10 Greatest Clemson Football Teams of All Time

As a program, Clemson is enjoying its greatest success right now

It is safe to say that Clemson’s and Alabama’s Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff showdown in the Allstate Sugar Bowl may be the most anticipated rubber match in college football history. The defending national champion Tigers hold the No. 1 seed and have a shot at winning the school’s third national title.

 

Clemson has a long and storied history, but it does seem like the program has reached its apex in the last few seasons. Here are the 10 greatest teams that helped forge that path to success.

 

10. 2012

Record: 11-2

Finished: Beat LSU 25-24 in the Peach Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 11

Clemson recorded its first 11-win campaign since 1981 in a season that saw head coach Dabo Swinney’s high-powered spread offense come into its own. The Tigers also came back to beat LSU in arguably the greatest Peach Bowl of all time.

 

9. 1982

Record: 9-1-1

Finished: Beat Wake Forest 21-17 to finish regular season

Final Ranking: No. 8

Clemson lost to Georgia and tied Boston College to start the season 0-1-1, but won its last nine games. Facing a potential three-year NCAA probation, the Tigers were invited to play unbeaten SMU in the Cotton Bowl. However, the team’s senior class voted to decline the invitation so the 1985 team would have a chance at playing in a bowl.

 

8. 2013

Record: 11-2

Finished: Beat Ohio State 40-35 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 8

Losses to South Carolina and eventual national champion Florida State marred an otherwise great season. Then again, Clemson did rebound to upset Ohio State in the Orange Bowl and finish ranked in the top 10.

 

7. 1950

Record: 9-0-1

Finished: Beat Miami 15-14 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 10

Clemson’s first “top 10” team shut out four of its opponents on its way to an unbeaten season, which barely missed perfection thanks to a 14-14 tie to South Carolina. The 1950 squad was one of five Clemson teams that went to bowls in the '50s.

 

6. 1900

Record: 6-0

Finished: Beat Alabama 35-0 to finish regular season

Final Ranking: N/A

Clemson secured the necessary funds ($415.11) to lure head coach John Heisman from Auburn and the investment immediately paid off. The Tigers went undefeated and outscored their opponents 220-10. Heisman only lost three times in four seasons at Clemson, but his first season was his best.

 

5. 1978

Record: 11-1

Finished: Beat Ohio State 17-15 in the Gator Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 6

Clemson suffered a 12-0 loss to Georgia early in the season, but did not lose again. The Tigers beat all of their ACC foes, including No. 11 Maryland in College Park, to finish the regular season 10-1 (the best season in school history at the time). Sadly, the college football world best remembers Clemson’s 1978 season because it ended with Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes punching Charlie Bauman.

 

4. 1948

Record: 11-0

Finished: Beat Missouri 24-23 in the Gator Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 11

The fact that Clemson and Michigan were the only two schools with perfect records and the Wolverines won the national title and the Tigers finished 11th gives you a sense of how far Clemson has come as a program in terms of respect. That being said, it was a glorious season, in which the Tigers won their second and last Southern Conference title.

 

3. 2015

Record: 14-1

Finished: Lost to Alabama 45-40 in College Football Playoff National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 2

Clemson recorded its first perfect regular season since 1981 and won the ACC title. In the College Football Playoff, the Tigers ran away from Oklahoma in the semifinal to win 37-17. In the title game, Clemson came up five points short against Alabama, but it was clear the Crimson Tide were relieved that the game – a full-blown shootout – ended when it did. 

 

2. 1981

Record: 12-0

Finished: Beat Nebraska 22-15 in the Orange Bowl

Final Ranking: No. 1

The Tigers entered 1981 unranked. Then in the third game of the season, they recorded nine turnovers in a 13-3 upset of defending national champion Georgia and were vaulted into the national title picture. Clemson proceeded to dominate the rest of the season, allowing an NCAA-best 8.8 points per game and only giving up more than 15 points only once. The Tigers went undefeated along the way and won the school’s first national title.

 

1. 2016

Record: 14-1

Finished: Beat Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game

Final Ranking: No. 1

This may be sacrilege, but I am going to put last year’s team ahead of the 1981 squad. Yes, they did have one blemish, a 43-42 loss to an 8-5 Pitt team, but their path to greatness was tougher. The Tigers played 15 teams, 13 of which went to bowl games. Clemson capped off this amazing season by beating undefeated Alabama and its top-ranked defense in dramatic fashion. No other team on this list had to run such a gauntlet.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.

Event Date: 
Thursday, December 28, 2017 - 06:55

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