35 years ago, a team from a small town called Clemson, South Carolina defeated Nebraska 22-15 in the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida to claim the 1981 National Championship.
The Tigers were coming off a 6-5 season heading into that unexpected title run and not only did most of the nation not give Clemson any chance at running the table, many had never really heard of Clemson University at all let alone be able to identify it on a map.
However, that monumental win put the Tigers and the state of South Carolina on the map. Clemson, lead by a young-Alabama native by the name of Danny Ford, did the unthinkable and knocked off Hershel Walker’s #4 Georgia Bulldogs, #8 North Carolina and eventually #4 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim college football’s greatest team honor.
It’s been 35 years since that big celebration in Tigertown but the boys in the orange britches are just four quarters away from bringing home the school’s and state’s second college football national championship.
While much has changed since the days of Homer Jordan, Perry Tuttle, Jeff Davis, and William Perry, a few things still remain true and there are some striking comparisons.
In fact, the more you look the more you see comparisons between Clemson’s 1981 team and this year’s squad. No longer a stranger to the limelight, the Tigers are now a household name and the paw is one of the most easily recognized logos in all of college football.
Just like the 1981 squad, this year’s team is lead by another guy who helms from Alabama and goes by the name William Christopher Swinney. However, most know him as simply, Dabo. Swinney’s roots run deep in Bama country where the 46-year old obtained his undergraduate and masters in Business Administration. Oh yeah, he also was a 3-time letterman as a wide receiver and played on the 1992 national championship team.
Homer Jordan, a native of Athens, GA, was under center for the Tigers’ title run in 1981. This year, Heisman finalist and Gainesville, GA native Deshaun Watson is the signal-caller for one of the most efficient offenses in the nation. Like Jordan, Watson chose Clemson over Georgia and others despite being just 45 min away from the University of Georgia’s campus.
Clemson’s first championship team was best known for its play on the defensive side of the ball where they gave up more than 20 points just once the entire season in a 82-24 rout of Wake Forest at home. This year’s team has also emerged as one of the nations best under the direction of Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables with the likes of locals Shaq Lawson and Ben Boulware leading the way.
If you need more to make you believe this is just a team that is destined to return to the top of the college football world, no need to worry—I have more. Clemson is riding a 17-game winning streak dating back to last season and in 255 minutes of fourth quarter play in those games the Tigers have never trailed. Not a single minute.
Speaking of getting the job done, Deshaun Watson is undefeated (18-0) in games which he started and finished the game. (left the game early due to injury against Louisville and Georgia Tech games in 2014, came off the bench against UGA/FSU last year)
With Watson in the fold, the Tigers have been awfully hard to beat and despite losing the biggest downfield threat (Mike Williams) in the opener to a season-ending neck injury, role players such as Charone Peak, Jordan Leggett, and a handful of freshmen--Ray Ray McCloud, Deon Cain and walk-on Hunter Renfrow have been instrumental in the passing game.
Additionally, PK Greg Huegel, another walk-on, has been clutch for the Tigers in the kicking game and has tied the single-season scoring record with 128 points held by C.J. Spiller.
If you needed one last sign that this is a team of destiny, I saved the best for last. If one were to make the trek from Death Valley to the site of the championship game in Glendale, your odometer would read 1,981 miles when you arrived. You can’t make these things up.
It seems the stars have aligned for the Alabama-native and wide receivers coach this season. The Tigers have proved the nation wrong time and time again this year and once again will play the role of underdog when they kick off against the Crimson Tide.
The most amazing part about this team is that they’ve yet to really play a complete game from start to finish this season, although the 58-0 shutout at Miami--which was pretty close. Maybe the Tigers were simply saving the best for last. We’ll find out next Monday night.