By Brant Branham || If the Clemson Tigers want to be considered as one college football’s elite programs, then head coach Dabo Swinney is a lucky man. After absorbing a fourth straight loss to arch rival and up-and-coming SEC power South Carolina – Clemson’s next two games come against perennial SEC bullies LSU and Georgia.
If you’re coach Swinney and the fourteenth-ranked Tigers – what more could you ask for?
Clemson and Georgia have a long football history, having played each other sixty-two times. In the 1980s – the glory days of the Tiger program – Clemson-Georgia was one of the most hotly contested rivalries in all of college football. During that decade both teams won national titles and were regulars in the Top Ten.
During that “Decade of Dooley” (or “Decade of Danny,” if you wore orange and white) Clemson and Georgia played eight games – with Georgia winning four games, Clemson winning three games and the teams tying once (in 1983). The average margin of victory in the series was less than a point!
Since that time, however, Clemson has only beaten the Bulldogs once in six tries. The last game – in 2003 – was an embarrassing 30-0 defeat for the Tigers.
Clemson and LSU do not share the same history – having played each other only twice – but they’ve got plenty on the line in their New Year’s Eve matchup at the Georgia Dome. Fans of both schools say they root for the real Tigers, both claim their stadium is the real Death Valley, and both swear the Tiger Rag is their fight song. History or not, that’s the makings of a great rivalry right there.
The next two games are crucial for the long-term direction of Swinney’s program. Both opponents are SEC powers. Both are ranked in the Top Ten. Both games will be televised nationally. One opponent is a long-hated rival, and the other claims ownership of the things that make up the heart and soul of Clemson football. One game is a highly anticipated bowl being hosted in the Capital of the South. The other game will kick off the 2013 season.
Can you say “respect?” And “recruiting?”
Clemson has had success bringing in top talent in recent years – but the program’s national prestige took a major hit during last year’s epic beat down at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. Wins against two of the premier programs in the SEC would go along way toward restoring that prestige – and luring additional blue chip recruits to Tigertown.
Two-time Super Bowl winner Bill Parcells is famous for saying “you are what your record says you are.” This is how Clemson’s progress toward elite status will be judged over the course of these next two games.
The Tigers need to beat LSU and Georgia – not just compete for moral victories. Shy of that … well who am I to argue with Bill Parcells about football?
Brant Branham is a Lake City home boy, sucker for lost causes and chronic self-loather.
Pic: Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina