CLEMSON — When searching for the top brands in college football in 2021, Clemson’s name pops up very quickly.
Under Dabo Swinney, the Tigers have turned into an unquestioned blue blood program while collecting a ton of championship hardware to store at the Allen N. Reeves Football Complex. However, this did not happen overnight.
Multiple factors have led to Clemson getting to this point under Swinney. These are the areas the program will need to continue to thrive at to compete for national championships.
The hardest thing to do in college football is to find a coach that a program can win championships with. Once that is found, the administration must do everything possible to make sure that individual has every chance to succeed.
Clemson has done this for Swinney.
Whether it was building a $55 million football facility, giving Swinney a 10-year, $93 million contract extension, or allowing the head coach to pay both coordinators $2 million. Clemson has made sure the money has been right in every situation and that has led to success on the field.
Under Swinney, Clemson did not just wake up one day and start winning national championships. The Tigers had a rise that was slow and steady. This is all started when the Tigers won 10 games in 2011 and the program’s first ACC title in 20 years.
Since that season, the Tigers have won at least double-digit games in 10 straight years. Only Alabama has a longer active streak. Before Clemson’s College Football Playoff streak began in 2015, the Tigers had established itself as a legit force under Swinney going 42-11 from 2011-14 with four top 25 finishes.
The program had a slow climb up the mountain and this progression has helped the Tigers stay at the top.
The best coaches get the best players. It’s that simple, right? This is very true but to get into a position to recruit the cream of the crop, coaching staffs must present a track record of development. Programs have to get players into the NFL.
Swinney and his staff have done that.
After his first full season as a head coach in 2009, Clemson saw five players drafted highlighted by top-10 pick running back C.J. Spiller. The program followed that up with 24 draft picks and seven top-50 selections over the next five years. All of this success was used in recruiting pitches, and that has led to some excellent classes.
Over the last two seasons, Clemson has ranked in the top-three each year when it comes to average star rating. The Tigers have signed 15 five-star prospects in the last five recruiting hauls and have twice inked the No. 1 overall player per the 247 Sports Composite — Trevor Lawrence in 2018 and Bryan Bresee 2020.
Swinney and Clemson are now in the running for all of the best players.
Climbing the mountain is very hard. Every program in college football dreams of making playoff appearances to play on the sport’s biggest stage. However, programs need to perform when their chance arrives. Clemson has done that.
The Tigers are 6-4 in the playoff in their six appearances with two national championships and two runner-up finishes. Clemson’s .600 winning percentage only trails Alabama. Meanwhile, Ohio State is 3-3 in the playoff while Oklahoma and Notre Dame are winless. No other program has made the playoff more than once.
Getting to the stage can be difficult, but delivering can be even harder. Clemson has done that with monster wins, and that has contributed to the program’s overall staying power.
One bite at a time is how to eat an entire elephant. For Clemson to become a power and compete for national championships, the Tigers had to dominate the ACC. There’s no denying that Swinney’s program has accomplished that.
The Tigers have won six consecutive ACC titles and have not lost a game to a full-time conference member since 2017. Most victories come in blowout fashion as Clemson is the clear cream of the crop in the Atlantic Coast.
With Notre Dame moving back to the Independent ranks, that will remain the same unless another program kicks it into high gear over the next couple of years.