It's All About the Rings

by - Senior Writer -
From 2011-14, Clemson had a 42-11 record, the most wins in a four-year period in school history.
From 2011-14, Clemson had a 42-11 record, the most wins in a four-year period in school history.

The human race uses rings to signify many of the important events in our lives - wedding rings, engagement rings, high school rings and college rings are meant to signify accomplishments and commitment. Then there are championship rings - rings that are earned out on the playing field and should signify that you have reached the top of your chosen sport.

Each year, professional baseball, football and basketball teams hold elaborate ring ceremonies following a championship season and players and coaches alike look at their new bling with a sense of wonder and pride.

The Clemson football team won a championship ring in 2011 after winning the ACC Championship, a dominant win over Virginia Tech in Charlotte that left coaches, players and fans wanting more. Now it's time to get even more jewelry. There are plenty of trophies that take up space in the WestZone, but guess which one is the most treasured? Hint: it was won in 1981.

Things have been fun around the Clemson football program in recent seasons, especially since the 2011 ACC Championship season. There have been high final rankings, first round draft picks, big-time bowl wins and double-digit win seasons.

Head coach Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
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’s program has been on an upward trajectory in recent years and a loaded roster full of playmakers and a favorable home schedule have the Tigers lined up to make a run at the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division title and an ACC Championship. A solid regular season and a conference championship win just might make the Tigers an attractive candidate for the College Football Playoff.

Lofty goals, to be sure. But now isn’t the time to put on the brakes. Now is the time to capitalize on the momentum built over the last four seasons:

*The 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons were especially noteworthy, with three top-15 final rankings in the polls. Clemson joined Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon as the only schools in the nation who can make that claim. Each of Clemson’s teams from 2011-14 also won 10+ games, the first time the program did that since the 1987-90 era.

*From 2011-14, Clemson had a 42-11 record, the most wins in a four-year period in school history. Twenty-seven of the victories took place against ACC teams, including a 38-10 triumph over No. 3 Virginia Tech that gave the Tigers the 2011 ACC title.

*Nine of the 42 wins the last four years have come against Top 25 teams, including five against Top 10 opponents. Clemson also became the first non-SEC program to defeat Top 10 SEC teams in consecutive games in the history of college football.

*Clemson was in the Top 10 of APR scores and the final top 25 of the AP and USA Today polls in 2011, 2012 and 2013, the only FBS program that could make that claim.

*In seven years (six full seasons) as the Tigers’ head coach, Swinney has directed Clemson to a 61-26 overall record (.701) and a 39-14 ACC regular-season mark (.736). He has also led the Tigers to the ACC Championship game twice, won one ACC Championship, won or shared three ACC Atlantic Division titles, won four bowl games and has been named national coach-of-the-year twice.

*Swinney’s Tigers joined Alabama, Florida State and Oregon as the only schools in the nation ranked in the Top 25 of the final polls each season from 2011-14.

The next logical step for the Tigers? It’s time to add the jewelry that has been missing since 2011. Yes, bowl rings are nice. But bowl rings aren’t how legends and programs are made. Want to be considered elite? It starts with winning the division and then the conference championship. Florida St. has had a stranglehold on the ACC over the last three seasons – winning the title each season – but the Tigers have just as much talent and host the Seminoles this season.

I talked to Swinney after one of the practices a few weeks ago, and I mentioned that I think the 2015 Tigers will have as much talent as I’ve seen. Swinney agreed, and he asked me if I remembered his promise from five years ago that things were about to get fun in Clemson and that he would build the team for an extended run. I told him I did, and he said we were halfway through the decade, and now it was time to take that next step. That means winning championships, not just bowl games.

It’s time for the Tigers to reel in some real hardware – not the “we finished in fifth place but we feel good about ourselves” rings or the Little League “everybody gets a trophy” kind of award. These are the rings actually won and earned out on the playing field.

The Tigers have the talent. They have the schedule. They have the facilities. The recruiting has been top-notch. There are no more excuses and the next five years are the time for Swinney and the program to take the kind of step he has envisioned all along.

Enjoy the ride. The second half of the Clemson Decade should a fun one, and if things fall the right way and a little luck falls Clemson's way, it's a ride that might include a little jewelry to mark the occasion.

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