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Top 10 Clemson Stories of 2014

We count down the 10 biggest stories out of Clemson in 2014.

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10. Brownell gets contract extension following NIT run: After Clemson's 10-game turnaround and run to the Final Four of the NIT, Clemson AD Dan Radakovich rewarded him with a contract extension that included both a raise and a increased buyout. With a $5MM buyout this season and next, he's all but guaranteed to start the first season in the new Littlejohn Coliseum as the leader of the basketball program.

9. Chad Morris accepts head coaching position at SMUJeff Scott and Tony Elliot named co-coordinators: Chad Morris accepted a well deserved opportunity to move back to his home state and take over a once proud program that finished 1-11 this season, the Southern Methodist Mustangs. For SMU, it brings hope that Morris can do what June Jones could not.

For Clemson, it leaves an offense loaded with young talent to two rookie coordinators. The Tigers promoted WR coach Jeff Scott and RB Coach Tony Elliot to Co-Offensive Coordinators with Elliot handling the play-calling. Brandon Streeter, a former Clemson QB, Charleston Southern recruiting coordinator, and Richmond offensive coordinator joined Clemson's staff as the new QB Coach. In Clemson's only game with the new staff in place, they blew out Oklahoma 40-6 as Cole Stoudt looked like a new man with Streeter's coaching. Offensive play calls were on point and the team's motivation was excellent.

8. AD Radakovich leaves Georgia Tech to take same position with Clemson: With Terry Don Phillip's retirement, Clemson hired away Georgia Tech's Athletic Director. He's well accomplished and on the College Football Playoff Committee. He has already launched major facility upgrades for Clemson's three primary sports. He's made some "bold" moves with large buyouts that worry us, but for Clemson athletics to be at the point where we can go and hire away the top dog from Georgia Tech is an impressive statement. Here's our article with thoughts from Brian Goodison before the news was made official.

7. Clemson beats Duke 72-59: Coming off a deflating home loss to Florida State and on a short turnaround, Clemson handled the Blue Devils 72-59 on January 11th. The Tigers were led by KJ McDaniels and Jaron Blossomgame, the latter of which won Rookie of the Week honors. The win was as pleasing as it was stunning.

6. Coach Dabo Swinney earns major contract extension: Clemson tied themselves to Coach Swinney for the foreseeable future with a major contract extension that raised his salary to $3.15MM (with gradual increases each season). Most notable about the deal is that it does not include a buyout option for 2014 or 2015 seasons and essentially none for 2016. That means Clemson would have to pay the full value of Swinney's contract if there was a need to terminate him, which is a nice way to say they can't afford to terminate him. The strong positioning got Dabo named in the top five of Forbes Most Powerful Coaches list.

Fortunately, he has been very successful. Dabo has guided the program to 42 wins over the last four years, while representing the school well and recruiting great athletes for future teams. Hopefully that continues, because he's our guy. Clemson is "All In" on Dabo, that's for sure.

5. Clemson Family Unites, Freedom from Religion Foundation Backs Down: Just before Easter of 2014, the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) complained that Clemson unconstitutionally intertwines the Christian religion with the football program. Clemson's legal team responded with a strong letter and didn't back down. The FFRF, did not pursue legal action.

The story made national news as you can see in the video embed from a national news broadcast. (One of the talking heads denounces Clemson by saying Dabo Swinney's role is a "taypayer funded position." While this may not be technically wrong, the University only gets 10% of it's funding from the state and uses donations and sports revenue to fund the position, so in reality he doesn't know what he's talking about.)

What's most amazing about this story is the way the Clemson family, regardless of political or religious belief came together to support their alma mater. Aaron Kelly, a Jevoah's Witness, made a public statement in support of his former coach. CJ Spiller, a Christian, also made comments in his support.

4. Jim Barker retires, Jim Clements leaves West Virginia to be Clemson's next president: It's always great when you can offer opportunities so good that people are willing to leave good jobs to take them. That was the case for President Clements, who left the same position at WVU to succeed Jim Barker.

He is noted for his great work with private fundraising, something that is much needed at Clemson due to the state's poor funding. What's exciting for us Clemson sports fanatics is his willingness to do the things needed to get Clemson's athletics on the next level without sacrificing ethics or academics. This included adding new majors to help attract JUCO transfers, joining the Academic Common Market, and actively helping the coach's recruiting efforts..

"We need to be competitive, so we need the facilities that will take us to that next level. We only have so much money. We only have so many resources on our own. It takes a lot of help. It takes a lot of support. So, we're actively trying to raise money for a lot of projects across the board. It’s critical." ~ Jim Clements

3. Clemson cracks top 20 of US News and World Report academic ranking of public universities: Jim Barker's long stated goal was finally accomplished just shortly after his retirement, as Clemson moved into a tie with Georgia and Maryland (and a few others) to be the 20th highest ranked public university. It was especially meaningful because it put the finishing touch on President Jim Barker's legacy.

2. Clemson captures their first BCS Bowl win, third Orange Bowl win: On January 3rd, Clemson played in their fifth Orange Bowl in school history. After beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl the year before, the Tigers were gunning for their second straight bowl win over a major national program. Clemson dominated the game, but a calamity of mistakes including a failed fourth down conversion, an odd flip pass interception, and a few busts in the secondary kept it close.

Needing a winning drive, Tajh led the offense down the field and into the end zone. The defense then came up with what should have been a game winning fumble recovery, but an interception gave the Buckeyes life. Fortunately, Stephone Anthony's huge day ended with the game-winning interception on Ohio State's final drive.

Anthony had a tremendous game which served as a great leaping off point for his senior season and entrance to the NFL. Sammy Watkins totaled 227 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns on 16 catches and was selected fourth overall in the NFL draft.

For many, the win means Clemson deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as tremendous programs like Ohio State, LSU, Auburn, Oklahoma, etc.

1. Deshaun Watson ended the streak with a torn ACL: A bit of recency bias here, but ending the painful five year losing streak was huge. It wasn't just that though. The way it happened is why it is number one on this list. A true freshman quarterback, a true freshman slot receiver, and a redshirt freshman running back completely outplayed the Gamecocks in a blowout 35-17 win. As it was happening, we believe Deshaun Watson had a sprained LCL, which he did. Afterwards, we learned he also had a torn ACL, but like other great players fighting through injuries in the biggest of moments, Watson toughed it out, inspired the team, a ended the streak.

In the aftermath of the game, South Carolina's recruiting class has completely imploded while Clemson recruits exclaim their excitement about playing with the young QB, one even saying he'd follow Watson to war. The win wasn't just to put an end to the streak, but to pave a path to a bright future for the program, all while sending Carolina back to their historical standards, which aren't too impressive.

Honorable Mentions: Clemson makes run to NIT Final Four, Chad Kelly dismissed from football team, Chad Kelly arrested in Buffalo, Clemson Men's Soccer win ACC Tournament, Clemson beats Oklahoma 40-6 in Russell Athletic Bowl