As the leaves begin to turn and the temperature proceeds to drop, the college football universe takes a deep breath and braces for impact. The home-stretch of Fall football is critical to the success and history of a football program. Championships are not won in September or October, rather they are decided in the month of November, a 30-day main-event stocked with brisk air and big boy football.
The first of November serves as the deadline for the rough draft. Two months of working through setbacks and correcting errors prepare teams for their final paper that is written out in the final month of the regular season. There are certainly big moments that occur in September and October, but November is what bowl officials, voters and fans value the most. Simply put, there is just nothing better than November football.
Clemson wrote the first paragraph to their November term paper last week when they enjoyed a nice walk in the park against Virginia, defeating the Cavaliers 59-10. Dabo Swinney‘s group has a bye week this Saturday to prepare for the Thursday night clash against Georgia Tech in the Cathedral of Clemson. An undefeated November for the Tigers could very well result in a BCS at-large bid, most likely the Orange Bowl. Granted, the Orange Bowl has not been the same since the Orange Bowl Stadium got torn down, it is still an ACC honor that every Clemson fan has come to respect and appreciate.
Players become immortals, coaches become icons, and fans turn into nervous out-patients that hold their breath on every snap. Many of Clemson’s finest achievements have occurred in this month, and it all started with Frank Howard. In 1948, Howard coached his Tigers to a 7-6 victory over Auburn to help keep their unblemished record in tact. The team would finish 11-0, including a Gator Bowl win to cap it off.
On Nov. 19, 1977 Jerry Butler‘s name became part of Clemson antiquity when he made “The Catch” against rival South Carolina to give head coach Charley Pell a victory over the Gamecocks in his first attempt. The next year, on Nov. 18, the Tigers defeated No. 11 Maryland in College Park to secure their first ACC Championship since Howard’s 1967 squad finished undefeated in the conference to claim the trophy. An 11-1 record, ACC title, and a triumph over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl was the result of that tremendous 1978 season.
Perhaps the greatest November accomplishment that the Tigers earned was the 10-8 victory over No. 8 North Carolina during the 1981 campaign. A defense directed by Terry Kinard, Jeff Davis and William Perry made sure that the Tigers would remain undefeated and continue their magical run towards a national championship. Moments in November leave lasting images for fans, especially when it is against a rival.
Not to be outdone by previous Tiger receivers, Rod Gardner had his moment in the sun when he secured “The Catch 2″ against South Carolina in November of 2000. The poster-worthy grab would set Clemson up with a game-winning field goal to lift the Tigers past their rival from Columbia, SC.
Another integral feature of November football is the upsets that live in the minds of Tiger fans until the day they die. On Nov. 8, 2003 Clemson obtained the biggest home victory in it’s programs history when they stunned No. 3 Florida State, 26-10. After a disappointing loss the previous week, head coach Tommy Bowden was finally able to beat his old man and spark a November run that no Clemson fan will ever forget. After taking down the Seminoles, Clemson demolished Duke and then handed South Carolina a 63-17 loss on enemy soil in Williams-Brice Stadium. After a Peach Bowl win over No. 6 Tennessee, the conclusion of the 2003 season was coined “The Finish.”
November football is also symbolism for Senior Day at the stadium, with C.J. Spiller having a memorable final home game in November of 2009. After running down the hill carrying an American flag, Spiller capped off his brilliant home career by helping his team clinch the Atlantic division against Virginia. It was Clemson’s first Atlantic division title since the league split into two side in 2005. Two years later, Chandler Catanzaro kicked the Tigers into the ACC Championship game after a game-winning, division-clinching field goal as time expired to defeat Wake Forest.
November is unforgiving weather, senior day, rivalry games, game-winning kicks, diving catches, defensive stops, upsets and division titles. But most of all, November is big boy football consisting of hard hits and passion that is elevated once the page is turned on the month of October.
There is just nothing better than November football.
Travis Patterson, Writer for ACC Rantsports.com. Football Writers Association of America. Follow on Twitter @tpat20. https://twitter.com/tpat20