As a program, Clemson is enjoying its greatest success right now
Clemson's 44-16 beatdown of Alabama in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship was one for the ages. But where does this team land amongst the Tigers' 10 greatest teams of all time? Let's take a look.
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.
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.
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.
Finished: Lost to Alabama 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl/College Football Playoff Semifinal
Final Ranking: No. 4
The Tigers overcame a misstep against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome to win the ACC title and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. However, their rubber match with Alabama proved to be the least dramatic of their three showdowns.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the 2016 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.
Finished: Beat No. 1 Alabama 44-16 in the College Football Playoff National Championship
Final Ranking: No. 1
The Tigers became the first major college football program to go 15-0 since Penn in 1897, and 12 of those wins came against teams that went to bowls. Clemson's run in the postseason also was the most dominant in the history of the young College Football Playoff. Not only are the 2018 Tigers the best team in Clemson's history, they are also one of the greatest of all time.
— 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.