Dabo Swinney has let his feelings about “Clemsoning” be known. To paraphrase the man himself, it’s all media bull crap.
During the 2015 season, the Tigers were on the heels of their first signature win, a 24-22 thriller against No. 6 Notre Dame. The following week, Clemson defeated unranked foe Georgia Tech. Fans could breathe a sigh of relief that a key win wouldn’t be tarnished by a comedown against a team that has often been a thorn in the Tigers’ side. There’d be no talk of Clemsoning this week.
Well, at least until a reporter during the postgame press conference asked Swinney how the team “approaches” the term.
He was not pleased.
“I’m sick of it,” Swinney said. “I don’t even know why you bring up the dagum word. How about these other teams who lose to unranked teams all the time? We ain’t lost to anyone unranked since 2011, but I have to come to a press conference in 2015 and get asked that. And that’s all media bull crap.”
2006-2008: BEGINNING IN THE BOWDEN YEARS
For the uninitiated, the term Clemsoning entered college football lore in 2007 and was later popularized by “The Solid Verbal” college football podcast, according to Vice Sports. Clemsoning, as host Ty Hildebrandt defined it in Urban Dictionary, is “the act of delivering an inexplicably disappointing performance, usually within the context of a college football season.”
At some point, all college football teams lose big games or games they shouldn’t (unless we’re talking about Alabama), so the definition is fairly nebulous. But what makes Clemsoning unique is “hype combined with an inexplicable loss,” Hildenbrandt explained to Vice in December 2015.
This all started in the Tommy Bowden years.
In 2006, the Tigers were ACC Championship hopefuls. They started 7-1 before dropping four of their last five games, including a bowl loss to Kentucky, and finished 8-5. The Tigers had a slight bounce back in 2007, finishing 9-4 and second in their division. Although they lost to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the team’s performance against a quality SEC opponent was encouraging. That led to hype going into the 2008 season, introducing the first part of the Clemsoning equation. Clemson was considered a contender to win the ACC and even compete for a spot in the BCS National Championship. They entered the season ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll.
The second part of the Clemsoning equation arrived after just six games. Clemson opened the 2008 season with a 34-10 loss to No. 24 Alabama, which merely foreshadowed what was to come. After Clemson fell to 3-3 with back-to-back losses to Maryland and Wake Forest, Tommy Bowden resigned and Swinney took over as interim head coach. The team finished 7-6 and unranked.
2011: OH NO, IT’S BACK AGAIN
2009 and 2010 were pretty tame in the Clemsoning department, as the team didn’t have very high expectations and spent much of the time out of the Top 25. But then it reared its ugly head again in 2011. After eight games, Clemson was undefeated and rose to No. 6 in the AP Poll.
Remember what was said about high expectations and hype?
The Tigers lost three of their final four regular season games — the most notable being a 37-13 drubbing against a middling N.C. State team. They ended the regular season 9-3 and then got annihilated in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia, 77–30, which marked the return of Clemsoning into the collective consciousness of college football fans and pundits.
2012-TODAY: A NEW ERA
But ever since the Orange Bowl embarrassment, it’s been a pretty good time to be a Clemson football fan. Yes, the team dropped another two games to the Gamecocks in 2012 and 2013, and yes, there was the 2013 Florida State drubbing in which the fifth-ranked Seminoles won by a score of 51-14. Count the losses to Georgia and Georgia Tech in 2014 as disappointments, too, but they weren’t losses to unranked teams.
Clemsoning, by its original and intended definition, did not happen for nearly five years, although it’s now evolved to mean simply any time the Tigers lose. Prior to this year’s Pittsburgh loss, the last true incident of Clemsoning was the aforementioned 2011 matchup against N.C. State. Here is how the program had fared in between the losses to N.C. State and Pittsburgh:
- Won 23 consecutive regular-season games
- Won 26 of their last 27 games (the lone loss was to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game)
- Won 15 consecutive game against ACC opponents
- Won 44 consecutive games against unranked teams
Even with the loss to Pittsburgh, it is odd — and a misnomer — to use Clemsoning as shorthand for underwhelming performances and dashed hopes when, in recent years, the football program has put up those kind of numbers. And since 2012, Clemson has been one of the best and most consistent programs in college football.
In the last five seasons, Clemson’s win totals have been the following: 11 (2012), 11 (2013), 10 (2014), 14 (2015) and 12 (2016, final result pending). In that span, they have defeated Top 10-ranked opponents in Florida State, LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Louisville. They have won two ACC titles, have had two straight playoff berths and have played for a national championship. There are only three teams in college football that can currently claim a greater track record of success since 2012: Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State.
Hearing the word Clemsoning can make the Tigers fan base prickly, but they should remind themselves that the term, as bothersome as it may be to hear, is irrelevant to the current performance and state of the program today. The term was, admittedly, once an accurate descriptor of painful losses and midseason collapses that were typical of Clemson football, but it belongs in the history books now. If college football fans need a new euphemism for teams consistently not living up to lofty expectations, it’s time to start looking elsewhere.
Clemsoning: The act of delivering an inexplicably disappointing performance, usually within the context of a college football season.