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Tone Of Offseasons 25 Years Apart

By Scott Rhymer
To listen to this commentary, click Podcast link below:

In this age of instant accessibility for the average fan to not only consume material, but to opinionate upon that material publically, it is easy to lose traction on history and the relevance that history can sometimes give us.
In other words, it’s too easy for us to incorrectly think that what we are experiencing today is a first in the history of Clemson football.  Part of that is due to the fact that quite a bit of our fan base was not around in the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s.  Their snapshot of Clemson football history comes from the Tommy Bowden era forward.
In the preseason, I saw a few parallels to the 2012 team as that of the 1987 team.  Both teams had favorable home schedules coming into the season along with a returning quarterback to compliment returning running backs and receivers.  And both teams, at least by those that dig deeply into depth charts, were a year ahead of being at their “best”.
The 1988 team, by most accounts during that era, was destined to be Clemson’s best chance to return to the National Championship race since playing for the title during the 1981 season.  The ’88 team would be laden with Seniors and redshirt Juniors; most of them signed after the ACC-imposed scholarship limits were ended at the end of the 1984 season. 
The 1987 team entered the season with a #9 preseason ranking, much of that due to the strong finish in the Gator Bowl against Stanford the year before.   But few with intimate knowledge of the program felt ’87 would be “the team”.  In August of 1987, all eyes were fixated on the 1988 team and what could be for that group of players and coaches as well as our football program.
The 2012 team entered with very similar personnel returnees with Boyd calling the signals and Ellington carrying the ball on the plays that Boyd was not throwing to a bevy of returning receivers.   The 2012 team, much like the 1987 team, did start the year ranked (#14 this year).  But the questions on the offensive line and in the secondary left most with intimate knowledge of the 2012 team pointing towards 2013 as the season that could be really special.
Propelling that theory was the track of recruiting after Dabo Swinney’s hiring.  Dabo’s first signing class (dubbed the “Dandy Dozen”) was in February 2009, giving Swinney his first true full recruiting class in spring of 2010.  Those from the ’10 class that played early would be seniors or redshirt juniors in 2013, giving Clemson the quality of depth at key positions that a program needs to make a title run.
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So, in August, I had the hunch that the 2012 team looked eerily similar to the 1987 team.  What made me optimistic heading into this season was that the ’87 team overachieved a bit and went on to win the ACC and finish the year 10-2 with a huge win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.  And, for the record, that ’87 team lost to South Carolina in Columbia in the final regular season game, even though most of us remember the Georgia win and the Penn State win instead of that Gamecock loss when thinking back to that year.
As the 2012 season has played out, I believe those two teams, 25 years apart, have grown even closer.  The ’87 team, just like this year’s team, benefitted by a schedule that had a lot below average teams littered throughout it.
The 1987 team had 9 regular season wins against teams that finished the year a combined 46-55 (.455)
The 2012 team had 10 regular season wins against teams that finished the year a combined 53-70 (.431)
The 1987 team lost 2 times (NC State and South Carolina) who had a combined record of 12-11 (.522)
The 2012 team lost 2 times (FSU and South Carolina) who had a combined record of 20-4 (.833)
Overall, the 1987 team played 12 games against teams that finished the year a combined 66-70 (.485)
As of December 28th, the 2012 team has played 12 games against teams that are a combined 73-74 (.497). 
(Note:  that will change and probably increase after Clemson plays LSU and the bowl games are complete.  Clemson’s opponent’s records without question will be better in 2012 than it was in 1987 when all is said and done).
Those of you that thought the ACC was terrible this year and that the reason Clemson won 10 games was because of the conference….you are partly correct.  But you could make that argument as well for the 1987 team, although few of you are willing to make that comparison on schedule strength due to the fact that 1987 is still regarded as one of the best years in the program’s history.
In the bowl game of 1987, Clemson was playing Penn State a year after the Nittany Lions won the Fiesta Bowl over Miami to capture the National Championship.  This year, Clemson will play LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl a year after the Tigers played in the National Championship game against Alabama in New Orleans.
What the ’87 team had that the ’12 team does not, at least yet, is a signature win. 
The ’87 team defeated Georgia on a last second field goal by David Treadwell and then followed it up with a dominating win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.  The other wins in ’87 were unremarkable at best and one of the losses (to a 4-7 NC State team in Death Valley) was a bad loss. 
The 2012 team has avoided the bad loss, but needs the signature win as there is not currently one under the belt.
And LSU certainly provides that opportunity.
Tone is not everything, but it is some-thing.  A win on New Year’s Eve against LSU would go a long way in providing a confidence boost for the players, coaches, and fan base heading into a 2013 year that could be special if all of the balls bounce the right way for Clemson.
A loss fuels the fire of doubt that has some questioning whether this team and this program are truly deserving of sniffing around the top 10 of college football. 
South Carolina bruised the ego of everyone that wears Clemson orange.  That bruise still lingers, and that bruise will grow and fester if Clemson cannot find a way to upset the Bengal Tigers.
The 1987 season is remembered fondly, in part, because of the bowl win over a nationally prominent program and legendary coach.  The 1987 season’s tone was set not in Death Valley after losing to a bad Wolfpack team, but rather in central Florida after whipping Penn State.
The 1987 team offers a nice parallel to the 2012 team. A signature win is just about all that keeps that parallel from becoming complete.
The tone of this offseason will be much like the offseason of 1987 if Clemson wins.
And, with a little bit of luck, maybe the 2013 team will do what the 1988 team could not.
Scott Rhymer can be reached at
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