Tigers' streak inside AP Top 5 is almost unprecedented
On Monday, the Associated Press released its preseason Top 25 for the 2021 College Football Season.
Clemson rolled in at No. 3 in the preseason poll, marking a sixth straight year the Tigers will start a season ranked inside the top 5. It also marked the 57th straight week they have been ranked in the top 5, a remarkable streak.
In fact, here is something you probably have not seen mentioned on ESPN, or at least I have not seen it. Clemson’s streak of 57 consecutive weeks in the top 5 of the AP Poll is 39 weeks ahead of second best Alabama, who has an active streak of 18 weeks.
And in case you are wondering, the Tigers’ streak is second all-time in the history of the AP Poll, which began in 1936. It is only bested by Alabama’s streak of 68 consecutive weeks from 2015-’19. In other words, Clemson has an opportunity this year to set an all-time record, something it could possibly do prior to its Week 13 showdown with archrival South Carolina on Nov. 27, if it keeps winning.
The Tigers’ current streak began on November 5, 2017, and to take it a step further, they have been ranked inside the top 5 of the Coaches Top 25 Poll for 58 straight weeks, starting on October 29, 2017.
But the accolades do not stop in the top 5.
Clemson enters 2021 with a school-record streak of 103 consecutive AP top-25 rankings, including 94 polls in a row in the top 10, tied with Alabama for the nation’s longest active streak. The 94-poll streak in the top 10 is tied for the third-longest in poll history, behind Miami (137 from 1985-93) and Nebraska (96 from 1993-98).
But why stop there.
To put even more perspective on what the Tigers have accomplished under head coach Dabo Swinney, I can break it down even further.
Clemson has finished in the top four of the AP Poll in each of the last six years, a program record. Swinney became the fourth coach to record at least six consecutive top-four finishes in the AP poll era, an exclusive list that includes Florida State’s Bobby Bowden (13), Southern California’s Pete Carroll (7) and Oklahoma’s Bud Wilkinson (6).
How is that for perspective?
Clemson’s streak represents the fifth time a program has had a run of at least six top four finishes in the AP Poll. Miami had a seven-year run from 1986-’92 with two different head coaches leading the program.
Swinney always likes to say, “It isn’t how you start the year that matters, it is how you finish.” He is right, and few have finished better than Clemson in the last decade.
The 2020 season marked the 34th year the Tigers were ranked in the final AP Poll. It was the 13th time in the last 16 years – and 10th straight year – Clemson was ranked in the final poll.
What is the secret behind Clemson’s success?
It is simple. It is its culture.
It is a culture that is driven by its head coach and a staff that for the most part has stayed intact for a long period of time.
Swinney is now in his 19th season at Clemson, and his 14th as the head coach, if you count his interim stint in 2008. From the start of his first season as a full-time head coach in 2009 through 2020, there have been nearly 400 head coaching tenures in the FBS, but only one such tenure at Clemson.
Among the 11 schools ever to qualify for the College Football Playoff, only Clemson and Alabama have had one head coach since 2009.
As for Swinney’s staff, offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell are now in their 11th season at Clemson. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is in his 10th overall.
Cornerbacks coach Mike Reed is his ninth season, while quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter is currently in his eighth. Safeties Coach Mickey Conn and defensive tackles coach Todd Bates are now in their fifth year in Tigertown and defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall is in season four.
Wide receivers coach Tyler Grisham has started his second season, while C.J. Spiller is the Tigers’ new running backs coach. However, Grisham and Spiller both played for Swinney, and Grisham was a part of Swinney’s staff for six seasons prior to becoming his wide receivers’ coach. He spent those six seasons as a graduate assistant and then as an offensive analyst.
I guess you get the point. There is a reason why Clemson Football has been good for so long.
–Clemson Athletic Communications contributed to this column