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Historical Eye of the Tiger—Fiesta Bowl Edition: Clemson v. Ohio State

Tigers look to ruin another Buckeyes’ New Year’s “Fiesta” and “Punch” another ticket to the “Natty.”

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Oklahoma vs Clemson Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson has a history of ruining things for Ohio State on the football field. Once the confetti falls on the field at the University of Phoenix Stadium in the waning hours of 2016, the Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes will have met just thrice on the gridiron. In the two previous battles, both in marquee bowl games, Clemson has tarnished something sacred in Buckeye lore.

Woody’s Punch

In 1978, a resurgent Clemson squad—Danny Ford’s first led by senior All-American quarterback Steve Fuller, wide receiver Jerry Butler, and a stingy defense—toppled what would prove to be the venerable Woody Hayes’s last Buckeye team 17-15 in the Gator Bowl. That victory had profound consequences for both football programs, as Ford would build upon his first head-coaching victory to preside over what has until recently reigned as the “golden age” of Clemson football (1978-1989). In contrast, the game effectively ended Woody Hayes’s 32-year hall-of-fame career (1946-1978), all but five of them as the Buckeyes’ commander-in-chief. As the closing minutes ticked off in Jacksonville that foggy December night, Clemson defensive tackle Charlie Bauman intercepted Ohio State freshman-quarterback Art Schlichter to stymie a late Buckeye drive within range of a potential game-winning field goal and preserve the Tigers’ victory. The emotion of the moment proved too much for Hayes’s legendary temper, and he unleashed a haymaker on Charlie Bauman as he stood along the Buckeye sideline, inciting an on-field brawl between the two teams and incurring two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that enabled the Clemson offense to simply run out the clock in the game, on the season, and ultimately, on Hayes’s tempestuous career. Among the all-time leaders in total wins (238 total, 205 with the Buckeyes) and winner of five national titles, the mercurial Woody Hayes was and is perhaps best remembered for the controversial way in which he left the game, an ignominious departure that served to highlight the other controversial moments in his long tenure rather than the steady efficiency with which his teams had achieved his impeccable career marks.

Ohio State Head Coach Woody Hayes

Fast-forward thirty-six years, and Clemson’s second coming of Danny Ford—Dabo Swinney—took on another all-time winningest coach at the head of “The” Ohio State University football program in Urban Meyer for the 2014 FedEx Orange Bowl. While Swinney has compiled a career record at Clemson that rivals and in many ways has already surpassed that of the legendary Ford, Urban Meyer’s head coaching resume at Bowling Green (2001-2002), Utah (2003-2004), Florida (2005-2010), and, since 2012, Ohio State, places him in extremely prestigious company in terms of all-time wins and especially winning-percentage (.851 in the latter, ranking third all-time behind Notre Dame legend Knute Rockne and Boston College-then-Notre Dame legend Frank Leahy). His 154-27 career record in fourteen seasons puts him on pace to reach 200 career wins faster than anyone ever, and his three national titles in those fourteen seasons (2006, 2008 at UF, 2014 at OSU) already rank among the elite in terms of total championships. But it was an allegedly “upstart” Clemson squad that took down Meyer’s elite Buckeyes in that 2014 contest, 40-35, and in so doing, ruined another “career” mark in the Buckeyes’ ledger. Prior to that defeat at the hands of Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Stephone Anthony, and the rest of the 2013 Clemson Tigers, Ohio State had compiled an all-time record of 279-0-1 when scoring 35 points or more. Thanks to Clemson, that record now stands at 305-1-1.

2014 Orange Bowl: Clemson 40, Ohio State 35*675/2014-Orange-Bowl.jpg

Aside from this intermittent tendency to crush the Buckeyes’ dreams, Clemson and Ohio State have very little college football lineage in common. OSU has long ranked among college football’s royalty, while Clemson, though certainly a member of the royal court, has not enjoyed nearly the same level of prestige. Ohio State trumps Clemson in nearly every measurable statistic: national titles (OSU 8, CU 1), all-time records (OSU 886-321-53, CU 715-457-45), all-time winning percentages (OSU .724, CU .606), conference titles (OSU 38, CU 20), bowl games (OSU 47, CU 39), Heisman Trophy winners (OSU 7, CU 0), consensus All-Americans (OSU 81, CU 25), total NFL draft picks (OSU 418, CU 229), first-round draft picks (OSU 69, CU 27), total weeks ranked in AP poll (OSU 869, CU 402), and weeks ranked #1 in AP poll (OSU 105, CU 7). The Ohio State Buckeyes rank in the top-ten in nearly every meaningful category, while Clemson’s highest rank in any of these categories is seventeenth. In the last one hundred and sixteen years, those in orange and regalia have compiled an impressive all-time record and list of accomplishments worthy of a top-20 stature, but they still pale in comparison to the exploits of those clad in the scarlet and gray.

