Monday Morning Quarterback
I doubt anyone out there was around for the late 1930s and early ‘40s, when Jess Neely had the Clemson football program rolling. First he helped start IPTAY and then guided the Tigers to their first bowl game and victory in the 1940 Cotton Bowl.
Frank Howard took over the next year and guided the Tigers to the Southern Conference Championship. Clemson won another conference title in 1948, while going 11-0.
In the 1950’s Howard took the program to new heights by winning the program its first ACC Championship in 1956, plus an Orange Bowl victory in 1951 and another appearance in 1958.
Some of you might remember when Howard took the Tigers to the 1959 Sugar Bowl, while winning ACC Championships in 1956, 1958, 1959, 1965, 1966 and 1967.
In the late 1970s, Charlie Pell brought Clemson back in the limelight by winning 18 games in two years, including an ACC Championship in 1978. His 1978 team went 11-1 and finished sixth nationally in the AP and the Coaches polls.
Danny Ford picked things up where Pell left off and took the program to another level. Most of you remember the 1980s when Clemson won the 1981 National Championship (12-0) and won five ACC titles, while beating programs like Notre Dame, Nebraska, Penn State and Oklahoma.
The Tigers posted an 87-25-4 record under Ford in the 1980s and posted three straight 10-win seasons from 1987-‘89.
Unfortunately, most of you remember the 1990s and 2000s, too, when the program was average at best. Clemson had some good seasons in between, but after 1991 it did not win another ACC Championship for 20 years and went 21 years before it won 10 games in a year.
Then came Dabo Swinney.
In his 10-plus seasons as head coach, Swinney has not only brought the football program back to where it was when Ford was the head coach, but he has surpassed it.
In his first full year as head coach, he guided the Tigers to the ACC Championship Game for the first time. He promised it would not be long before they got back, and he kept his word. Two years later they were in the title game again and this time they won it … the program’s first ACC Championship in 20 years.
The 2011 season was also Clemson’s first of a school-record eight straight 10-win seasons. In 2012, the Tigers took down LSU with a last-second win in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl. They then won the 2014 Orange Bowl Classic over Ohio State and handed Oklahoma its worse bowl loss in history the next year.
However, it has been the last four years every Clemson fan will remember the most. It is the greatest four-year stretch in not only the program’s history, but in the history of college football.
The Tigers posted a 55-4 record the last four years. They won four ACC Championships. They earned a spot in the College Football Playoff all four years. They played in three national championship games and, more importantly, won two of them, beating Alabama both times, including a 44-16 rout this past January in Santa Clara, California.
Clemson became the first team since 1897 in college football to go 15-0 in a season, while winning 13 of those games by 20 or more points.
So, what is my point in all of this?
We are in the midst of the greatest run in Clemson football history, and if you want to know the truth, it does not appear it is going to end anytime soon. Not with Trevor Lawrence back at quarterback, along with four seniors on the offensive line and 2018 ACC Player of the Year Travis Etienne at running back. Also, those two dynamic receivers on the outside—Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross—are also back.
Then there is the top 10 recruiting class from 2019 and a shot at signing the No. 1 class this year, which represents the future.
Swinney always says, “the best is yet to come.” The crazy thing is, he is right.
This might be an era Clemson and all of college football will remember for years to come.