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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ten Off The Field Moments That Defined The 2011 Football Season (Part I)

By Scott Rhymer

Simply as a reminder, please review radio broadcast information for the Discover Orange Bowl by clicking here:

I would like to take a moment and wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year as we close out 2011. As I look back on this year, it is quite amazing how far the Clemson football program came from January 1st, 2011 up until now. While we have chronicled the on the field key moments throughout the year in this blog, I thought I would help you rewind to some of the major moments that took place off the field during this calendar year that defined the 2011 football season.

Today, we will look at five key moments, starting with January 2nd of last year, as Part I of this two part series. On Sunday, I will complete the series with five more key moments that took place off the field in 2011 for the Clemson football program.

January 2nd, 2011-Napier’s Run As Offensive Coordinator Ends
Just two days into the new year, Dabo Swinney announced that Billy Napier and Andre’ Powell would not return to the Clemson staff. Napier served as Clemson's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, while Powell served as running backs coach and special team’s coordinator. Clemson was coming off a 2010 year in which the offense finished 9th in the ACC in Total Offense (334.6 yards per game) and 9th in the ACC in Scoring Offense (24.0 points per game).

Dabo Swinney summed it up when meeting with the media on January 2nd, 2011. "This was a difficult decision, one that was not made hastily. But, we must make significant improvement on the offensive side of the ball. I have to do what I believe is best for the program going forward, and make sure we don't experience another season like the one we just had." Swinney was obviously fond of Napier and severing ties with someone that he had coached with for several years had to be a difficult time for Swinney. But great head coaches often have to make tough decisions, and Swinney did just that to start out the 2011 calendar year. I have no reservations in saying the road to the ACC Championship for Clemson in 2011 starting on January 2nd, 2011.

January 5th, 2011 and January 9th, 2011-Bowers and Harper Leave Clemson Early
Clemson unanimous All-American defensive end Da’Quan Bowers and Running Back Jamie Harper declared for the NFL Draft within one week of each other in early January. Bowers had a breakout 2010 season when he led the nation in sacks with 15.5 and ranked second in tackles for loss with 26. The sack total was the second most in Clemson history and the tackle for loss total is one off the school record for a defensive lineman. Bowers also broke Gaines Adams’ record for sacks in a season by a Clemson defensive lineman. "I feel I am ready to go to the next level and I look forward to working hard in preparation for the draft."

Bowers was also the most decorated player in Clemson history as he won the Nagurski Award as the top defensive player in college football as selected by the Football Writers Association, and the Ted Hendricks Award as the top defensive end in college football. Bowers was also a unanimous All-American and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. At the time, Bowers was just the fourth unanimous first-team All-American in Clemson history.

Jamie Harper’s decision was a bit more curious. Harper was Clemson's leader in rushing and all-purpose yardage in 2010. "I certainly wanted Jamie to remain at Clemson for his senior year," said Dabo Swinney. "But, I thank him for his contributions to our program the last three years. He represented our school and our program well. He was a fun player to coach because he gave us everything he had in every practice and every game." While Bowers was expected to leave for the NFL, Harper’s decision was a bit surprising and set up a situation where a true freshman would have to come in to back up Andre Ellington in 2011.

January 10th, 2011-We Find Our Offensive Coordinator
Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney announced that Chad Morris will join the Clemson football coaching staff. Morris was the offensive coordinator at Tulsa in 2010 and guided that offense to among the best in the nation. That offense was a big reason Tulsa improved from 5-7 in 2009 to 10-3 in 2010. Prior to coming to Tulsa, Morris had an 82 percent winning percentage as a high school coach in the state of Texas. He led Lake Travis High School to back to back undefeated 16-0 State Championship seasons. He won three state titles overall and played in six state championship games in his high school career.

During the search for offensive coordinator, a bevy of names floated around the Clemson campus, including Ralph Friedgen. But Swinney settled on a name that very few of us had heard of prior to this coaching search. Morris was hired to do for Clemson what Gus Malzahn did for Auburn by creating an up-tempo offense that was geared around amassing as many as 80 offensive plays per game. The idea, at least at the time, was shocking to a Clemson community that had watched the offense struggle to earn first downs, much less run 80 plays per game. But this drastic transformation was exactly what was needed in Clemson, and Swinney found the guy he would now hang his head coaching career on.

February 2nd, 2011-Sammy Watkins Leads Stellar Recruiting Class
Clemson signs Sammy Watkins to a National Letter Of Intent, capping a recruiting class that would be regarded as one of the best in the nation. Watkins turned out to be one of the best wide receivers in the nation in addition to earning several Freshman awards (including Freshman All American and Freshman of the Year). From the moment Watkins was signed, there was a buzz about his athletic ability. But once he stepped onto campus in August it became obvious that he was the best wide receiver on the football team. Watkins certainly turned out to be a game changer early in the season, possibly helping Clemson win two or three games we would have otherwise lost.

But Watkins was not the only contributor in February’s signing class. Also included in the 2011 signing class were several players that would make major contributions throughout the year for Clemson, including Corey Crawford, Martavis Bryant, Mike Bellamy, DeShawn Williams, Adam Humphries, Charone Peake, Lateek Townsend, and Stephone Anthony. As it turns out, February’s signing class lived up to its ranking very early on and the Tigers would not have been in Charlotte for the ACC Championship without the key contributions of many from this signing class.

June 20, 2011-Clemson’s Schedule Recognized As One Of The Toughest
Despite playing in the (gasp!) Atlantic Coast Conference, the preseason buzz in June was on Clemson and fact that the Tigers would face one of the most difficult schedules in the nation in 2011. In June, The Sporting News ranked Clemson’s non-conference schedule as the 10th most challenging in the nation. Three of Clemson's four non-conference games were played against teams that played in bowl games in 2010 and all four of the non-conference foes won at least eight games in 2010. The non-conference schedule was not the only concern for the Tigers, as Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech all had preseason rankings.

As the season played out, Clemson ended up defeating four top 25 teams, tied for second in the nation, and most in Clemson history for one season. Clemson was also just the third ACC school to have four top 25 wins in same year since 2000 and the Tigers also became the first ACC school to defeat AP ranked teams in three consecutive games (Auburn, Florida State, and Virginia Tech).

Stay tuned tomorrow, as I will break down five more key moments that took place off the field that helped define the 2011 football season for Clemson.


Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Friday, December 30, 2011

Conference Braggadocio Defies Logic

By Scott Rhymer

Simply as a reminder, please review radio broadcast information for the Discover Orange Bowl by clicking here:

If you close your eyes and open your ears you can hear the chants now. In some corners of the world you hear, “SEC…SEC…SEC…SEC”. In other parts of the country you can hear similar chants…”ACC…ACC…ACC…ACC”. I suspect that out west you may be able to hear…”PAC 10…PAC…10…PAC 10…PAC 10”.

Of all the good and the bad I have seen in college football over the past 40 years, conference braggadocio may be the least logical of all the trends I have witnessed.

I am typing this on Thursday night while I watch Notre Dame and Florida State. A few nights ago, I watched NC State and Louisville. I will watch Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech over the next few nights. And I ain’t pulling for any of them.

Why should I? Or, maybe more importantly, why should you?

College football has taken on a quirky trend over the past 10 years and I think it is now bordering on the absurd. Although this trend is relatively new and certainly was not a part of fandom back in the ’70 and ‘80s, there are now major college football fans that actually and openly pull for teams in their own conference for the simple reason of conference braggadocio.

Now, I am not going to bore you with the psychoanalysis of why I think rabid college football fans that hate an opposing school one week will abruptly change that tune and openly root for that very same school the next week simply because they are playing an “out of conference” football team. Dr. Phil could analyze the crazy psychosis of this phenomenon, I’ll simply leave it alone by saying these fans obviously don’t know how silly they look.

I am a Clemson fan. I love Clemson. The teams that stand between Clemson and success are the enemy. That’s not to say I hate those schools in the literal sense. But I certainly don’t shed a tear when they get beat, whether by Clemson or any other team.

So when I watch these bowl games, I have no particular desire to see ACC teams succeed. Why? Because those are the same teams that are doing everything they can to beat Clemson when we play head to head. And beating Clemson head to head is part game day coaching and execution…and it is partially recruiting and program reputation.

There may be a high school player sitting at home that watched FSU beat Notre Dame and because of that he decides to choose FSU over some other school. Nine months from now, that same kid may catch a touchdown pass or make an interception against Clemson. And because he made his decision to attend FSU in part because they were having success in a bowl game, he now is a reason we potentially lose to the Seminoles. That seems so simple to understand…yet the chants continue.

Some of you are sitting there reading this thinking I am soft and scared. I can hear you now…”To be the best you have to beat the best. I want all of Clemson’s opponents to be great so when we beat them we can be the greatest!” You know who you are and you are not alone. Many of you feel that way.

And you are all wrong.

If you don’t believe me, give me one single example of when pulling for your adversary is acceptable in anything other than college football.

Do teams in the NFL pull for teams in their own division and chant “NFC West…NFC West…NFC West…NFC West? Do they want NFC West teams to win when they play AFC West teams? Nope, they do not.

