The 2014 football season will come to a close on Monday evening, December 29th, in Orlando Florida, as our 18th ranked (AP & Coaches), 9-3 (6-2 ACC) Tigers take on the 24th-ranked (Coaches; unranked in AP), 8-4 (5-4 Big 12) Oklahoma Sooners in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Both teams have struggled through injury-plagued seasons that saw the emergence of young stars, but the Sooners and their fans have to be especially jaded after beginning the year ranked as high as number three (and a consensus top-five) in the national preseason polls. Clemson on the other hand, came in expecting somewhat of a rebuilding year, but most had high hopes that the "next wave" of young talent would step up and continue the recent trend of double-digit-win seasons. To a large degree, both happened, as the Tigers can still reach the ten-win plateau with a bowl victory, but were denied a chance at greater glory by injuries (namely to freshman phenom Deshaun Watson) and bad breaks (namely CJ Davidson's fumble at FSU and Watson's injury at GA Tech). The rosters for both teams are thus bursting with talent well above their bowl placement, and the result should be one of the more entertaining matchups of this most wonderful time of the year.
Clemson enters the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl with an 18-18 (.500 winning percentage) bowl record, good enough to tie for eleventh all-time in bowl victories. Oklahoma sports an even more impressive 28-18-1 (.606 winning percentage) bowl record, ranking third all-time. Dabo Swinney's 2014 Tigers will be looking to add Bob Stoops and his Sooners to an impressive list of elite programs and coaches that have fallen prey to the paw over the years. Ten of Clemson's eighteen bowl victories have come over coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame, including Boston College's Frank Leahy (1940 Cotton Bowl), Missouri's Don Faurot (1949 Gator Bowl), Miami's Andy Gustafson (1951 Orange Bowl), Ohio State's Woody Hayes (1978 Gator Bowl), Nebraska's Tom Osborne (1982 Orange Bowl), Penn State's Joe Paterno, (1988 Florida Citrus Bowl), and West Virginia's Don Nehlen (1989 Gator Bowl). In addition to these storied programs, Clemson have more recently toppled the likes of Tennessee (under Phil Fulmer in 2003 Peach Bowl), LSU (under Les Miles in 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl), and Ohio State (under Urban Meyer in 2014 Orange Bowl).
Clemson and Oklahoma have met on the gridiron just three times previously, with the Sooners holding a 2-1 advantage over our Tigers. Both of Oklahoma's wins took place in Norman, OK, the first a 31-14 Sooner victory in 1963, and the second a 52-3 drubbing of the Tigers in 1972. The Tigers won the only neutral-site matchup in the 1989 Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL 13-6. The two have never squared off in Death Valley.
Clemson has a 4-7-0 record against current Big 12 teams, three of the wins coming in postseason bowl games: 23-7 over TCU in the 1959 Bluebonnet Bowl; 27-7 over WVU in the 1989 Gator Bowl; 13-6 over Oklahoma in the 1989 Florida Citrus Bowl. The Tigers also defeated TCU 3-0 in a regular season matchup in Clemson in 1965. Three of the Tigers' losses to current Big 12 teams have also come in postseason bowl matchups, two blowouts (55-15 to Texas Tech in 2002 and the 2012 Orange Bowl debacle vs. WVU) and one thriller (24-18 to Baylor in the 1979 Peach Bowl). The other four losses to the Big 12 have all come in the regular season: 14-10 to TCU in Fort Worth, TX in 1964 and, incredibly, 14-10 to TCU in Clemson in 2009, as well as the previously mentioned setbacks to Oklahoma in Norman in 1963 and 1972.
The Tigers have battled other teams previously in the Big 12, but now in other conferences, to a 6-6-0 all-time record. Clemson has a 1-1 record against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the first in the 1982 Orange Bowl, when the Tigers shucked the Cornhuskers 22-15 for perhaps the greatest victory in Clemson football history, which secured a perfect 12-0 season and the 1981 National Championship.
The two also met in the 2009 Gator Bowl, where the Huskers took revenge with a 26-21 victory. Clemson sports a 1-1 record against the Colorado Buffaloes as well, losing 27-21 in the 1957 Orange Bowl, and winning 19-10 to close out the 2005 season in the Champs Sports Bowl. Clemson also opened that 2005 season with a victory over a former Big 12 team, defeating Texas A&M 25-24 in Death Valley, but the Tigers have dropped their other three meetings with the Aggies (30-15 in Clemson in 1973; 24-0 in College Station, TX in 1974; 27-6 in College Station in 2004). Finally, the Clemson Tigers have met the Missouri Tigers four times, compiling a 3-1-0 ledger. Clemson won 24-23 in the 1949 Gator Bowl, and triumphed 34-0 the following year in Columbus, MO. The two met again in 1996, a 38-24 Missouri win, but Clemson exacted retribution in 2000 with a 62-9 whooping in Death Valley. Taking these historic matchups into account, Clemson's all-time record against Big 12 teams past and present stands at 10-13-0.
Clemson's fate in Orlando, FL over the years in various bowl games has been a bit of a mixed bag. Overall Clemson is 3-2 in Orlando: 2-1 in the Florida Citrus Bowl, 0-1 in the Tangerine Bowl, and 1-0 in the Champs Sports Bowl (both of these latter being the precursors to the Russell Athletic Bowl). The losses haven't been pretty. Ken Hatfield's Tigers lost 37-13 to the Cal Bears in the 1992 Florida Citrus Bowl on a soggy New Years day that saw the Tigers spoil the re-emergence of the purple jerseys. In 2002, Tommy Bowden's Tigers were pummeled 55-15 in the Tangerine Bowl against TX Tech.
