Before Dabo Swinney came to Clemson in 2003 as Tommy Bowden’s wide receivers coach, the Tigers were 0-11 against Florida State since the Seminoles joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1992.
However, on November 8, 2003, Clemson did the unthinkable at the time and knocked off the ‘Noles in a 26-10 victory in Death Valley. At the time, FSU was ranked No. 3 in the country and was playing for a possible berth in the BCS Championship Game. But what they got was a Charlie Whitehurst to Derrick Hamilton long touchdown pass and a quarterback sneak by Whitehurst as the Tigers got their first ever win over a top 3 team.
And more importantly for the ACC, a rivalry was born that night.
“This will be my 15th year at Clemson and this will be the 15th dogfight (with Florida State),” Swinney said. “They are all tough. Every game that I have ever been in with Florida State has been a very challenging game and very difficult.”
Since that cold night in November of 2003, Clemson has won 8 and the Seminoles have win 6. Six of those 14 games have been decided by seven points or less and three others were tight until a late touchdown allowed the winner to pull away.
The Tigers are 6-1 against FSU in Death Valley during that stretch, while Florida State is 5-2 in Tallahassee, Fla. Last year, Clemson ended a four-game losing streak at Doak Campbell Stadium with a 37-34 victory.
“We have won our fair share of them, but we have not won very many down there,” Swinney said. “We have had a couple of heartbreaks, but we were able to breakthrough (last) year and find a way to get it done.”
Since Swinney and Fisher took over at their respected schools, the game has turned into one of the best rivalries the ACC has ever had. Every year the game means something, first in the Atlantic Division, then overall conference championship and now it has a place in the national scene as well.
“That game has turned into one heck of a game every year,” Fisher said. “Whoever wins it has a chance to win it all, not only win the ACC, but win a national championship.”
The Clemson-Florida State winner has won two of the last four national championships and has played for it another time. Since the College Football Playoff began in 2014, either Florida State or Clemson has played in the playoff.
Going back to 2009, the winner of that game has played for the ACC Championship every year and since 2011, the winner has won the ACC.
“It is a great rivalry, especially when you know you are in the same division,” Swinney said.
But it is no longer a rivalry the ACC gets to have all by itself. The rest of the country is now getting to watch it as well. In the last four years, no other game has meant more to the national title picture and this year’s Nov. 11 clash in Death Valley is expected to be the same.
“You are talking about two teams that have won the national championship in the last four years here,” Swinney said. “We have played for three of them. That game has been incredibly meaningful because it has determined the division winner and the division winner gets to play for the ACC title.
“From a national standpoint, it has been a huge, huge game. It has always been a huge game really. I don’t care what the records are. Clemson-Florida State, over the last several years, has been very nationally relevant.”
This year, the ACC has moved its most prestigious game into one of the best possible spots on the schedule. This year’s meeting in Death Valley will be the last ACC game for both teams and will more than likely decide the winner of the Atlantic Division for a ninth straight season. The winner, more than likely, will have the inside track to another berth in the College Football Playoff as well.
Swinney and Fisher both said at the ACC Football Kickoff last week they would be in favor of keeping their game at the end of the conference season from here on out. Swinney says playing its rivalry games at the same time every year is something the ACC needs to copy from the SEC model.
Alabama-Tennessee, Florida-Georgia, Florida-Tennessee, Georgia-Auburn, LSU-Alabama, Ole Miss-Mississippi State and Alabama-Auburn always play their rivalry games around the same date on the schedule.
“(Fisher) comes from the same background I do in coming from the SEC,” Swinney said. “I was in the SEC for 13 years and he was in there for a long time as well and that is one thing I do like about the SEC. You have some traditional games.
“At Alabama, the third Saturday in October, you know what it is. You know when you are playing Auburn. You know when you are playing some of these bigger games and it is the same thing with Florida-Georgia, Auburn-Georgia.”
However, Swinney understands it is easier said than done when there are 12 other schools to consider besides Clemson and Florida State. But that does not mean it can’t be done. After all, which two teams have brought the conference more prestige in the last decade?
And let’s be honest. Has the ACC ever had a better rivalry in football?
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