Do Universities pull for their fellow schools to get the best high school students in the nation to go to another school instead of their own? Nope, they do not.

Does Coca Cola want Pepsi to have an incredible spring ad campaign that draws enormous attention to their new product? Nope, they do not.

Does Bank of America hope that Chase has a great 1st QTR of the new year? Nope, they do not.

Did President Lincoln and General Grant hope that Robert E. Lee could find a bounty of excellent fighting soldiers late in the realm of the Civil War just so they could say they defeated the best of the best? Nope, they did not.

Or, let me put it in football perspective. If Clemson jumps out to a 28-0 lead over Auburn next year in the Georgia Dome, do you want Auburn to come back and make it look respectable so they garner more respect from the national media? Nope, you do not want that.

I could spend all day giving examples of competitive situations between opposing groups and I dare say that you will never find a competitive matchup where the opposing member wants their opponent to have success. It defies logic. It defies common sense.

Yet, it does not escape the thought process of many college football fans who will openly pull for their adversaries to have success this bowl season. So the chants continue.

And for those that fall prey to that thought process…not only are you wrong but you are working against your favorite school because the teams you openly hope have success this bowl season will take the fruits of that success and try to beat your brains in next football season.

So as I watch the games this bowl season, I have one very clear objective. I want to see the ACC lose. I want those teams in the ACC to lose bad. I want the ACC to be embarrassed. I have no issue with seeing those conference ranking after the bowl season is over saying how poorly (other than Clemson) the ACC did in bowl games.

I also want Auburn to lose bad (since we play them next year). That means that I will be pulling for Virginia, even though they are in the ACC, because we don’t play Virginia next year.

And, of course, I want the South Carolina Gamecocks to get their brains beat in as well. Partly because we play the Gamecocks and partly because they deserve it!

But what I don’t want is those teams that we will play in the coming years to succeed in any way, shape, or form. Their success means potential failure for our football team. For some of you that seems soft.

I say it is common sense and logic, just like every other competitive situation this country has ever seen.

Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Money Is Not An Issue With Bowl Games

By Scott Rhymer

Simply as a reminder, radio broadcast information for the Discover Orange Bowl, click here:

Over the next few days, you are most certainly going to hear proponents of a playoff system tell you how broken the bowls system is because of the fact that some teams will “lose” money on their trip to a bowl game this year.

I typed “lose” money in quotation marks because we need to come to an understanding before this blog continues.

No major college football program is truly “losing” money by participating in bowl games. Any athletic official or journalist that says or writes that teams are losing money in bowl games are playing a selective accounting game with those that are willing to believe that nonsense.

Bowl games are generating incredible revenue to football conferences that is trickling down to a relative bounty at the school level.

Now, let me help you understand the propaganda that is letting you think that some major college football programs are losing money on the bowl trip. Let’s put it in terms of reality and something that you and I can understand in common terms. Journalists saying football programs are losing money on bowl games is equivalent to you saying that you are losing money by paying for gas in your car as you travel to and from work.

Saying you lose money by paying for gas to and from work ignores the very obvious fact that once at work you are provided a salary that more than makes up for the travel to and from work in gas money. And media that suggest that athletic departments lose money on going to bowl games ignores the facts of the conference windfall that is paid back down to athletic departments for conference affiliations, contract affiliations, and television deals.

College football is not a money drain on athletic departments in BCS Conferences. Quite the opposite. College football is a source of extraordinary income for athletic departments in BCS Conferences.

That’s not to say that there are not expenses along the way. The system is not set up for all revenue with zero expenses. Expenses will most certainly occur, and traveling to a bowl game most certainly is going to be an expense. But those expenses in no way shape or form equate to a financial drain on a school or athletic department in a major conference.

Part of the reason the television networks are willing to align with the conferences by dumping tons of money on mega television deals is because of the bowl alliances that guarantee that conference teams will play in bowl games at the end of the season. The fact that the ACC will be represented in the Discover Orange Bowl on January 4th is one of the driving reasons ESPN and ABC are willing to shell out millions of dollars for broadcasting rights of the ACC during the regular season.

I will use Clemson as a real life example. Clemson’s reported “loss” of $180,000 is a bug on the windshield to the big picture of conference alignment with the television networks, which is integrated throughout the bowl financial structure. In fact, that $180,000 loss equates to less than 1% of the expenses for a typical calendar year budget at Clemson.

According to USA Today, during the 2009-10 calendar year, the Clemson Athletic Department generated $57,562,999 in income to coincide with $56,780,518 in expenses. That is a net gain of $782,481 in a year before the busty new contract the ACC signed with ESPN. While you may notice that is not a massive net gain of revenue, it is fair to note that the expenses incurred during that calendar year include facility upgrades, coaches salaires, and payments to the University just to name a few. Athletic Departments are not profit making corporations. If you can build facilities and pay huge salaires to coaches and still turn a profit in a calendar year, things are well off in your program.

You should also note that this was Total Athletic Department revenue and expenses, not just football. Keep in mind that the vast majority of those revenues at Clemson are because of football and a large portion of the expenses are for programs other than football that do not generate revenue. In other words, Clemson football is carrying the load for the programs at Clemson that do not generate revenue. I realize that is not breaking news with most of you, but it needs to be pointed out nonetheless.

Should you feel sorry for any football program taking a “loss” on going to a bowl game? Absolutely not. Unless, of course, those same football programs refuse to accept the money that will come into their bank account from the other conference teams playing in bowl games and the income generated from million dollar television deals conference negotiate.

One final thought that should clue you in to how little this “loss” really means to an athletic program, just take Clemson as a perfect example.

Our football team, coaches, coach’s families, athletic department, athletic department families, and an assortment of athletic department staff are in Miami right now. In fact, they arrived 8 days prior to the actual game being played. That’s quite a few plane flights, hotel rooms, per diems, and other expenses that could have been greatly reduced had the entourage not left for Miami until one or two days before the game.

Part of “losing” an estimated $180,000 on the Discover Orange Bowl is because we chose to spend a really long time treating our team and those surrounding it to a wonderful week in Florida. If there were real concerns about how this $180,000 loss was going to impact our atheltic program, cuts could have been made in the trip to easliy make up that loss.

Don’t get me wrong, making the bowl trip a week long event is not a criticism. A bowl game should be a reward for all of those folks mentioned below. It can even be used as a recruiting tool for players and future coaches as a demonstration of how well those that work in and around the Athletic Department will be treated during bowl season.

But I’m not going to fall prey to feeling sorry for anyone that is “losing” money on a bowl game when you turn the trip for all involved with the program into an 8 day trip when it could have been a 2 day trip just like any other road game.

In fairness to Clemson in particular, all of the athletic department officials I have spoken to are very appreciative of what they have with this trip. I have not heard anyone at Clemson bemoan the fact that we are losing $180,000 on this bowl trip. I simply used Clemson as a real life example for those in the media that use fuzzy accounting to make a point about a broken bowl system.

Broken only if you think paying for gas in your car to go to work and earn $50,000 a year is a raw deal.

Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Broadcast Information For Discover Orange Bowl

By Scott Rhymer

WCCP 104.9 FM Talk Sports will be out in full force at the Discover Orange Bowl, culminating in the Tiger Pregame Show broadcast on game day from outside of Sun Life Stadium at the Discover Orange Bowl.

On Monday (January 2nd) and Tuesday (January 3rd) Mickey Plyler will host his show from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 a.m. from the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood Beach. The Westin Diplomat is the team hotel for Clemson during the Discover Orange Bowl.

On game day (Wednesday, January 4th), WCCP 104.9 FM Talk Sports will broadcast live from the Fan Zone at Sun Life Stadium. The broadcast will begin with Mickey Plyler and several guest hosts from 12:00-2:30 outside of Gate G at Sun Life Stadium.

Immediately following Plyler will be the 116th consecutive broadcast live on location where the Tigers play of the Tiger Pregame Show with Scott Rhymer, Will Vandervort, and Roy Philpott. The Tiger Pregame Show will broadcast from the same location as Mickey Plyler (outside of Gate G of Sun Life Stadium) from 2:30-5:30 to break down the game like only the Tiger Pregame Show can do.

In addition to the broadcast, WCCP will have multiple items for giveaways to get you set for the Orange Bowl. The Fan Zone is also a great place to get ready for the game, so plan to come by and listen to the Tiger Pregame Show and enjoy the festivities of the Orange Bowl all at one location. If you are planning on being in Fort Lauderdale for the Discover Orange Bowl, make plans to come by and see us at Gate G outside of Sun Life Stadium for fun and tailgating to get ready for the Tigers and the Mountaineers.

On Thursday, January 5th, Plyler will broadcast his show at his normal hours (6-9 am) at the Westin Diplomat Hotel.

If you are travelling to Florida for the game, make sure you download the Tune In App for your Blackberry or Android phone so you can stream WCCP 104.9 FM and all of these shows while you are in Florida.

If you are not able to make it to Florida for the bowl game, you can listen to WCCP 104.9 in the upstate as well as at

For more information on Fan Zone and our broadcast location at Sun Life Stadium, visit the Orange Bowl website information on the Fan Zone:

We look forward to seeing you in Florida!

Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Early Random Thoughts As Team Arrives In Fort Lauderdale

By Scott Rhymer

We are just seven days away from Clemson playing in the most significant bowl game since 1982’s Orange Bowl. If you missed my thoughts yesterday on why I think this is the most significant bowl game since the 1981 season, this link will jump you directly to my thoughts:

Bowl games, by their nature, are a bit hard to figure out ahead of time. The layover from the previous game can be in excess of 30 days. Motivation is always a concern. And new wrinkles put in by the team you are going against are something you have to guard against on both sides of the ball.

Understanding all of the quirks that come with a bowl game, here are a few very early random thoughts on what to watch for this week as the Tigers prepare in South Florida for the Discover Orange Bowl.

Hopkins’ Status Uncertain
DeAndre Hopkins, the second leading receiver on Clemson’s ACC Championship football team, was injured in an auto accident Tuesday morning and did not accompany the Clemson team to Miami. Hopkins suffered a mild concussion in the accident, but does not have any other serious injuries. Coach Swinney said Tuesday “it is too soon to speculate one way or another on his status for the game eight days from now.” It would be a significant loss to Clemson’s offense if Hopkins is not able to play in the Orange Bowl. In addition to being the 2nd leading receiver on the team, Hopkins was generally regarded as Clemson’s best possession receiver on third down. Hopkins also was serving as the primary punt returner for the Tigers, thus amplifying his potential loss. Hopkins’ status is something we will need to monitor very closely in the coming week.

Trouble in South Beach?
Anytime you take 80+ football players to a bowl game, you are on guard for the potential that somebody is going to goof up. On a typical road game, players rarely leave the hotel they are staying in. But at a bowl game, players are generally given some amount of free time on their own with the restrictions being that curfews must be met. Young men can find a bit of trouble just about anywhere. But finding temptation in Charlotte or Nashville is a little harder to do than it is in South Beach. Beaches, clubs, and parties are standard operating procedure down in the southern part of Florida, so staying away from those traps is easy for me to say and harder for our players to do! Clemson seems to have a roster full of young men with high character and responsibility, but you must cross your fingers that they will make the right decisions during the seven day stay in the Miami area.

Young Players, Extra Practice
In some ways, youth in this era of college football may be the most overused excuse that I hear year in and year out. Sammy Watkins may be a freshman, but he played like one of the best players at his position in the nation. Our offensive line had plenty of seniors on the two deep and yet we still found a way to get pushed around in several games this year. That being said, playing in a bowl game (especially a BCS bowl game that is not played until January) gives valuable additional practice time to the young pups that dominate the two deep on both sides of the ball for this team. The offense sports 16 players on the 22 man two deep roster that are scheduled to return next year. The defense has 15 players on the 22 man two deep roster that are scheduled to return next year. But deeper inside those numbers show the youth of this team. Of the 16 offensive players that are underclassman on the two deep, 11 of the 16 are freshman or sophomores. Of the 15 defensive players that are underclassman on the two deep, 8 of the 15 are freshman or sophomores. In addition to those numbers, many of the players that were redshirted this year will be expected to crack the two deep next year, so their additional practice time is going to pay dividends this spring when their redshirts are removed. All in all, Clemson is a young football team that most certainly is reaping some benefits from this prolonged season because of the ACC Championship game and now the BCS Bowl game.

Last Hurrah?
While Clemson, overall, is a young football team, we may be seeing the final collegiate games for several players that are not currently seniors. Dwayne Allen, Dalton Freeman, and Andre Ellington are all potential candidates for the NFL draft after the season ends. Without speaking directly with Dwayne about his NFL future, I have taken the stance for several weeks that Allen will indeed go forward in the draft as he is expected to be a 1st round NFL pick. While I believe Allen is almost certainly a done deal, Freeman and Ellington are still a bit of a mystery to me. I don’t think Freeman can boost his draft resume with another year simply because he is a center and it is difficult for centers to be 1st round NFL picks. So on one hand it makes sense for Freeman to go ahead and declare for the NFL draft. Then again, Freeman may be better served returning to Clemson and finishing up his degree and starting graduate school to better acclimate himself to life after football if he does not make an NFL team this year (or next). Andre Ellington most certainly could benefit from another year of eligibility, although I do think he is considering leaving Clemson for the NFL. If Ellington would have avoided injuries the last two years, he would have put together two of the most prolific rushing seasons in Clemson football history. But he did get injured, both years, and that is going to shy NFL teams away from drafting Ellington early. If Andre returned to Clemson, played a year without major injury, and rushed for 1,300 yards, he could become an early round pick in 2013. And let’s not forget the status of Mike Bellamy is also up in the air as he sits at home during the bowl game after being suspended the day before the ACC Championship game. If I to rank those four players from most likely to leave Clemson to least likely…I would start with Duane Allen as most likely followed by Mike Bellamy, Andre Ellington, and Dalton Freeman. At any rate, it is almost a guarantee that at least one (if not more) of these players will have their last hurrah for Clemson with this season.

Moving Up The Pecking Order
With a win in the Discover Orange Bowl, Clemson will almost certainly garner a top 15 preseason ranking next year. Preseason rankings, rightly or wrongly, are based on how teams finish the year, the skill position players that return on offense, and the impact players that you have returning on defense. Very rarely do preseason polls look at offensive line talent, depth at key positions, and schedules. So all of the major concerns that Clemson will have moving into next year are not things that the preseason pundits will look very closely at when making their summer rankings. Although Clemson moved up into the top 5 of the BCS this year, the Tigers had to do it with an 8 game winning streak. By earning a preseason ranking, you can ascend to those high rankings in the BCS late in the season even with a loss early in the season.

Stay tuned to the Tiger Pregame Show blog as we continue to cover bowl week for the Tigers.

Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Discover Orange Bowl Most Significant Clemson Bowl Game Since 1982

By Scott Rhymer

As the final ticks of Clemson’s Orange Bowl game on January 1st, 1982 wound down, Tiger Nation had officially arrived on the national college football scene. I suppose you could say we somewhat arrived a few years earlier when Woody Hayes whacked Charlie Bauman in the final seconds of the 1978 Gator Bowl. But it seems the legacy of that 1978 game from a national standpoint had more to do with Woody Hayes and Ohio State than it did Clemson.

Little did we know on that evening in 1982 at Miami’s Orange Bowl that we were about to embark on a decade of football that would define our program for our fans and on a national level.

During the latter half of the 1980’s, Clemson bulldozed through five wonderful bowl wins in six years from 1986-1991 that included wins over Stanford, Penn State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Illinois and a single loss to California. Each of those games offered significant reasons why one could consider them more significant than what the 2012 Orange Bowl will provide as we peer back with history now being reality.

1986 saw Clemson’s return to a major bowl after a couple of years of probation followed by a lackluster 1985 campaign that ended in the Independence Bowl. Clemson’s win over Stanford in 1986 allowed the Tigers to finish the year in the Top 25 and set the stage for Clemson to once again emerge on the national landscape.

1987’s win over defending National Champion Penn State and Joe Paterno was another notch on the belt of Danny Ford beating legendary coaches in bowl games (see Woody Hayes and Tom Osborne on Ford’s belt already prior to 1987) and it allowed the Tigers to finish the season ranked 14th in the nation.

1988’s win over Oklahoma was déjà vu in some ways as the win was over another recent National Champion and legendary coach, this time Barry Switzer. The win also pushed the Tigers into the top 10 in the nation for the end of year polls.

The 1989 Gator Bowl was a Clemson beat down of Heisman Trophy finalist Major Harris and the Mountaineers that pushed the Tigers up to #14 in the final polls. This game’s significance would not reside in the win as much as the fact that it turned out to be Danny Ford’s last game as Clemson’s coach.

The 1990 win over Illinois in the Hall of Fame Bowl (under Ken Hatfield) and the 1991 loss to California in the Citrus Bowl rounded out a six year stretch of bowl games that all hold a special place in the heart of Clemson fans as the greatest run of bowl games in Clemson football history.

As significant as each of those bowl games were, their greatest legacy is the connection they had as a six year stretch run of very good football played by Clemson. But singularly, none of those six bowl games offered the significance of what Clemson will encounter next week in the Discover Orange Bowl. In addition, none of those bowl games would be considered “BCS Level” bowl games, making this year’s trip to the Orange Bowl the first “BCS Level” Bowl game Clemson has played in since the Orange Bowl in January of 1982. (I fully recognize that the BCS was not in existence in the 1980’s, but the bowl games that make up the BCS were in existence and were, even in that era, considered the most prestigious bowls).

Which brings us back to understanding that the stature of this year’s Discover Orange Bowl offers Clemson a chance to play in a game more significant than any it has played in since the 1981 season.

But I know you usually want proof with my opinions, so here are some additional items to help solidify my point.

This BCS Orange Bowl for the Tigers in 2011 had to be earned on the football field by winning a conference championship, things that were not prerequisites for the bowl games mentioned above that Clemson played in during the 1980’s. While Clemson won ACC Titles in 1986, 87, 88, and 91 it was not a requirement in that era to win the title to go to those particular bowl games.

