The modern day Clemson fan might not realize what he or she is going to be experiencing when the No. 8 Clemson Tigers host the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs in the most anticipated matchup of the opening weekend in College Football. The past two seasons Clemson has had great success with winning 21 games combined, including an ACC Championship and a win over a top-10 SEC powerhouse in LSU. However, Tiger fans need to take a step back and look at this August 31 matchup against Georgia for what it really is: A return to the national spotlight. The 1970s and 80s saw Clemson wage historic battles with Georgia, North Carolina, Florida State and more, but the 1990s and 2000s saw the program slip into mediocrity under Tommy West and Tommy Bowden. Perhaps even more important than winning the game against Georgia in a couple weeks is Clemson fans appreciating and being thankful for how far the program has come in the last two decades.
Head Coach Dabo Swinney has this program moving in the right direction with his recruiting, ability to hire impressive coordinators and desire to make Clemson one of the most consistent football programs in the country. Don’t get me wrong; winning the game against the top-5 Bulldogs would be monumental for Swinney’s Tigers, but regardless of the outcome, the fact that the Tigers are hosting a top-10 team while they are also ranked in the top-10 is something that has not happened at Clemson in 25 years. The last time Clemson hosted a top-10 team while being ranked in the top-10 themselves was in 1988 when Bobby Bowden‘s Florida State squad rolled into Death Valley. That matchup pitted No. 10 Florida State against a Danny Ford-led No. 3 Clemson Tigers. The Seminoles escaped Death Valley with a 24-21 victory with Deion Sanders‘ punt return as the highlight of the game.
The game between the Bulldogs and Tigers bare a striking resemblance to the 2011 matchup between No. 1 Oklahoma visiting No. 5 Florida State. The Seminoles’ program had taken a major step back in Bowden’s final years at the helm so Jimbo Fisher became the head man in Tallahassee, and quite frankly Florida State needed a game and a night like this one to remind people across the country that they could compete with the nation’s best. Even though the Noles lost the game 23-13 it was an important night for the football program as the national spotlight was once again centered on Tallahassee, at least for a night. If there is one ACC stadium that gets louder than Doak Campbell Stadium during a night game, it could very well be Clemson Memorial Stadium.
Of course, Clemson fans are nervous and will be devastated with a loss to their old rival, but looking at the last 40 years of Clemson football it is nice that Clemson is back to being nationally relevant with a great opportunity right out of the gate. With all of the national attention that will be paid to this opening showdown Clemson should see rewards win or lose. Watching Clemson football for the last 20 years it seemed as if Tiger football would never return to what it once was and would never have a game of this magnitude in the friendly confines of Death Valley. Clemson fans need to soak it all in and not take for granted the expectations surrounding this game and this season as a whole, because a lot of Tiger faithful thought they would never be a part of something so big.
Travis Patterson, writer for the ACC on RantSports.com. Follow at @tpat20