One of the more common debates that crops up among Clemson fans is what denotes success. What is a good season? What is a failure? What is greatness? And so the debate ensues. As a results-oriented individual, I like to define success and my college football fanhood is not exempt.
One person I often exchange tweets with once said a season is only a success if we win every game, something that has only happened five times in Clemson history, but I wouldn’t define it so strictly.
As a student during the Tommy Bowden era, the goal for the program seemed clear and without debate. Clemson hadn’t won an ACC title since ’91, and winning another was the primary goal. The 2007 loss to Boston College, when Matt Ryan ripped our hearts out, was one of the most painful losses I’ve experienced, because it made the difference between the season being a success (given they still have to win the ACCCG) and failure.
Fortunately, Dabo Swinney took over in 2008 and was able to guide us to an ACC title, our only one in the past two decades, in just his third full season. While this undoubtedly coincided with FSU’s “lost decade,” winning is winning. It’s great to be great, and I’m not going to asterisk a clean championship. As I enjoyed the mountain top, I experienced an emotional catharsis. Years of pent up frustration finally released as the program won their first ACC Championship in 20 years and would play in their first Orange Bowl in 30 years. That was success.
Unfortunately, WVU happened, and I won’t discuss it at length, but it was enough to make me consider redefining success for future seasons. Since that game I have been pining for a BCS bowl victory. I see that as the next step for the program-which is awfully convenient considering the rise of FSU.
Bowl games are obviously cheaper now than in the good ol’ days. When you see Colorado State and Rutgers in bowl games, that certainly rings true. The Orange Bowl is not exempt from the degradation (Clemson has 14 ACC Championships and yet this is only our fifth Orange Bowl appearance and it comes as ACC #2). Nevertheless, Billy Hair and Homer Jordan are the only Clemson QBs to win an Orange Bowl. Tajh Boyd has a chance to join them. Frank Howard and Danny Ford are the only coaches to do it. Dabo Swinney could join particularly good company.
It’s hard to call anything good when the Chickens beat you. They’re despicable swine. I stopped going to Columbia after a grown man clucked in my face following the 2009 loss. Nevertheless, any season that ends with the Clemson Tigers hoisting an Orange Bowl trophy, finishing in the top 10, and claiming the program’s only BCS bowl victory… yeah that’s a success.
Written like a script, it’s also the last year of the BCS. Even if you agree with what I’ve written thus far, what defines success moving forward? Obviously, the goal is to win a National Championship. Nobody disagrees with that. Still, I wouldn’t call every season save 1981 a failure. So it begs the question, what should we consider a successful season? What’s the standard?
I propose that the goal hardly changes. Making and winning a major bowl-that is one of the six bowls that will rotate through the playoff system-will be the difference between success and failure. Those bowls include the Cotton, Peach (yes, it will be the Peach Bowl again), Orange, Sugar, Rose, and Fiesta.
Sure, not every season will hold such promise. For example, next season we will likely take a small step back, and I won’t be at all upset if we finish with nine wins and a trip to the Russell Athletic Bowl, so long as one of those nine wins comes against the Midland Poultry. Still, a victory in one of the six major bowls (two of which will be playoff games) will be my barometer as I look more broadly at our program.
What will be your measuring stick?
With that said, I am headed down to the beach to crack open Larry Williams’ The Danny Ford Years at Clemson: Romping and Stomping. Maybe reading about the glory days will change my perspective.