This is Clemson’s first BCS Bowl game, in itself an accomplishment that is as unique and significant as most any other bowl game that the Tigers have played in. You can’t earn a BCS bowl berth simply by having a great fan base. You have certain requirements with rankings and/or championship wins that qualify you for consideration in a BCS bowl game.

But let’s add to the significance. If Clemson beats West Virginia on January 4th, our Tigers will be the only ACC Team with a winning record in BCS Bowl Games. Let me repeat…we have a chance to be the only ACC Team with a winning BCS Bowl record. Florida State leads the ACC in terms of BCS Appearances, but the Seminoles are also a perfect example of ACC futility by winning only one BCS game against five losses. Virginia Tech, the team Clemson just beat to earn our first BCS Bowl berth, has only one win in four attempts in BCS games. Maryland, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech all lost their only BCS Bowl appearance. For those keeping score at home, the ACC is a putrid 2-11 in BCS Bowl Games. The only conferences that have earned worse BCS Bowl records are Conference USA, the MAC, and the Sun Belt. So Clemson can dramatically stand apart from their ACC brethren by winning the BCS Bowl game and becoming the only ACC team carrying a winning record of BCS games into the 2012 season. In addition, Clemson can restore some measure of respect and credibility to the ACC by capping a season in which two ACC teams earned BCS berths by winning the game (Virginia Tech will also be looked on for some help with that as well).

In terms of the Orange Bowl, Clemson also has the opportunity to distinguish itself in the history of this storied bowl and the ACC. Of the 12 current ACC teams, all have participated in the Orange Bowl except NC State, Virginia, and North Carolina. Of the other 9 current ACC teams, only Miami has a winning record in the Orange Bowl (6-3). With a win over West Virginia, the Tigers would move to 3-1 in our history in the Orange Bowl and that would make Miami and Clemson the only ACC teams with winning records.

Clemson has won 10 games for the first time since 1990. With a win in the Orange Bowl, Clemson would win 11 games or more for the first time since 1981 and only the forth time in program history (1948, 1978, and 1981). When you can do something that only those three teams have done in Clemson football history, you are accomplishing greatness as all three of those teams are regarded as special in the lore of Clemson football history.

With a win in the Orange Bowl next week, Clemson could finish in the Top 10 of AP or USA To­day polls for the first time since 1990. Because West Virginia is ranked, a win by the Tigers would mark the fifth Top 25 team Clemson has beaten this year. That has not been done in the ACC since Florida State did it in 1999. Three of those wins over Top 25 teams would have been away from Death Valley, and that would be the first time Clemson has achieved that since 1950.

Clemson could also become the highest ranked ACC team in the final polls for the first time since 1991. Of course, that would depend on how Virginia Tech does in their bowl game in addition to Clemson earning the win over West Virginia.

From a national perspective, Clemson can earn a huge measure of respect in the college football landscape. The Discover Orange Bowl will be the only game of the day and in prime time, a rarity in the history of the Clemson football program. The nation will be watching and many college football fans will see Clemson for the first time in something other than highlight clips from ESPN.

So when you put it all in a basket and shake it around, this year’s Discover Orange Bowl offers an opportunity to be the most significant bowl game since that magical National Championship year. Each of those bowl appearances between 1986 and 1991 had some of the ingredients of what this year’s Orange Bowl has. I attended each of those bowl games and they were among the best times in my life in terms of following Clemson. They were all special years and special games.

But none of those years have the prestige and the intangibles that this year’s bowl game has. Which, by definition, makes this game the most significant bowl game since that storied 1982 Orange Bowl which took place 30 years ago this week.


Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Information Regarding Clemson's Orange Bowl Schedule Starting With Tuesday, December 27th

By Scott Rhymer

I hope that each and every one of you had a wonderful holiday season and Christmas celebration with your friends and family. As you have noticed, I took a few days of break from writing on the blog to celebrate the season with my family. But now that Christmas has come and gone, it is time to start looking towards the Orange Bowl. It is still hard to believe that at this time last year we were sitting in 4 inches of snow preparing for a bowl game in Charlotte that few of us were really excited about.

Fast forward 365 days, we are ACC Champions and getting prepared to travel to sunny South Florida and a BCS game on National Television.

In tomorrow’s blog, I will outline why this Orange Bowl game with West Virginia is one of the most important games in 25 years for Clemson University and our football program. Until tomorrow, here is a schedule/itinerary of what will take place over the next few days to help you understand when and where you will receive information on press conferences and practices leading up to the Orange Bowl.

Clemson will arrive in South Florida tomorrow (Tuesday, December 27th) at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Jet Center. There will be media present, so you can expect some information and quotes from Dabo Swinney and select Clemson players as they arrive at the Fort Lauderdale Jet Center.

The Orange Bowl will welcome Clemson in true South Florida style with water cannon salutes on the tarmac as the student-athletes and coaches disembark from the plane. The airport arrival is what the Orange Bowl Committee characterizes as “an exciting, vibrant official team welcome to South Florida for a week-long schedule of Orange Bowl Festival events.”

Clemson will practice December 29th-January 2nd at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. There will be four practices with varying media access while Clemson is in Miami for the Discover Orange Bowl. Clemson’s December 30th and January 2nd practices will be open to the media for the walk-thru and stretching periods only. The December 31st and January 1st practices will be open for the walk-thru, stretching and the first 15 minutes of practice beyond stretching. There will be no interviews during the periods open to the media.

On Thursday, December 29th, Clemson will have an arrival press conference with Coach Swinney and four selected players made available.

On Saturday, December 31st, a Press Conference for Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and players Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Dwayne Allen, Andre Ellington, Landon Walker and Dalton Freeman will take place.

On Monday, January 2nd, a Press conference for Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and players Andre Branch, Brandon Thompson, Corico Hawkins, Coty Sensabaugh, Xavier Brewer and Rashard Hall will take place.

On Tuesday, January 3rd, both head coaches will have a Press Conference in the morning with final thoughts on the game. You can also get ready for the football game with a huge pep rally for Clemson and West Virginia fans. Gridiron Bash offers the Clemson Tigers, West Virginia Mountaineers and Discover Orange Bowl fans a unique opportunity to rally behind their school and team with school bands, cheerleaders and more! And to top it all off, performing live in concert – Travis Tritt. For more information and tickets, you can click here:

On Game Day (January 4th), a variety of things are going on that Clemson fans will want to take part in.

Information regarding the Tiger Pregame Show broadcast location from outside Sun Life Stadium will be coming later this week. We anticipate broadcasting from a location that fans can come by to listen to the show and tailgate/mingle with other fans. Time of broadcast is still yet to be finalized. Our traditional broadcast time would have us on the air at 2:30-5:30, but we have discussed extending the Pregame Show broadcast time to begin earlier in the day. We look forward to providing more information on that in the next few days, so stay tuned.

In addition to the Pregame Show, the 2012 Bud Light Orange Bowl Game Day Fan Zone will begin on game day at 1:30 and end around 7:30 from Gate G outside of Sun Life Stadium.

Tomorrow I will outline why this game is so significant for Clemson, with some information that you may not have heard about regarding this game and Clemson.


Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Clemson's Christmas Much Different Than One Year Ago

By Scott Rhymer

What a contrast the week before Christmas is this year compared to last year. Most of you remember we were
sitting at 6-6 after being drubbed at home by South Carolina. We were preparing to play in a bowl game nobody in the world, including ourselves, cared about. If you needed evidence of that apapthy, take a look at this picture at the opening kickoff in last's year's Car Bowl.

Time may cloud our memory just a bit, so I thought I would also remind you of some of the topics that were coming acrosss the Clemson wire just 365 days ago.

The storylines the week around Christmas in 2010 were as follows:

The Clemson Athletic Department released renderings of the newly approved Indoor Practice Facility.

DeAndre McDaniel was among eight active Clemson football players and two former Tigers who recently graduated. McDaniel's graduation meant each of the last eight Clemson football players to make All-American at some point in their careers graduated.

Clemson arrived in Charlotte to begin preparation for the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Clemson practiced at Charlotte Country Day High School in Charlotte where a snow storm had dumped four inches of snow in the area the previous day and machinery had to be used to sweep the snow off the field in order for the Tigers to practice.

Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins spoke with the media for the first time since it was announced that he would join the Clemson basketball team in the coming week. "I am concentrating on this football game, so I really haven't thought much about joining the basketball team, but I am going to do whatever I can to help that team win. I am looking forward to it."

Clemson QB Kyle Parker was preparing to make a “controversial” start in the bowl game after recently announcing that he would turn professional after the season’s end. Swinney commented on Parker's play when he met with the media after the practice. "Kyle is a competitive young man and I expect him to play well on Friday in his final football game. He has worked hard during the bowl preparation and I know he wants to lead us to a victory in his final game as our quarterback. He will leave Clemson with quite a legacy, an athlete who has done some things no one else has done as a two-sport athlete." Parker would eventually get the start in the bowl game, but Tajh Boyd would finish the game as Parker would suffer an injury.

