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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson vs. Florida State

The Clemson Tigers look to bury the hatchet with a victory in their annual ACC Atlantic Division grudge match with the Florida State Seminoles, who have won three straight in a series they lead 20-8-0 all time.

Clemson seeks to extend its perfect record to 9-0 with a win over FSU in Death Valley
Clemson seeks to extend its perfect record to 9-0 with a win over FSU in Death Valley
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Between 1800 and 1830, most Native American tribes in the U.S. South succumbed to the pressure of white encroachment onto Indian lands, as well as economic and political manipulation designed to promote the acquisition of Indian land by white Americans. Indian wars played a crucial role in shaping the early United States, from the two Cherokee Wars (1758-1761 & 1776-1777 in the Appalachians) and Pontiac's Rebellion (1763 in the Ohio River Valley) during the Revolutionary Era to Tecumseh's Rebellion (1811-1813 also in the Ohio Valley) and the Red Stick War (1813-1814 in Georgia and Alabama). But this incessant violence, along with the negative long term effects of European diseases on Indian populations, combined to limit Native Americans' ability to resist white expansion in the early antebellum era. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 formalized a process already well underway, in which native peoples ceded their lands to individual states and/or the U.S. government in exchange for lands west of the Mississippi in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The infamous "Trail of Tears" (1838-1839) in which the U.S. army directed the forced march of Cherokee holdouts from the Cherokee Nation to Indian Territory was the dismal culmination of Indian attempts to peacefully resist removal to the west.


The "Trail of Tears" (1838-1839)

Only the Seminoles of the sparsely settled state of Florida violently resisted removal after 1830. Osceola, one of the leaders of Seminole resistance, was a Red Stick Indian who had survived General Andrew Jackson's assault on hostile Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. The US had attempted to oust the Seminole tribe from newly acquired Florida in the immediate wake of the War of 1812 in what came to be called the First Seminole War (1816-1819), and they engaged the Seminoles in another conflict during the 1830s and 1840s, called the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), forcing as many as 3,000 Seminoles to remove west. But a small number of Seminoles would remain in Florida, and a third conflict eventually erupted into the Third Seminole War (1855-1858) between the Seminole Nation and the U.S. Army. Like its predecessors, this war also failed to achieve the complete removal of the Seminole tribe, who remain to this day part of a tiny remnant of the once sizable Indian population east of the Mississippi River.


FSU's "Chief Osceola" and "Portrait of Osceola" by George Catlin

The Florida State University Seminoles reference this legacy, with sanction from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in their name and mascot, Chief Osceola (and his horse Renegade). On the gridiron, the ‘Noles have proven just as difficult for Clemson to oust from the top of the ACC standings since 1992 as their historical namesakes proved to be for the U.S. government in the Nineteenth century. Florida State holds a commanding 20-8-0 lead in the all-time series with Clemson that dates to the first meeting in 1970, including an 8-5 mark in Death Valley. But since 2003, the teams have split their twelve meetings 6-6, with the home teams prevailing in all but two of those battles (Clemson won 27-20 in Tallahassee in 2006, FSU won 51-14 at Clemson in 2013). Five of the Tigers' eight total victories over the Seminoles have occurred in Death Valley, beginning in 2003 with the first of five consecutive home wins for the Tigers over the ‘Noles (2003; 2005; 2007; 2009; 2011).

In 2015 head coach Jimbo Fisher brings his sixteenth-ranked Seminoles into Death Valley with a 7-1 (5-1 ACC) record to take on Dabo Swinney's top-ranked and undefeated (8-0, 5-0 ACC) Clemson Tigers in the annual ACC Atlantic Division "Bo Bowl." The winner of this game has gone on to win the conference crown each of the last four years, and this year the Tigers can clinch the division and a spot in the ACC title game with a victory over the Seminole Nation.

Bo Bowl

The "Bo Bowl"

Despite Clemson's ascension to the top spot in the inaugural 2015 College Football Playoff poll, ESPN's introductory video for this weekend's bout will probably continue pushing the network's "Clemsoning" agenda by rehashing every time Chief Osceola's band has ridden Renegade roughshod over our Tigers. To stave off the potential nausea from ESPN's expected attempt to force-feed us video of Leroy Butler's infamous "Puntrooskie" in 1988, we'll go ahead and confront it here, without any further explanation than to say that Clemson reigned as the dominant football power back in that halcyon Danny Ford Era, while Bobby Bowden's program was just beginning to assert its place among college football's elite. The tables would of course quickly turn in the 1990s after Ford's forced resignation from Clemson, as Bowden's ‘Noles won two national titles (1993 and 1999) during the decade, while Clemson descended into the depths of mediocrity the likes of which Dabo Swinney has finally managed to surmount.