Justin Smith Morrill, Vermont Congressman and author of the Morrill Land Grant Act (1862)

Despite this gridiron disparity, however, “The” Ohio State University and THE University in the Palmetto State share certain familiar commonalities in their institutional histories. Both were land-grant schools made possible by the 1862 Morrill Act. Both were founded in the late-nineteenth century—Ohio State in 1870 as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, Clemson in 1889 as the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina—to provide their respective states with higher education in agricultural and mechanical sciences. Both experienced conflict over this decision to concentrate such scholastic pursuits via the formation of separate institutions, due to resistance from the existing state schools (Ohio University and the University of South Carolina, respectively). And both effectively owe their existence and expansion to the American Civil War and its contested legacies.

In the case of Ohio State, none other than Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th President of the United States (1877-1881), parlayed his military service to the Union Army during the Civil War into a successful postwar political career, first as Republican Congressman from Ohio, then as Republican Governor of Ohio, before eventually winning the most contested Presidential election in American history in 1876 as the Republican candidate. Hayes was an ardent advocate for the formation of The Ohio State University, and wielded his considerable political clout in the Buckeye state to achieve that end and promote the continued growth of the school. Despite these scholastically-minded endeavors, however, President Hayes’s most noted act was to end Federal Reconstruction in the South and restore “home rule” to recalcitrant white Southerners who remained resistant to Federal intervention in the region; intervention designed to promote and protect the civil and political rights of former slaves.

Rutherford B. Hayes (OH), “Founding Father” of The Ohio State University (1870) and later elected 19th President of the United States of America (1877-1881),cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,h_1200,q_80,w_1200/MTE5NDg0MDU0OTkxNDM5Mzc1.jpg

Though a native of Pennsylvania, Clemson University founder Thomas Green Clemson could be counted among those recalcitrant white Southerners, as he followed his adopted state of South Carolina out of the Union in 1861 and into Confederate service during the war. As a former slaveholder, after Confederate defeat Clemson certainly shared in the racial prejudices as well as the social and cultural reservations of his fellow white southerners concerning black freedom and the Federal government’s postwar efforts to promote and protect freedmen’s rights during “Reconstruction.” Such limited and prejudicial views coincided with those prevailing in American society at large during the late nineteenth century, and in many ways, Clemson’s progressive economic views and conservative racial views mirrored those of Ohio State’s founding father Rutherford B. Hayes.

Thomas Green Clemson, Founding Father of Clemson University (est. 1889)

Hayes had always been a “Moderate Republican” politically, meaning he demurred the “Radical Republican” racial agenda bent on achieving a revolution in race relations through an equally revolutionary expansion of Federal power. He had long opposed Southern slavery on grounds that it posed an obstacle to the expansion and full realization of free labor ideals and the national “progress” they promised, but publicly Hayes evinced little moral concern over slavery or slaveholding and held limited views of how far the government should intervene on behalf of freedmen. After his military service secured the preservation of the Union he prioritized, Hayes reflected the sentiment of many white Americans in his belief that the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution during Reconstruction were sufficient resolutions to the nation’s racial issues. Hayes’s election as President in 1876, then, served as the culmination of a broader shift in priorities within the Republican party away from its origins as the “Party of Lincoln” and its antislavery/racial platforms toward the business-progressive agenda of more moderate and conservative Republicans. It also tacitly approved the growing indifference toward southern black rights entailed in this shift. And Hayes’s ascension to the oval office, tumultuous though it was, exhibited the extent to which these political party shifts reflected national social trends.

Presidential Election of 1876

Such shifts in national politics and society mirrored similar developments on the ground in the South as Reconstruction waned and the “New South Creed” gained credence, all of it built on white supremacist assumptions asserting black inferiority and demanding black dependence on white authority for continued social “order.” Such views would eventually be codified in disfranchisement and segregation (or “Jim Crow”) legislation throughout the South, and this fictive “separate but equal” status between the races was given national sanction with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The economic preoccupation that made such shifts possible provided the primary impetus for Thomas Clemson’s desire to establish Clemson College. Physically ravaged and economically ruined by the Civil War, the Southern states of the former Confederacy struggled to adjust to new post-emancipation realities. Driven by these dire straits in his adopted South Carolina home after the war, Clemson drew upon personal proclivities already long in ferment from before the war to devise a scheme whereby he would bequeath his property in upstate South Carolina to the state for the formation of a public institution of higher learning. This “high seminary of learning” would fulfill his desire to provide the state’s farmers with the latest knowledge in agricultural sciences as well as encourage the state economy to diversify via an expanded industrial sector driven by exposure to and engagement with the latest advances in the mechanical sciences.

