Ron Morris

Morris: Clemson's top 10 biggest games

Dabo Swinney said it best Tuesday at his weekly news conference: It's all about championships. That's why nearly all of the 10 biggest games in Clemson football history had something to do with a championship or a bowl-game victory.

It also is why Saturday's ACC championship game against Georgia Tech in Tampa, Fla., is one of the biggest in program history.

The 10 biggest:


The other games on this list do not come close to matching this one. By defeating No. 4 Nebraska 22-15, top-ranked Clemson claimed the 1981 national championship and completed a 12-0 season.

Three days later, Perry Tuttle appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated celebrating an Orange Bowl touchdown. The championship and magazine cover firmly planted Clemson on the national college football map.


Clemson's national championship never would have occurred had the Tigers not beaten North Carolina in the first battle of top-10 teams in ACC history.

Jeff Bryant recovered a UNC lateral in the final minutes to preserve No. 2 Clemson's 10-8 victory against the eighth-ranked Tar Heels.


Clemson's first bowl appearance was a beauty - a 6-3 victory against Boston College that completed a 9-1 season. Since there were no rankings released after bowl games then, Clemson finished at No. 12, its final regular-season ranking.

Clemson great Banks McFadden was the game's star with four pass deflections and an average of 43 yards per punt.


Sterling Smith's tackle of Frank Smith in the end zone with less than six minutes remaining gave Clemson a 15-14 victory against Miami. More importantly, the win left Clemson, at 9-0-1, as one of three unbeaten teams in the country; Princeton and Wyoming were the others.

Again, there were no postseason rankings, so Clemson finished at No. 10, even though three teams ranked ahead of the Tigers lost in bowl games, including No. 1 Oklahoma.

5. 1949 GATOR BOWL

Clemson hung on to win 24-23 when Missouri only could kick an extra point, according to rules then, following a late touchdown. The win left Clemson, at 11-0, as one of three teams -- 9-0 Notre Dame and Michigan were the others -- with perfect records.

Clemson finished as the No. 11-ranked team, even though four teams ranked above the Tigers lost in bowl games.


Clemson plays in its first conference championship game. A win gives Clemson its first league title since 1991 and a BCS berth in the Orange Bowl.

7. 1959 SUGAR BOWL

In Clemson's first game against a No. 1-ranked team, the Tigers dropped a 7-0 decision to LSU when Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon threw a halfback pass for a touchdown.

LSU under coach Paul Dietzel claimed the national championship with the victory. No. 12 Clemson finished 8-3.

8. NOV. 12, 1960, VS. SOUTH CAROLINA

After playing every game against its instate rival in Columbia, Clemson finally got to play host to USC. Clemson made the most of its opportunity with a 12-2 victory.

Clemson has posted a 16-8-1 record against USC in home games.

9. SEPT. 19, 1981, VS. GEORGIA

Clemson entered the game unranked after wins over Wofford and Tulane. Defending national champion Georgia was No. 4 after wins over Tennessee and Texas A&M.

Georgia turned the ball over nine times in Clemson's 13-3 victory, the only regular-season loss in the storied career of Georgia running back Herschel Walker.

10. AUG. 30, 2008, VS. ALABAMA

Ninth-ranked Clemson approached this season-opening game as a chance to showcase its program. A victory against No. 24 Alabama on national television could have sent Clemson on its way to an ACC championship and possible national title contention.

Instead, Clemson blew its big chance. It was defeated 34-14 by Alabama, which finished No. 6 in the country. Clemson never recovered, and five weeks later Tommy Bowden was out as coach.