so did NC State.
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