The controversial “Compromise of 1877” that gave Rutherford B. Hayes the White House in exchange for removal of Federal Troops from the South and an official end to Federal “Reconstruction,” as derided by noted political cartoonist Thomas Nast

The paltry gridiron history between Clemson and Ohio State belies a much longer and more direct connection between the two schools and their football programs. As we await the third installment in the football series, we Tiger faithful can take heart in some further historical peculiarities surrounding the impending rematch. First and foremost, as with the previous two meetings, Clemson enters the game under the on-field direction of arguably its best quarterback to date, a line extending from Steve Fuller in 1978 to Tajh Boyd in 2014 to Deshaun Watson in 2016. The connection comes full circle in that Watson will wear Fuller’s #4 (with Fuller’s sanction) for the first time since it was retired in commemoration of Fuller’s record-setting career in orange that culminated in that historic Gator Bowl victory over Woody and the Buckeyes.

Deshaun Watson proudly wears Steve Fuller’s retired #4 with Fuller’s blessing and a patch to commemorate Fuller’s legendary place in Tiger lore

Secondly, the Tigers’ appearance in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl will mark the program’s first in that particular bowl game. Of the newly dubbed “New Year’s Six” bowls (Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose, Sugar), Clemson has appeared in all but two, the Fiesta and the Rose. The Tigers have appeared in the Peach Bowl most often, compiling a 3-5 all-time record, while they have a 4-2 record in their six all-time Orange Bowl appearances. In Clemson’s only Cotton Bowl appearance in 1940 (following the 1939 regular season), which also happened to be the program’s first-ever bowl invitation of any kind, Frank Howard’s Tigers defeated eventual hall-of-famer Frank Leahy’s Boston College Eagles 6-3, while in 1959 Clemson lost 7-0 to eventual-national-champion LSU in their only Sugar Bowl appearance. Of the major bowls, then, Clemson has prevailed in their first-ever appearance in two (1940 Cotton over BC, 1951 Orange over Miami), lost their first-ever appearance in two (1959 Sugar to LSU, 1979 Peach to Baylor) and await their first crack at two (2016 Fiesta vs. Ohio State and some future Rose Bowl). The two inaugural wins have come against legendary programs led by future hall-of-fame coaches, which bodes well as the Tigers take on Ohio State and Urban Meyer with a spot in the national championship game on the line, especially considering Dabo already holds the head-to-head edge over Urban.

Dabo 1, Urban 0

Lastly, and perhaps most tellingly, the one stat in which Clemson holds the advantage over Ohio State all-time is in bowl games. The Tigers have appeared in seven fewer games (CU 39, OSU 46), but have compiled a better winning percentage in those contests (.513 at 20-19) than have the Buckeyes (.478 at 22-24). One of those Buckeye losses is already to Clemson, and another would give the Tigers a 3-0 all-time mark against the Buckeyes, pulling them within one win of Ohio State’s bowl victory total in seven fewer games while increasing the difference in their winning percentages to .057 (CU .525 vs. OSU .468).


Only time will tell if the Tigers can make history by claiming a second consecutive berth in the national championship game with a victory over the vaunted Ohio State Buckeyes and their legend-in-his-own-time coach Urban Meyer, but the historical record and recent history indicate that these 2016 Tigers won’t back down from the fight, and have far better than a fighter’s chance at “punching” their ticket to the national title, all at the Buckeyes’ expense once more.



Alma Bennett, Thomas Green Clemson, (Clemson University Digital Press, 2009)

Roger L. Geiger & Nathan M. Sorber, The Land-Grant Colleges and the Reshaping of American Higher Education, (Transaction Publishers, 2013)

Ernest M. Lander Jr., The Calhoun Family & Thomas Green Clemson: Decline of a Southern Patriarchy, (University of South Carolina Press, 1983)

Thomas C. Mendenhall, ed., History of the Ohio State University, Vol. 1-8, (Ohio State University Press, 2016 ed.)

Jack Park, The Ohio State University Football Vault: The History of the Buckeyes, (Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2008)

James Edward Pollard, History of the Ohio State University: The Story of Its First Seventy-Five Years, 1873-1948, (Ohio State University Press, 1952)

Jerome Reel, The High Seminary: A History of the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, Volume I, 1889-1964, (Clemson University Digital Press, 2011)

William J. Shkurti, The Ohio State University in the Sixties: The Unraveling of the Old Order, (Trillium, 2016)