Bobby Bowden "demonstrating" the "puntrooskie" against Clemson in 1988

Bobby Bowden "demonstrating" the "puntrooskie" against Clemson in 1988

But though Tiger fans often have trouble admitting it, it was Tommy Bowden's success in putting the Clemson program on relative par with his daddy's Tallahassee juggernaut that laid the foundation upon which Swinney's program has risen. Swinney's success harkens back to that of the Ford era, when Clemson football stood for physical and mental toughness and, above all else, winning. His 2015 team is the first since Ford's 1981 squad to don the orange-and-white (break out the orange britches!) as the number one team in the land, and the only to ever spill off the bus, congregate at the top of the hill, rub Howard's Rock, and unleash 110% of its fury amidst the din of 81,500 Tigers roaring in Death Valley.

Bobby & Tommy Bowden squared off in the "Bowden Bowl" between Clemson & FSU (1999-2007)

Bobby & Tommy Bowden squared off in the "Bowden Bowl" between Clemson & FSU (1999-2007)

In 2003 Tommy's Tigers had just suffered a humiliating 45-17 road defeat to hapless Wake Forest and came into the contest against Papa Bowden's 8-1 (6-0 ACC), third-ranked FSU Seminoles unranked at 4-4. But an inspired defense led by LBs Leroy Hill and John Leake along with DBs Justin Miller and Tye Hill, complemented a suddenly explosive offense captained by quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and led by wideouts Derrick Hamilton and Kevin Youngblood to pull off the most unlikely of victories in a 26-10 rout. Clemson rode the momentum to end the year on a four-game win streak, including 63-17 over archrival South Carolina in Columbia and a 27-14 thrashing of fourth-ranked Tennessee in the Peach Bowl to close the year #22 in the polls at 9-4 (5-3 ACC). The Seminoles would rebound to beat NC State and the archrival Florida Gators, but lost 16-14 to the Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl to close the year in the top ten (#11 AP, #10 Coaches) at 10-3 (7-1 ACC). Tommy would continue this momentum to take three out of the next five "Bowden Bowls" against his father's ‘Noles, including three straight from 2005-2007 (35-14 in Death Valley in 2005; 27-20 in Doak Campbell in 2006; and 24-18 in Death Valley in 2007).

2003: Clemson 26, FSU 10

2003: Clemson 26, FSU 10

Dabo Swinney would lose his first bout with the ‘Noles in Tallahassee as interim head coach in 2008, but his first home contest with the Seminoles in 2009 would prove to be Bobby Bowden's last in Death Valley, as Swinney's Tigers romped to a 40-24 victory behind a school-record 312 all-purpose yards from running back CJ Spiller (22 carries for 165yds and 1 TD rushing; 3 receptions for 67yds and 1 TD receiving; 3 kickoff returns for 71yds; 1 punt return for 9yds) and a stalwart defensive performance led by safety Deandre McDaniel. The win went a long way toward securing the Tigers first ACC Atlantic Division title and their first appearance in the ACC Championship game. Though they would drop that thriller to Georgia Tech, the Tigers rebounded with a 21-13 Music City Bowl win over Kentucky to finish twenty-fourth in the country at 9-5 (6-2 ACC). FSU would stumble to a 7-6 (4-4) season, which prompted the resignation of Bobby Bowden and promotion of offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher to head coach. The first battle between Swinney and Fisher in 2010 was a defensive slug-fest in which the ‘Noles ultimately prevailed 16-13 thanks to a last-second 55-yd field goal, but Swinney's squad would return the favor in resounding fashion the following year with a 35-30 triumph that propelled the Tigers to the ACC Championship, the program's first since 1991. The Seminoles would finish 9-4 (5-3 ACC) and twenty-third in the final polls.

Deandre McDaniel (2007-1010) against FSU in 2009

Deandre McDaniel (2007-2010) against FSU in 2009

If the historical record proves anything, it's that the Seminoles have always been a tough out, on and off the gridiron. The 2015 Tigers will most certainly seek to remove any doubt that they are deserving of their newly minted number-one ranking, but the effort is likely to produce a fourth "Seminole War," only this time the stakes involve a potential conference championship, improved national poll position, and a spot in the college football playoff. And as history has so often demonstrated, "to the victors go the spoils," so here's hoping the twenty-first century "trail of tears" marches south from Clemson, South Carolina back to Tallahassee, Florida, with the Tigers still unbeaten at 9-0 and the Seminoles weeping over a gridiron massacre.