The 2018 season was the tenth in charge of the Clemson Tigers for head coach Dabo Swinney and he guided his team to one of the most remarkable seasons in the schools history – here is a look back at exactly what happened.
When the campaign got underway the Tigers would undoubtedly have been targeting success – something they achieved. However, the manner in which they did it would have surprised even the most optimistic of Clemson fans.
The regular season began in early September with a convincing victory over Furman and the ball never stopped rolling from there on out, as the Tigers romped through the 12-game season unbeaten. The second fixture of the campaign was the closest they came to defeat, as they edged out the Aggies in a closely fought encounter – to set up a face off with Coastal champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The match took place in front of nearly 70,000 people at the Bank of America stadium and provided Clemson the opportunity to become the first team ever to win four consecutive Atlantic Coast championships. Not content to make history on that front alone they also recorded the quickest touchdown in the championship archives as Travis Etienne – who was named the games most outstanding player – recorded the first of his two touchdowns from the first play. Clemson dominated the game with Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett restricted to a measly eight yards and ran out 42-10 victors.
Next up for Swinney's men was the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish lost cornerback Julian Love, an All American, inside the first quarter and the Tigers started to dominate with freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence taking centre stage including 327 yards thrown and three touchdowns. The end result was never in doubt and Clemson won 30-3.
The emphatic victory over Notre Dame set up a National Championship play off with Alabama – a team they’ve faced for four consecutive years – and they couldn’t stop the juggernaut that was Clemson either. Not only did the Tigers emerge as champions but the win meant they became the first team since 1897 to win all 15 matches and, to add insult to injury, they inflicted a margin of defeat that Alabama haven’t tasted in over a decade leaving Swinney to proclaim his team as ‘the best ever'.
Whenever a team produces a series of performances like Clemson did it’s only natural that players get singled out for praise. Lawrence and Etienne were terrific throughout the season and defensive four – Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins – received their fair share of praise too. Of course, players love the success but the long game is all about making the step to America’s line NFL and several of them were picked up in the recent draft with a record number (for the school) being snapped up in the first round.
The draft, which was held in Nashville in late April, saw six Tigers get their foot in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders selecting half of those – Ferrell, the number four pick, cornerback Trayvon Mullen and Hunter Renfrow. The remaining trio will be heading on to news pastures without familiar faces accompanying them – defensive tacklers Wilkins and Lawrence were the other two first round picks and will represent the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants, respectively whilst Bryant will head to Detroit after being drafted by the Lions in round four.
The results on the field as well as the draft success are proof of what a great job Swinney and his coaching staff are doing in South Carolina but any newcomers have got some big shoes go fill; our only advice would be not to write the Tigers off as they’re capable of doing it all over again.