No matter who his team is playing, Dabo Swinney does all he can to keep his second-ranked Clemson Tigers focused on the upcoming game. Some weeks are easier to sell than others.
Obviously, playing Texas A&M and South Carolina gets his players’ attention a little more than playing Furman and Georgia Southern. So on weeks like with Saturday’s opening opponent in Furman, Swinney will dig as deep as he can to get his team’s attention on the Paladins.
Though Furman historically is one the best programs in the Football Championship Subdivision of the NCAA, and is currently ranked No. 21 in the FCS Coaches Poll, it is still an FCS opponent. The Paladins will not exactly bring the headlines with them to Death Valley on Saturday, unless they beat the second-ranked Tigers.
“Sometimes people say, ‘Well, they are playing Furman. It is a game Clemson should win’ or whatever,” Swinney said. “I’m like, ‘You know what? Furman has beaten Clemson ten times. Ten!’ It is not like they beat them once and the sky parted. It is double digit wins against Clemson.
“I don’t know when the last one was, but I know they beat them ten times.”
Though he is right, Furman has defeated the Tigers 10 times over the years, the Paladins have also lost 30 straight games to the Tigers, dating all the way back to 1937. Furman last beat Clemson 12-0 in 1936.
“There you go,” Swinney said smiling. “I’m sure that 1936 bunch was probably favored to win.”
Maybe so, but Clemson has had little trouble against FCS teams over the years. In fact, since the NCAA started the Division I-AA (FCS) in 1978, the Tigers are 44-0 all-time against FCS teams.
There are detractors out there, mostly in the Big Ten, who believe programs such as Clemson’s should stay away from playing FCS schools because it gives them a guaranteed win and an easier schedule and thus, they believe, and easier path to the College Football Playoff.
Swinney laughs at that notion.
“We play eleven games that are not FCS. We play a pretty tough schedule every year,” he said. “For me, it’s been great to play a team in this state, and I think it’s been great for this state and for those programs to be able to support them financially. I’m all for football at all levels. If that goes away, that’s a financial burden on that level.”
Furman is expected to make close to $400,000 for coming and playing Clemson on Saturday. That is a big payday, if you will, that will go a long way in helping support their football program as well as other sports in their athletic department.
Swinney is not going to apologize for playing Furman or any other FCS team. In the last three years, no Football Bowl Subdivision team has beat more FBS teams than the Tigers. Clemson has 34 wins over FBS teams, two more than Alabama’s 32.
Also, Clemson has played, or will play, in recent years non-conference Power 5 foes such as Texas A&M, who it visits next week, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame and South Carolina. Clemson and LSU announced earlier this month they will play a home-and-home series starting in 2025.
No coach outside the SEC has more wins over SEC opponents than Swinney, who currently has 13.
“If your schedule is strong enough, no one will discount you for playing a team (in the FCS),” he said.
Also, keep in mind, there have been some historic FCS wins over FBS teams in recent history.
The Citadel beat South Carolina in 2015, and actually did it in 1990 against the Gamecocks as well. Furman has beat both Georgia Tech and South Carolina as an FCS program, as well as North Carolina.
North Dakota State went to Manhattan, Kan., in 2013 and knocked off Kansas State, as well as James Madison beating eventual ACC Champion Virginia Tech in 2010. North Dakota State also had a win at Iowa in 2016.
There is also Georgia Southern, then in the FCS, going to the Swamp and beating Florida in 2013, and of course, the biggest upset by an FCS team over any FBS squad was App State going to the Big House in 2008 and knocking off a top 10 Michigan team to open the season. At the time, App State was in the FCS as well.
“It’s what makes college football fun,” Swinney said. “There’s been a lot of times those teams beat those Division I teams. Not just a Cinderella once in a lifetime, I’m talking it has happened several times. It’s fun, and it’s exciting.”
In all, FCS teams have beat FBS schools 84 times since 1978, including 16 times in 2013 and 10 times in 2016. That’s why Dabo Swinney is making sure his team does not let it happen at Death Valley to open up the 2018 season on Saturday.