Although he did not know it at the time, Billy Napier was coaching his last practices at Clemson as the offensive coordinator. Clemson had just completed a year on offense that the Tigers ranked 10th in scoring offense and total offense (ahead of only Boston College and Wake Forest). Jamie Harper (who was about to announce he was going to turn pro) was 10th in the league in rushing yards per game at a mere 58.5 yards per game. Kyle Parker was 9th in the league in passing, averaging only 170.2 yards per game. And DeAndre Hopkins was the best receiver at Clemson and the 10th best in the ACC, averaging 4.2 receptions per game.

The 180 degree turn that was a losing season in Clemson during the 2010 season and then turned into a championship season in 2011 is an amazing story, but also a statement on where college football is in this modern era. Ten of the twenty five teams that finished in the Top 25 of the Final BCS Standings in 2010 were not in the Final BCS Top 25 this year. That is an amazing 40% turnover in the Top 25 standings, and you can just about guarantee that turnover will be about 40% next year as well.

Doing what you have done and being ok with that result is going to quickly mire you in a stagnant state of mediocrity. If you think one year is a blip on the screen and merely a series of bad breaks, that one year is going to turn into five years…then ten years…then twenty years.

Just ask the Clemson football program.

Our program, fan base, and head coach had come to a breaking point just one year ago this week. Enough was enough. If feelings needed to be hurt because of severed friendships on the coaching staff, then so be it. Football coaches make too much money to not demand results in the win/loss column. Football programs receive too much money from donors to not expect results in the win/loss column.

The reason this Christmas is much different than last year is because we had the leadership to make the necessary changes to improve. We took the offensive, no pun intended.

And if we are going to be a part of that 60% that make it back to the limelight next year, that same demand for excellence will need to continue. This football program still has holes that need to be filled, both in personnel on the field and infrastructure in the Athletic Department.

Some will tell you that it is more difficult to maintain championship success than it is to achieve it in the first place. I don’t subscribe to that theory. We now know how to do it, winning two of the past three Atlantic Division Titles and the 2011 ACC Championship. We know the formula. We know when to panic and when not to panic. And we know that we are good enough to be a champion.

And Dabo Swinney knows what it is like to have your program become part of that 40% that vanishes into thin air. He knows it because this time last year he was a victim of it.

Coach Swinney would be wise to keep that perspective and understand that the aggressiveness of securing these coaching changes at this point last year is the same aggressiveness that is needed to maintain as champion once you reach the top.

I like Christmas. But I like this year’s Clemson Christmas much more than I did a year ago.


Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

5 Christmas Wishes To Make Clemson Instantly Better In 2012

5 Christmas Wishes To Make Clemson Instantly Better In 2012
By Scott Rhymer

In this time of Christmas, millions of children will make a list for Santa Clause with hopes to see each and every one of those wishes end up under the tree on Christmas Day.

As we grow older, we typically stop wishing for things to be under the tree and start wishing for good fortune and health with the new year. And if you are a college football fan, you may even put in a wish for a few items for your favorite football team.

To begin with, I believe Clemson will enter the preseason as a favorite or co-favorite to win the Atlantic Division again next year. If the Tigers can beat West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl, I would suspect the preseason hype for next year will move up another notch. Regardless, it certainly looks like Clemson and Florida State will receive plenty of offseason accolades and hype heading into 2012.

I also believe that our expectation should be to repeat as ACC Champion and return to the Orange Bowl again next year (fingers crossed it will be a weekend instead of a week day). The cornerstone of this program’s focus right now should be to win ACC Championships often and in a perfect storm have a chance to play for a National Championship.

To repeat at ACC Champs, Clemson needs to get better in 2012. So, as Christmas draws near, what should you ask of Santa Clause that would make Clemson instantly better in 2012? Here are my five wishes.

1. A First Team All-ACC Linebacker
If you can’t remember the last time Clemson had a first or second team All-ACC linebacker, don’t feel too bad. It was 2004 and the player was Leroy Hill. It has been seven long years since Leroy Hill graduated Clemson and moved on to the NFL. To give that some perspective, Clemson had a linebacker on the All-ACC Team 21 of the 27 years prior to 2004. There was never more than a four year stretch without a Tiger linebacker on the All-ACC team. Clemson’s defense had a run of 14 straight years with a linebacker on the All-ACC teams between 1988 and 2001. That linebacker tradition at Clemson has all but vanished into thin air. The most reasonable hope at linebacker for 2012 would be Stephone Anthony. The true freshman clocked in on 247 snaps this year, accumulating 28 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, and 2 sacks. Those are not even close to All ACC numbers, but Anthony will have the Spring to improve physically and mentally under Kevin Steele’s scheme. Whether it is Anthony or someone else, Clemson has to get improved play from the linebacker position in 2012 if we want to win games with defense. Typically, championships are won with defense. In 2011, we won a conference championship with offense. If we want to repeat that feat and be considered for a possibility of something beyond the ACC Championship, it will have to be because of improved play on defense, and specifically at linebacker.

2. Punt Return Game
Clemson was 7th in the conference in the punt return category with a 7.5 yard per return average. Deandre Hopkins had only 9 returns on the season for a 5.4 average and a long of 22 yards. Sammy Watkins was relegated to only 2 returns for 12 yards total. As comparison, Clemson was 3rd in the ACC in kickoff returns. Clemson can become an even more explosive point scoring machine if the Tigers can move the punt return team into the top 3 in the ACC similar to the kickoff return team. From a personnel standpoint, the obvious solution is allowing Sammy Watkins more touches in the punt return game. As long as Watkins remains healthy, I think you will see he and Hopkins return punts. There also needs to be a philosophical change in the punt return department. I got the impression that Clemson thought they were good enough on offense to score and score quickly, which meant a very conservative approach to the punt return game. The Tigers seemed more interested in ball security than trying to make plays. In games that the Tigers were scoring in buckets, that strategy made perfect sense. But a punt return in a close football game can be a turning point, and we never had that spark in the three games that we lost this year.

3. Schedule
My fantasy schedule for Clemson in 2012 was outlined in a previous blog here:
Clemson can get instantly better if the Atlantic Coast Conference offers a schedule that is not asinine…as the conference did last year by placing Clemson in a three game stretch against Auburn, FSU, and Virginia Tech. The fact that Clemson was able to get through that stretch without a loss is a major accomplishment, but it does not take away from the stupidity of placing one of your premier football programs of the conference in such a terrible situation. The ACC owes us a favor in my opinion, and they can also pay that back by keeping us out of a Thursday night game again next year. These Thursday night games, especially for the road team, seem to be a death trap. Hopefully, somebody sitting in Greensboro has enough common sense to understand the awful schedule they put the Tigers in last year and try to rectify it with a reasonable schedule in 2012.

4. Coaching Stability
We often lament coaches when they don’t do what we feel is a good job on the field. Our current coaches are certainly not without fault, but keeping this unit in tact is what a young football team needs to keep continuity. Hiring Chad Morris last offseason was proven to be a stroke of genius from head coach Dabo Swinney. Resigning Chad Morris so he remains at Clemson seems to be a close second in good fortune for this program. Kevin Steele’s defense was up and down through much of the year, but the Tigers were extremely young on the defensive side of the ball and it is not propaganda to believe that this unit will improve dramatically with more time and maturity. Much has been made of Joey Batson and the Strength/Conditioning Program, but I will leave that debate up to those that know that business better than I do. As a general rule, if you can have good football coaches and keep them for a string of years, it will show up on the football field. In this time of coaching drama, keep a close eye on whether or not Dabo Swinney can keep his staff in tact by warding off the overtures that are more than likely going to come rolling in over the next few weeks.

5. Philip Price Clones
It says a lot about your offensive line when a former walk on goes down and the entire structure of the offensive football team is shaken to its core. But that is exactly what happened when Philip Price went down with an injury prior to the NC State and South Carolina games. Price was the least imposing offensive lineman on the field for Clemson from a physical standpoint, despite the fact he clocked in at 6-5 and 315 pounds. But Price played with heart and guts, something his fellow lineman did not always do. A quick peek at the offensive line two deep depth chart for the Orange Bowl will make you swallow heavy. The only guaranteed returnees from the two deep are Brandon Thomas and Timothy Gifford. Joe Gore, Isaiah Battle, Shaq Anthony, Reid Webster, Ryan Norton, Kalon Davis, David Beasley, and Spencer Region are all names that you will hear in the offseason despite their absence from the current two deep depth chart. If Dalton Freeman returns at center (Freeman is eligible for the NFL draft) he would provide an anchor in the middle, but regardless, much concern will be focused on the offensive line during the offseason. And regardless of who is programmed into the two deep during spring and summer camps, a clear focus must be placed on having players that are mentally and physically tough on the offensive line. This year’s offensive line had plenty of bulk, but lacked a mental toughness when injuries forced players to move positions and step into starting roles. Chad Morris has indicated he will take an active role this Spring with the offensive line. If that turns out to be true, you will see an immediate improvement in the mental toughness of the unit as Morris is a no-nonsense coach that demands execution. Regardless of the physical ability of the returning linemen, I want more players like Philip Price who have the mentality to be tough, hard nosed, and unrelenting in the trenches. If next year’s group has Price’s mentality as a unit, our offensive line will be better.

Those five Christmas wishes, if granted, will ensure Clemson will be in the thick of the ACC Championship race next year.


Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Clemson's 2011 ACC Title Toughest Road

Clemson’s 2011 ACC Title Toughest Road
By Scott Rhymer

I think most people have revisionist history. I think history, in most people’s minds, becomes rosier as the years roll by. Things were always better back in the good old days.

Clemson football history is not exempt from revisionist history. To hear some Tiger fans talk, Frank Howard’s time as coach was the best in program history. Those just a bit younger will tell you that Danny Ford’s days in Clemson were the best in program history. There are some really young folks who may have no context with either Ford or Howard, which in some ways is very sad.

The Howard and Ford eras of dominance, year in and year out, are something this program under Dabo Swinney can only hope to be. Winning one ACC Championship, in isolation, is not going to be something that that places a coach on the facade of Death Valley for accomplishing. But you have to win the first ACC Title before you can win the second, and Coach Swinney and his staff and players have done just that.

And when looking at it without the distortion of time, Swinney’s ACC Championship had the most difficult road than any season in Clemson football history.

Culminating this past December, Clemson has earned 14 ACC Championships since becoming a charter member back in 1953. Each of those championship teams, in some way, captivated the fan base in that particular era. Each of those teams have a special place in the heart of Clemson fans that witnessed those years and those games. Even those that were not a part of those years see the flags flying in Death Valley every Saturday with those championship years on them and can appreciate that accomplishment for that group of players and coaches.

But I find it odd when I receive emails or comments from Clemson fans that want to somehow downplay the significance of what the 2011 Clemson team accomplished. On more than one occasion since the Tigers defeated Virginia Tech in Charlotte I have heard from Clemson fans saying this championship is not as good as some in the 1950’s or the 1960’s or the 1980’s because the ACC is such a mediocre football conference in this day and age.

It is when I hear comments like above that I realize that the media has really brainwashed the college football landscape with the comparisons between the SEC and the rest of the nation. It’s like the other conferences are being called the seven dwarfs to the SEC’s Snow White and Clemson fans are now believing it.

Regardless of wondering what the SEC has to do with winning the ACC Championship to begin with, I knew in my heart that this year’s team did something that other teams from the past did not do. I knew this team beat a lot of good football teams and had very few games against ACC teams that were awful. And I knew our past ACC Championship teams beat up on a lot of really bad football teams and only had to beat really good ACC teams once or twice a year because the conference was not as deep as it is now.

So I decided to take a few moments and pull out the facts. You see, facts dispute those with revisionist history. And when you look at the facts, the 2011 Clemson ACC Championship was the most difficult to accomplish of any in the history of the program.

I looked at each of the 14 years in which the Tigers won the ACC since 1953 and looked at the overall records of the teams in the ACC that Clemson played that year to compare and contrast. You will note that there were some years in the 1950’s when Clemson did not play every ACC team. You will also run into that situation in 2011 with the expanded conference. If Clemson did not play an ACC team, I did not include their records in the data. And please understand that this information is not to downplay the championships that Clemson has won previously, but simply to illustrate that this year’s team earned that trophy just as much (or more) than any other Clemson team in history.

Here are the overall records of ACC teams Clemson played during the years when the Tigers won the ACC Championship:

1956, 18-28-4 (.360)
1958, 23-36-1 (.383)
1959, 27-43 (.386)
1965, 32-38 (.457)
1966, 24-46 (.343)
1967, 24-36 (.400)
1978, 30-38 (.441)
1981, 29-38 (.433)
1982, 33-35 (.485)
1986, 37-40-1 (.493)
1987, 35-44 (.443)
1988, 37-38-2 (.481)
1991, 41-39 (.513)
2011, 64-46 (.581)

Looking at the data, you can see Clemson won the ACC Championship a few times over the years in part because the ACC was absolutely horrible. The 1966 team beat up on an ACC that did not have a single team (other than Clemson) with an overall winning record. Does anybody beat up on Frank Howard’s 1966 team when looking at it today?

Howard’s 1958 team won the ACC Championship by beating three ACC teams that had a combined 6 wins between them. Does anybody belittle the accomplishment of that team?

Danny Ford’s 1981 National Championship team rolled through an ACC that had only two teams that finished the season with winning records (Duke and North Carolina). Rightfully so, nobody should ever take anything away from the 1981 team despite the relative lack of quality in the ACC that year. But Ford's 1987 team won the ACC in a year where the Tiger's ACC opponents were nine games under .500. I don't hear anybody screaming and yelling about the 1987 ACC Championhip.

There were also a few years where Clemson won the ACC Championship by outlasting some very good football teams. Ken Hatfield’s 1991 team won the ACC when the conference had an overall winning record. Other than the 2011 year, this is the only time in Clemson history that the Tigers have won the conference in a year the conference teams had an overall winning record.

And when you simply look at the data, it is very obvious that Clemson’s 2011 team played conference games against teams that had a much higher winning percentage at the end of the year than ever in the history of the Clemson program.

While the accolades rightfully go to the 1981 team, Ford’s 1982 team won the conference despite the fact the overall record of the conference was a respectable 33-35 and had four of the six teams (not including Clemson) that had winning records overall.

As you stare at the data above, you can clearly get a perspective that the 2011 team had to wade through more quality conference opponents than any of the other ACC Championship teams in the history of our program. Being 18 games over .500 as a league is 16 games better than any season in the past. Time may cloud your perspective of history, but the facts do not lie.

Because we played Virginia Tech twice and needed to beat them twice in order to win the ACC Title, I counted the Hokie’s 11-2 record in the calculation twice. Don’t think that is fair? Ok, if you only insert the 11-2 record of Virginia Tech in once, the record of ACC teams Clemson played this year is still 53-44 (.546) and much better than any previous year.

Some of you that are very detail oriented will note that the data above includes bowl games for every year except this year. Obviously, bowl games are not included in ACC team records at this point this year because the games have not been played. And yes, the records above for previous years did include bowl games. If only one ACC team wins their bowl game this year, the winning percentage of ACC teams Clemson played this year will be better than that of the previous best year (1991). If every ACC team loses the bowl game they play in , the 2011 records will still be above .500 for only the second time among the Clemson championship years.

Clemson also had to win a championship game this year (a 9th conference game) in order to win the ACC Championship. At no other time in the history of the program has Clemson had to play nine conference games or a conference title game in order to win the championship. That is another clear point to add to this year’s accomplishment because it added another layer of difficulty in order to win the title.

Not that it has any impact on the ACC Championship, but Clemson’s out of conference schedule included two SEC teams (the defending National Champion and the defending SEC East Champion). While Auburn struggled this year, South Carolina had arguably its season in program history.

In every way that you slice it, this year’s team had a tougher road to the title than any of its peer ACC Champions at Clemson. If your argument is that this program has not sustained success for long enough to be considered in the same conversation as some of the Howard or Ford eras, I would completely agree with you.

But if you look at the season in a singular nature, you have to tip your cap to Dabo Swinney and this team for winning a title against more odds than any other team in Clemson history. That is something to be proud about, not shy away from based on what some media geeks try to tell you about the quality of the league.


Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Championships Are Our New Rival

Championships Are Our New Rival
By Scott Rhymer

I think all of us, at some point in our lives, reflect back on how we feel about something and realize that we have changed. For those of us that put our thoughts onto paper (or computer screens as it may be), we are held additionally accountable for what we write one day and how that changes in the future.

To be honest, I had forgotten what it meant to win an Atlantic Coast Conference Championship. In all fairness, it was 20 years without one so I believe all of us should be allowed some slack if we lost some perspective in that drought. Until the win over Virginia Tech a few weeks ago, I was in a college classroom the last time Clemson had won a championship. I’ve since graduated, gone to graduate school, got married, had two children, and firmly entrenched myself in my career. All of that is far removed from 1991, and I do believe that gap in time has warped my perspective of what really is important in regards to Clemson football.

What’s really important is winning championships.

For nineteen years during our championship drought, we had plenty of good wins over what is universally considered our rival, the South Carolina Gamecocks. From 1992 until 2010 we plowed through a typical 12 wins and 7 losses vs. the Gamecocks. That winning percentage of 63% is about on par with the 60% winning margin we have owned over South Carolina in the history of the rivalry.

But all of those 12 wins during that 20 year span were nothing but window dressing for seasons that ended without a championship. At the time of those 12 wins, we were giddy. We rejoiced in the wins. We made t-shirts and bumper stickers proclaiming our dominance over a football program that is irrelevant on the national scene.

Those wins were fluff. Whipped cream added to molded bread.

Let’s make a big assumption here. In a best case scenario, South Carolina would win four out five games in the series vs. the Tigers for the rest of our lives. Winning at an 80% clip would be much more dominating than anything Clemson has put together against the Gamecocks for any extended period of time in the history of this series. But even assuming that massive run of 4 out out 5 wins, it would take 40 years for South Carolina to overtake the overall series record against Clemson. None of us reading this blog today will live to see the day the Gamecocks overtake the overall series record.

In my 40 year lifetime, Clemson holds a 26-12-1 record vs. the Gamecocks. If South Carolina were to win four out of five games from this point forward against the Tigers, I would be 60 years old when the Gamecocks caught Clemson in wins during my lifetime. South Carolina won’t sustain beating Clemson four out of five for that many years, so I will go to my grave with a lifetime advantage over the Gamecocks.

