When Dabo Swinney became the head coach at Clemson in 2009, he sat down and had a serious conversation with then athletic director Terry Don Phillips.
Swinney, who is now entering his 10th season as Clemson’s head coach, told Phillips they needed to play a tough non-conference schedule every year. They needed to reach out and play home-and-home series with some of the big names in college football.
The Tigers’ coach remembers vividly saying, “We need to play people because that is going to help me teach. That is going to help me develop the culture and the mindset to win at the highest level.”
At the time, Swinney did not think they had the right mindset to win at the highest level and he felt that was one of the things preventing Clemson from getting back in the conversation as one of college football’s elite programs.
Phillips listened. In 2010 Clemson started a three-year series with Auburn, with Clemson winning two of the three games in the series, including at a neutral setting at the former Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
After the Auburn series, the Tigers played Georgia in a two-game series, which the two teams split in 2013 and ’14. In 2015, Clemson hosted Notre Dame in Death Valley and in 2016 and ’17 it swept Auburn in another home-and-home series.
On Sept. 8, Clemson will travel to Texas A&M to take on the Aggies in front of 107,000 people pulling against them, while A&M returns the favor next year and comes to Death Valley.
In 2020 and ’22, the Tigers travel to South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame. The Irish return to Death Valley in 2023. Earlier this week, Clemson announced it will play a home-and-home series against LSU starting in 2025.
LSU will come to Clemson’s Death Valley in 2025 and Clemson will travel to LSU’s Death Valley in 2026. Of course the ACC’s Tigers play a home-and-homer non-conference series every year against arch rival South Carolina.
So far in those big non-conference battles, Clemson is 6-2, not counting the South Carolina series.
“That is what we have committed to and that is what we have done for nine years. Ya’ll know,” Swinney said. “We played Auburn (five) times. We played Georgia twice. We played Notre Dame and now we have Texas A&M twice. So we are playing ten Power 5 schools a year.”
In the last three years, Clemson has won 34 games against Power 5 opponents, more than any other team in college football, including College Football Playoff wins over Oklahoma, Ohio State and Alabama.
“That has allowed us to develop our program,” Swinney said. “We played LSU in the (2012 Chick-fil-A) bowl game so we have a lot of respect for that program. It’s the battle of the Death Valleys down the road. We got a long way to go before then, but hopefully we will make it.”