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Clemson Tier History

This is the 3rd post on Eliteness, and more specifically, Elite Teams and Tiers. You can find the Elite Teams article here and the Other Tiers here. All of the Eliteness material has a permanent home under “Eliteness” in the menu bar at the top.

In this post, we’re going to look at Clemson’s updated History using the tier system from that last post. This goes from Frank Howard’s 1940 team all the way up this year’s National Champion squad. You should see a scroll bar at the bottom to maneuver the chart left and right.

You can see above that, by this metric, we are all alive in the greatest era of Clemson football ever. Congratulations! You knew that already based on the 2 Natty’s, but we had never had 2 Elite Seasons in a row before the run of 4 straight we are on right now.

We haven’t defined Elite Programs just yet, but many of you already know the definition, so I’ll include the next two charts that mention them this year. This one is the overall Elite Team and Program record of each Head Coach since 1981.

You can see that Hatfield, West, and Bowden combined to go 0-13 against Elite Teams and 4-14 against Elite Programs. Danny and Dabo posted winning records against Elite Programs.

The next chart is the year by year breakdown since 1981 of the Elite Teams and Programs Clemson has faced and the results.

The first thing I’d like you to take from this is that if you want to be the best, you have to play the best because 1. “only elite wins change elite perception” and 2. Programs will adjust to get better when they see they can’t compete at the top of the mountain. Scheduling Auburn, Georgia, and Texas A&M in the regular season, along with having Florida State and South Carolina “up,” cannot be ignored as the catalyst for the run we are on now.

When a program proves it is able to knock off Elite Teams and Programs, it is itself, also considered Elite. It doesn’t matter what conference you play in. Step one to Eliteness is getting Elite level programs on your schedule. If you are the AD at UCF, you challenge everybody and take the best offers you can get. If that means scheduling 2 games at Florida for 1 at home, do it. You do whatever it takes to get those teams on your schedule, or you keep waiting to be handed something that you did not earn from the playoff committee.

When Georgia dropped us from the schedule in 1992, Clemson replaced them with Ball State. Every so often, we’d do a home and home with Georgia and we did one with Texas A&M in 2004-05, but even when the schedule went to 12 games, we added another cupcake. “Clemsoning” entered the college football vernacular, but the truth is, we just weren’t that good (especially up front). Finally in 2008, we agreed to face Alabama, got shook, fired the coach, and got better…much better.

Now that Clemson is an Elite Program, the stigma of the ACC being “down” doesn’t have the same kind of effect it did 10 years ago. When your program is beating Big Boy or better teams every year and has proven it can beat Elite Teams in previous years, the playoff committee, recruits, and fans, are going to perceive Clemson to be elite until further notice. Let’s take a look at the ACC as a conference based on the tier system.

The ACC was the 3rd best conference last year when all was said and done, but the SEC and Big 12 were a good bit better. The Big 10, despite likely being overrated at the top, was still below the ACC. The Pac 12 was a dumpster fire this year, but I think better days are ahead for the west coast. And as you can see, the AAC is not strong enough to lend credibility to an undefeated team from their conference.

Now let’s look at Clemson’s schedule by tier:

  • Elite: Alabama, Notre Dame
  • Big Boy: Texas A&M, Syracuse
  • Fringe Top 25: Duke
  • Mediocre: Boston College, GA. Southern, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Wake Forest
  • Weak: Florida State
  • Bottom Feeder: Louisville
  • FCS: Furman

Elite Programs are next.

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