Clemson Has Restored Home-Field Advantage

By Travis Patterson

Home crowds at a college football game provide an advantage for the home team that cannot be directly measured.  You never really know how much of an impact a crowd actually has on the game, but we do know that it does have an impact, even if you can’t directly relate it to points on the scoreboard.  Fans of a certain team might not agree on everything, but almost all would agree that they should win every home game.  College football home-field advantage is what makes this sport so exciting and intriguing.  Every school has their own pregame traditions, unique bands, and traditional cheers that they do to urge their team to a victory.  This Saturday night No. 5 Florida State will travel to play No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley-Clemson Memorial Stadium under the lights.  We saw what kind of an advantage Clemson has playing at home when they beat Georgia in Week 1 of the season.  People call it Death Valley for a reason, but Clemson went through a stretch where Death Valley was not so deadly to opposing forces.

An opposing coach first dubbed Memorial Stadium “Death Valley” and Clemson icon, and former coach, Frank Howard quickly adopted the new nickname.  Everyone knows about Clemson’s pregame pageantry which gives chills to even the opposing fans in the stands, but after Frank Howard stopped coaching at Clemson the program struggled to find a coach that could restore home-field advantage.  Hootie Ingram and Red Parker both finished at Clemson with overall losing records, mainly because they could not win in the friendly confines of Death Valley.  If you are going to be a winning football team, then you must be dominant on your home field.  Parker and Ingram did a poor job of that, therefore Clemson was in search of new man to head up the football team.  Danny Ford became the coach in 1978, and after a slow start, he quickly turned Death Valley into one of the most difficult places to play in all of college football.  From 1981-1983 Clemson finished with a 18-0-1 home record, while also capturing a national championship during the 1981 season.

Death Valley’s name was once again validated, beating some of the top programs at home like Georgia, North Carolina, and Maryland.  Ford had recaptured the glory of Memorial Stadium, and during his final four years at Clemson, from 1986-1989, Clemson compiled a 20-4-2 home record.  Ford’s philosophy was a tough defense and a strong running game, and it worked, especially at home as he left Clemson with a 54-14-4 record in Memorial Stadium.

After Ford left the program Ken Hatfield became the new head coach, but the Tigers still remained a tough team at home.  During Hatfield’s four seasons at Clemson he finished with a 24-3-1 home record.  However, Tommy West became the new coach for the 1994 season, and that is when Death Valley started losing its magic.  West could never put together a good season and finished with a home record of 21-13 during his five seasons.  He lost seven home games during his last two years at Clemson.  Tommy Bowden was hired to be West’s replacement, and Bowden did a better job of winning at home finishing with a home record of 47-17.  However, Bowden seemed to always come up short in big games at home, which ultimately was his downfall.  Bowden’s first season was in 1999 and he coached all the way until he was shown the door midway through the 2008 season.  Bowden came close a few times, but he never finished a season with an undefeated home schedule.

Dabo Swinney took over as the interim coach in 2008 and was later named the permanent coach at the end of the season.  Swinney finished the 2008 season with a 3-1 home record, including a home win over South Carolina.  Since Swinney took over in 2008, the Tigers are 30-5 in Death Valley, including a 7-0 home record in 2011.  Swinney has put an emphasis on winning at home which reminds Clemson fans of the Howard, Ford, and Hatfield days.  Playing at home is a huge advantage in college football, so you might as well use it to your advantage.  With ESPN’s College Gameday returning to Clemson for the second time this year, the town is sure to be buzzing with excitement.  The Tigers have restored home-field advantage under Dabo Swinney, giving them a big advantage in this weekend’s showdown with the Seminoles.

Travis Patterson, Writer For ACC  Follow on Twitter @tpat20.

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