The point of those two illustrations is simple. We have won the war over the Gamecocks, even if we still lose a few skirmishes along the way. South Carolina is not the barometer for which we should judge our football program. The Gamecocks have a three game winning streak on us and that, by itself, is enough to make your stomach queasy. But we are going to hang a flag in our stadium to celebrate an ACC Championship next year. And that ACC Championship is greater than beating the Gamecocks.

Since entering the ACC, Clemson has won 13 ACC Championships (14 if you count 1983 and the probation year). During those 14 ACC Titles, Clemson beat South Carolina 10 times, lost 3 times, and tied once. That is a winning percentage of 71%, almost 11 points higher than the overall winning percentage Clemson holds in the series. In other words, winning championships seems to bring with it plenty of wins over South Carolina. It certainly brings with it enough wins over South Carolina to maintain a healthy lead in the series.

Those 14 ACC Championship years where we also beat South Carolina were defined not by beating the Gamecocks, but by winning a championship and flying a flag in Death Valley. Conversely, beating South Carolina in the years where Clemson fell short of an ACC Championship merely offered a certain solace as a replacement for not achieving a more important goal.

It was a cushion. It added whipped cream to the molded bread.

In a perfect world, you would do both. Winning an ACC Championship and beating South Carolina is the type of season that allows you to walk on air through the cold winter months between football seasons. Ten times Clemson has done that since joining the ACC. Four other times we have not.

But those flags from the four times winning the ACC but not beating South Carolina (3 losses and 1 tie) still fly in Death Valley. Those teams are still honored among the greatest in Clemson history. Losing (and the one tie) to South Carolina in those years is easily lost in the mix and mash of what seems to stand out among the many years of Clemson football. What stands out the most is the championship teams.

As hard as it is for me to stomach, I believe that Steve Spurrier may have had it right all along. When Spurrier was hired at South Carolina he stated that winning the SEC is of bigger importance than beating Clemson. Spurrier, ironically enough, beat me to the punch. Beating your rival should be a second priority to winning a championship.

Some of you are rolling your eyes while reading this, saying folks like me are hedging our bets since we have piled up a three game losing streak to our friends in Columbia. Because we are in the midst of a three game losing streak to the Gamecocks, I still believe it becomes critical that we need to stop that bleeding next year inside of Death Valley. Losing to the Gamecocks, by itself, is not a big deal if you are winning Championships. But losing streaks to the Gamecocks need to be avoided.

But at the end of the day, you don’t hang flags in the stadium for beating South Carolina. Beating South Carolina is not as difficult as winning a championship. Our football heritage, especially the last 20 years, can certainly attest to that fact.

Sometime early next season Clemson will unveil the 2011 ACC Championship flag inside of Death Valley. Although it will be long overdue, I’m sure the feeling will be of pride and relief when the flag is unfurled. And it will be something that I have seen happening far less than I have seen us beating our arch rival on the football field.

If we approach winning the ACC Championship with as much determination and focus as we have in beating South Carolina for the last 100+ years, our football program will be the best in the ACC and one of the best in the nation.

Championships are our new rival, not the Gamecocks.

Instead of just bragging rights, we’ll earn and fly flags.


Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekend Archive: Clemson's 10 Most Demoralizing Losses (Top 5)

Weekend Archive: Clemson’s 10 Most Demoralizing Losses (Top 5)
By Scott Rhymer

This Weekend Archive, brought to you by Matt Cobb Allstate Agent, was originally published on May 24, 2004 at The story archives my 10 Most Demoralizing Losses over the past 25 years (which, at the time, spanned 1979-2003).

Demoralizing is defined as "to discourage, dispirit, and to corrupt the morals of." Some of my choices were because of the manner in which the game was lost, the ugliness of the loss, the amount of the loss, or what possible great things were unfulfilled because of the loss. Some were ranked on pure gut feeling.

As painful as these games were, it helps us remember the moment to put in perspective the joy of the wins.

#5: 1998-Virginia Tech-37, Clemson-0
In many ways, this game should have been an omen for the rest of the season. Tommy West had coached the Tigers to three straight winning seasons in 1995, 1996, and 1997 and was at the crossroads of his program’s development. Would the Tigers turn the corner and become a Top 25 program, or would they slip back into the mediocrity that West had inherited from the Ken Hatfield era? Expectations in 1998 were high. The Tigers sported some talented wide receivers in Brian Wofford and Mal Lawyer to compliment Brandon Streeter at quarterback and freshman Travis Zachery at running back. Defensively, the Tigers owned one of the best defensive backfields in the conference in Alex Ardley, DeMarco Fox, Robert Carswell, and Antwan Edwards.On a hot and steamy September afternoon, Virginia Tech waltzed into Clemson and completely manhandled the Tigers from start to finish in a 37-0 whipping. It was so hot and such a complete domination that over half of the sold out Death Valley crowd decided to leave at halftime, leaving a very sparse crowd to watch the conclusion of the carnage.The loss sent the Tigers into a spiral as they lost 7 out of the next 8 games before wrapping up the season with a win over South Carolina. The Tigers would eventually finish 3-8 on the year (wins only over Furman, Maryland, and USC) and Tommy West would be fired in the week prior to the South Carolina game.

#4: 2002-N.C. State-38, Clemson-6
This game was a disaster from the beginning. Clemson, due to the ACC contract with ESPN, was forced to host a Thursday night game in Death Valley for the 2nd time in school history. Thursday night games are a major hassle in Tiger Town, and the Clemson Athletic Department knew it would take a sell by them to ensure a good crowd.So the Athletic Department put out a public plea on Monday for Clemson fans to show up and support the Tigers against the #9 ranked Wolfpack. As Thursday grew closer, ominous signals from the weather service were indicating that some serious rain and cold was moving into the Clemson area on Thursday. While the weather never materialized to the point that it was predicted, it was still wet and cold on Thursday night by game time.The public pleas by the University were heard, and an outstanding crowd of almost 78,000 showed up in Clemson and were raucous from the get go. When State missed an early field goal attempt, you got the sense this could be a special night for the Tigers. And it was just about at that point when the wheels began to come off with turnovers, punt returns, kick returns, long running plays and bad breaks. Any loss is bad, but a beat down on a Thursday night at home makes it really bad.

#3: 1990-Virginia-20, Clemson-7All streaks come to an end, and this streak would be no different. Clemson had never lost to Virginia when the Tigers headed to Charlottesville on September 8, 1990. The Cavaliers, under then head coach George Welsh, had become a solid football program in the late 80’s going 25-7 from 1987-1989. UVA was also ranked #14 in the nation and had an All-American wide receiver by the name of Herman Moore. Despite all of that, it was still inconceivable that Clemson could lose to Virginia. Despite the Cavaliers #14 ranking, Clemson actually entered the game #9 in the nation under first year Head Coach Ken Hatfield and was favored to win the contest. As if Hatfield’s job replacing Danny Ford was not hard enough, the Tigers laid an egg in Charlottesville and lost 20-7. The loss snapped the longest winning streak in college football of one team over another (29 games) and unofficially began the “Fire Hatfield” talk. While it was truly inevitable that this streak would end (UVA is 7-6-1 against Clemson since the 1990 season), the fact that it happened the year after Danny Ford coached his last game at Clemson was ironic and somewhat spooky. It was downright frightful for Ken Hatfield and the thousands of Clemson fans who had never known the taste of defeat to that “white meat” Virginia Cavalier football team.

#2: 2003-Wake Forest-45, Clemson-17
This one is still fresh enough on many minds that it does not need much of an explanation. If you were one of the 10,000 Clemson fans in Winston Salem last year, your own feelings of that game are enough that this article won’t do it justice.The image that is stuck in my mind from that game that I just can’t shake is walking in the concourse at halftime and seeing the faces of the Clemson fans that were mingling around. It was a look I had not seen in a long, long time. Just pure disbelief. We are standing in this high school football stadium with a bunch of Wake fans that really don’t care that they are whipping our tails. They really don’t. They are happy, but what’s the big deal? It’s just a football game, right?Well, the look on the 10,000 Clemson fans faces showed the difference between Wake Forest and Clemson football in one second. We care…we love. They don’t.But they still whipped our butts on this day. And Tommy Bowden would have a long week at work following the loss to Wake Forest in the “House of Horrors”.