But as bad as these losses were, the victories were that much sweeter, and it's these momentous bowl triumphs over celebrated national college football brands that will draw our gaze: the 1988 Florida Citrus Bowl shellacking of Joe Paterno's Penn State Nittany Lions, the workman-like defeat of the Colorado Buffalos in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl, and finally the precursor to this year's rematch, the 1989 Florida Citrus Bowl thriller over Barry Switzer's last Oklahoma Sooner squad.
In the 1988 Florida Citrus Bowl, Danny Ford's #14 Clemson Tigers at 9-2 squared off against Joe Paterno's #20 Penn State at 8-3. Clemson uncharacteristically opened up the playbook, using an effective passing game to open up running lanes for its power running attack, while the defense stifled Penn State's ground game (minus star RB Blair Thomas due to injury) en route to a 14-7 halftime lead.
The Tigers then pounded the ball on the ground in the second half, and the defense led by DT Michael Dean Perry continued its dominance, turning what had been a close, hard-fought affair into a 35-10 blowout. The beatdown was then, and would continue to figure as the worst bowl loss of Joe Paterno's career. Clemson's MVP QB Rodney Williams amassed 214yds through the air, 110 of them on seven completions to WR Keith Jennings. RB Terry Allen finished with 105yds on the ground with a score, but the true workhorse was FB Tracy Johnson, who compiled 88yds and three touchdowns in pacing the power running game.
Penn State ended the year 8-4 and ranked #22 as an independent. The dominating victory capped Clemson's ACC championship season at 10-2 (6-1 ACC), garnering a #12 final ranking.
In the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl Tommy Bowden's 7-4 Clemson Tigers came in #23 in the nation to square off against an unranked 7-5 Colorado Buffaloes squad in turmoil under interim head coach Mike Hankwitz (Gary Barnett had been fired mid-season, and Dan Hawkins had been hired to replace him after the bowl season). The game was tight into the fourth quarter, after Colorado's backup QB Brian White led a touchdown drive that narrowed Clemson's lead to 13-10 with just 5:45 to play. But the Tigers promptly answered with a 61-yard touchdown drive that left just 1:48 on the game clock, effectively sealing the 19-10 Tiger victory (extra point was missed).
Clemson was led by MVP RB James Davis, who amassed 150yds and a touchdown on twenty-eight carries. QB Charlie Whitehurst effectively managed the game with an efficient 19/26 for 205yds effort passing, adding a 6yd touchdown run in the third quarter. The Tiger defense held an anemic Colorado offense to just 17yds rushing on twenty-nine carries and 107yds on 11/24 passing for a grand total of 124yds allowed.
For video of the full game, click here.
The Buffaloes ended the year unranked at 7-6 (5-4 Big 12), while the Tigers finished #21 in the final polls at 8-4 (4-4 ACC).
In the 1989 Florida Citrus Bowl, Danny Ford's #9 Clemson Tigers came in at 9-2 to take on Barry Switzer's #10 Oklahoma Sooners, also 9-2. The game was a back-and-forth, tooth-and-nail affair throughout, with both defenses largely stifling the opposing option offenses. The Sooners offense drew first blood with a first-quarter field goal, but the Tigers offense answered in the second from with two Chris Gardocki field goals to take a 6-3 lead into the locker room. Clemson managed the only score of the second half, a 4-yard touchdown run by RB Terry Allen that capped a 15-play, 81-yard drive. Allen paced the Tiger offense, finishing with 56yds rushing, 47yds receiving, and the game-winning touchdown. QB Rodney Williams led the Tigers to victory for the thirty-second time in his final game, making him the winningest signal-caller in Clemson football history (32-10-2, a mark since tied by Tajh Boyd, who compiled a 32-8 as a starter between 2011 and 2013). The Tiger defense, which had held down Oklahoma's explosive triple-option offense (averaged 343yds per game during the regular season) all day (116yds rushing, 138yds passing), thwarted a last-second threat from Sooner QB Jamelle Hollieway by batting a pass down in the end zone to secure the edge-of-your-seat victory.
For video of the full game, click here.
The loss would prove to be Barry Switzer's last game as the head coach of the Sooners, who had been indicted for numerous NCAA violations before the contest, and were placed on probation that, among other things, prevented them from appearing in bowl games or on television until the 1991 season. His sixteenth and final Sooner team finished the year at 9-3 (6-1 Big 8) and ranked fourteenth in the polls. Danny Ford's ACC Champion Tigers ended the year at 10-2 (6-1 ACC) and #9 in the final polls, the second of what would be four straight ten-win seasons for the Clemson program (1987-1990).
Dabo Swinney's 2014 Tigers are looking to match that historic run of success by Ford and the late-eighties Tigers (and Hatfield's 1990 squad) with their fourth straight ten-win season, their third straight bowl victory over a national brand (Ford beat PSU, OU, and WVU to cap the 1987, 1988, and 1989 seasons; Swinney has beaten LSU, OSU, and is looking to beat OU to cap the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons). This 2014 senior class can add to their winning legacy with a forty-second victory. And defensive coordinator can prove once and for all that his 2014 defense is the best in the land, and he can do it against his former employer of thirteen years. So despite falling short of the inaugural College Football Playoff or a major bowl game, this year's Tiger team has a lot left to play for, and should have plenty of motivation to finish off a solid season in stellar fashion against a renowned opponent. Once more into the breach men! The road to greatness in 2015 begins with a resounding victory to close the book on 2014!
Happy New Year & GO TIGERS!