There was a time when Clemson played Ohio State, the Tigers were considered the little guy, the underdog if you will.
Go back to the 2014 Orange Bowl, Clemson was an up-and-coming program at the time, just completing its third straight 10-win season in a row. But few at the time thought the Tigers had any shot at beating the Buckeyes, one of the elite programs in college football.
But Clemson upset the Buckeyes that night in Miami, 40-35, as they rallied in the fourth quarter to pull off the upset. At the end of the game, then Ohio State quarterback Urban Meyer said Dabo Swinney was building a little Giant in Tigertown and college football might want to take notice.
Two years later, Clemson was playing for the national championship and they have not looked back since.
Now, as the Buckeyes and Tigers get set to play their third semifinal game in the College Football Playoff era, Clemson is a touchdown favorite and, though they are definitely not the little guy, the Buckeyes are the underdog.
Add in the fact Swinney thinks Ohio State is not qualified for the CFP this year, and a lot of college football fans outside of Clemson, view the Tigers the bully in Friday’s Sugar Bowl.
It’s a new position for “Little ole Clemson” to be in.
“I don’t think we look at it from that perspective,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “Coach always says that right is right; wrong is wrong. So, when Coach Swinney believes in something, he’s going to say what he believes and he’s going to act accordingly with what he believes.
“I know there’s been a lot of back‑and‑forth with some of the comments from last year and then some of the things with Coach’s ranking. He believes it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t anything in disrespect to Ohio State, but it was just based off the totality of the season and the sacrifices that a lot of teams had to make.”
Though there are people outside the program that think being the “bad guy” is a new role for the Tigers, Elliott pointed out it is not. For a long time now, Clemson has had to play with the bullseye on its back in the ACC.
Clemson is the standard in the conference and every opponent it plays in the league treats their game against the Tigers like it is their Super Bowl.
“For us, several years back we adopted the mantra ‘embrace the target.’ We were no longer going to be Little ole Clemson that would sneak up on people,” Elliott said. “Whenever we stepped on the field, we were going to get everybody’s best.
“For us, it’s about embracing the target, staying true to our fundamentals on the field, but also our fundamentals and core values off the field. And then understand that, with success, comes scrutiny but always resetting every single year back to what the foundation of the program is and then building off of that as each team creates their own identity throughout the season.”