#1: 1996-Syracuse-41, Clemson-0
Gator Bowl-Jacksonville, FloridaThe 1995 Clemson Tigers had a rough start to the season, going 3-3 after the October 8th loss to the Georgia Bulldogs in Death Valley. However, Tommy West’s Tigers had turned the slow start around by winning the next 5 games in a row including a 38-17 thrashing of South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium.So the Tigers headed to Jacksonville with some momentum and a ton of high hopes. It was the first major bowl game for Clemson since the 1992 Citrus Bowl, and the Clemson faithful were ready to travel in mass to Jacksonville. Syracuse came into the game unranked at 8-3 on the season and starting a little know freshman quarterback by the name of Donovan McNabb. McNabb had a guy by the name of Marvin Harrison at wide receiver and a defense that was great at stopping the run. If Clemson fans did not know who McNabb and Harrison were before the game, they most certainly did afterwards as Syracuse ripped Clemson apart in a 41-0 victory. The Tigers were only able to rush for 90 yards on the day and throw for 69 yards in one of the worst offensive performances in Clemson bowl history.At the time, the loss was the worst loss in Clemson bowl history. The frustration was compounded by the fact that 30,000 Clemson fans had made their way to Jacksonville and had to sit in the middle of a cold rain throughout the pre game and game. Most Clemson fans in attendance would agree that the combination of the long trip and the cold rain made the game conditions about as bad as any they had sat through in the past.While the Tangerine Bowl loss in 2002 statistically is worse, the fact that so many people made the trip in the awful weather ranks this game as the worst bowl trip in Clemson football history. And it ranks as my most demoralizing loss as well, I’m sorry to say.

You can read the article at its original link at by clicking here:


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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Weekend Archive: Clemson's 10 Most Demoralizing Losses (Part I)

Weekend Archive: Clemson’s 10 Most Demoralizing Losses (Part I)
By Scott Rhymer

This Weekend Archive, brought to you by Matt Cobb Allstate Agent, was originally published on May 24, 2004 at The story archives my 10 Most Demoralizing Losses over the past 25 years (which, at the time, spanned 1979-2003).

Clemson’s 10 Most Demoralizing Losses (Part I)

The second in my series is the 10 Most Demoralizing Losses in Clemson’s modern history (the past 25 years, 1979-2003). Demoralizing is defined as "to discourage, dispirit, and to corrupt the morals of." Some of my choices were because of the manner in which the game was lost, the ugliness of the loss, the amount of the loss, or what possible great things were unfulfilled because of the loss. Some were ranked on pure gut feeling.

#10(a): 1994-South Carolina-33, Clemson-7
The 1994 season was a rebuilding year in Clemson as Tommy West took over the mangled mess that was left after the Ken Hatfield regime. The Tigers suffered a three game losing streak in October, but West had the Tigers playing a little better down the stretch as they reeled off wins over Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech to move to 5-5 on the season. The Gamecocks also entered the rivalry game at 5-5 under their first year head coach Brad Scott. Both teams were playing for a bowl bid, not a small accomplishment considering the rebuilding that was going on under the two first-year head coaches.The first half was a tight defensive struggle that had the Gamecocks leading 13-7. As fans filed back into Death Valley for the 2nd half on this sun splashed afternoon, the tide was about to quickly turn in favor of South Carolina. Borrowing from the coach that Scott had been offensive coordinator for at Florida State, the Gamecocks pulled off a daring throwback pass on the opening 2nd half kickoff that gave the Gamecocks field position inside the Clemson 5 yard line. South Carolina would eventually pound the ball into the endzone and the rout was on.When the final ticks finally limped off the clock, the Gamecocks had whipped Clemson 33-7 and the celebration for the USC faithful in Death Valley was underway. The game also served as one of the worst beatings Clemson has ever suffered to the Gamecocks in Death Valley.

#10(b): 1989-Duke-21, Clemson-17
Danny Ford’s 1989 team was generally regarded as his most talented in Clemson, and that would include the 1981 team that won the National Championship. The 1989 defense, with the exception of the 1990 defense, was one of the top units to ever play in Death Valley. Consider just some of the names: Levon Kirkland, Chester McGlockton, Vance Hammond, Ed McDaniel, Robert O’Neal, and Dexter Davis.The 1989 season got off to a rousing start as Clemson upset #16 Florida State in Tallahassee in route to a 4-0 start and a #7 national ranking. By most experts, the Tigers were poised to make a serious run at the National Championship and an ACC Championship. Steve Spurrier had turned the Duke football team into a respectable program by going 7-3-1 in 1988. Despite the fact that the Blue Devils were ranked in 1988, Clemson had whipped Duke 49-17 in Death Valley.A similar fate was expected this Saturday, but a dreary day would turn into a demoralizing loss for Danny Ford and the Tigers as Duke ended Clemson’s hope of a 2nd National Championship run, 21-17. With about 10,000 Clemson fans watching from Wallace-Wade Stadium, Duke could do no wrong and the Tigers stumbled and bumbled to the loss. Some would blame the weather. Some would blame the genius of Spurrier. Whatever it was, it was a tough loss to swallow.

#9: 1987-N.C. State-30, Clemson-28
Danny Ford’s Tigers stormed out to a 6-0 start in 1987 and a #7 national ranking. Clemson had defeated Georgia in Death Valley on a last second David Treadwell field goal and had cruised through the rest of the schedule without breaking much of a sweat. And with Wake Forest, North Carolina, Maryland, and South Carolina remaining, it was not inconceivable that Clemson could enter the season finale against the Gamecocks 10-0, if they could get by N.C. State.Problem was…State was a good football team that could do no wrong on this day. The Wolfpack ran, threw and jumped their way to a blistering 30-0 lead at halftime. Clemson, back in 1987, did not exactly have a passing game that could come back from such a deficit. But, to Danny Ford’s credit, they tried. Rodney Williams came out throwing and did not stop. Slowly, Clemson crept back into the game and midway through the 4th quarter the Tigers had cut the lead to 30-28. The Tigers then got what they needed…another defensive stop from the Wolfpack. Clemson took over with less than 3 minutes to play and marched into Wolfpack territory behind the arm of Rodney Williams. But the drive would stall, and so would the hopes of an undefeated season for Clemson. To this day I don’t know whether to be mad that we fell behind so badly or happy with the valiant effort in the comeback.I guess a little of both.

#8: 2000-Georgia Tech-31, Clemson-28
Clemson had stormed out to an 8-0 start on the 2000 season and had ascended to #5 in the nation when Georgia Tech came calling to Death Valley in late October. Tech was not ranked at the time, but the Yellow Jackets would finish the season in the Top 25 with a 9-3 record.All of the Clemson Nation looked forward to the Tech game with one eye while the other was focused on Florida State the following weekend. The ramification of that game was obvious. If Clemson could get by Georgia Tech the Tigers would head to Tallahassee with a chance at an ACC Championship and a possible BCS Bowl game for the National Title. Problem was, Georgia Tech was a good football team that would take a great effort to beat. In a game that went back and forth with both teams taking and receiving punches, the Tigers seemingly had taken the lead for good with a 45 yard touchdown pass from Willie Simmons to Rod Gardner. Kerry Watkins had other plans. In one of the most electrifying catches in Death Valley history, Watkins broke the heart of the Clemson Nation with less than 10 seconds remaining when he gathered in a George Godsey pass in the corner of the endzone. The loss was gut wrenching for the Tiger fans and the football team, and it showed the next week when Florida State whipped the Tigers 54-7 in Tallahassee. It is still fun to wonder: what would have happened had Watkins not made that catch and Clemson would have gone to Tallahassee undefeated? Nobody will ever know for sure, but you have to think that loss sucked some life out of the Tigers that October evening.

#7: 2001-North Carolina-38, Clemson-3
A sold out homecoming crowd of better than 82,000 descended on Death Valley in late October to watch the 4-1 Tigers take on the Tar Heels. Clemson was off to a good start in 2001 with only a heartbreaking loss at home to Virginia as a blemish on their record. The Tigers were also coming off two of the greatest offensive performances in school history with the road wins over Georgia Tech in Atlanta and N.C. State in Raleigh. The 13th ranked Tigers entered the game with a ton of confidence, despite the dominating defense that the Tar Heels had under first year coach John Bunting. An early drive from the Tigers gave some emotion for the sold out crowd, but Julius Peppers and company quickly quieted that emotion by thoroughly roughing up the Tigers to the tune of 38-3.Losing on Homecoming is never a good thing, but the depth of the beating on this October afternoon was a tough pill to swallow for even the most die hard Tiger fans.

#6: 1993-Wake Forest-20, Clemson-16
Lets put it this way: losing to Wake Forest is never a pleasurable experience. And losing to the Deacons two years in a row is downright deplorable. But the icing on the cake is when you lose to Wake Forest two years in a row while the Deacs are mired in a season where they would win only one other game.Such is the debacle that Ken Hatfield had on his hands in Death Valley on October 16, 1993. The Tigers had lost in Winston-Salem the year before, but that Wake team went on to an 8-4 record. Clemson opened the season with an unconvincing 27-14 win over UNLV. The Tigers then were whipped in Tallahassee 57-0 (a game that almost made this list) then proceeded to squeak by Georgia Tech (16-13), N.C. State (20-14), and Duke (13-10). To make matters worse, a terrible rain storm enveloped Clemson and a sparse crowd of no more than 55,000 ventured into the game. What they saw made them sick, as Wake out-hustled and ultimately outplayed the Tigers 20-16. While the Tigers would eventually only lose one more game in 1993, the Wake Forest loss is generally regarded as the final straw for Hatfield, who would be “fired” after the South Carolina game in November. Wake Forest would finish the 1993 season 2-9 and the Deacons would not have another winning season until 1999.

Stay tuned, as tomorrow I will post #5 through #1. You can read this article at its original location on by clicking:

Scott Rhymer can be reached at

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