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Miami and Clemson: An Interconnected Past and a Bright Future

Miami and Clemson both share storied pasts, more interconnected than we may think.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 24:  Head coach Al Golden of the Miami Hurricanes  and head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers  shake hands after a game  at Sun Life Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Ahead of this Saturday’s ACC Championship Game, a lot will be written about October 24th, 2015. The 58-0 Clemson victory over the Miami Hurricanes is without a doubt, the reason we have a Miami Hurricanes vs Clemson Tigers ACC Championship Game in 2017.

Of course everyone knows why that date is significant for the Miami Hurricanes, the day after Athletic Director Blake James did what many had asked for him to do for years, he fired Al Golden.

About a month and a week later Mark Richt was announced as the brand new Head Coach of the Miami Hurricanes. Miami fans rejoiced, finally the ‘Canes had a proven Head Coach, one that had averaged 10 wins a season in what had been the best conference in football for his entire career. More joy was brought when Coach Richt clearly gained a new energy, and landed home-run hires for his staff that no one in Miami had previously thought possible. Miami had capitalized off what seemed like a head-scratching decision by Georgia, and turned it into what right now appears to be an incredible hire.

However, lost for Miami fans, is what the significance of 58-0 was for Clemson, what it represented for a program and coach that had been rebuilding since 1981.

Dabo Swinney became the then interim Head Coach of the Clemson Tigers in 2008, after Tommy Bowden retired from the position. Clemson’s season had started with a considerable amount of promise, the Tigers opened the season at #9 in the country, but by the time Swinney had become the head coach Clemson was 3-3, and firmly out of the polls. Clemson stumbled to a 7-6 record on the season, and lost the Gator Bowl to Nebraska. Clemson had been stuck with seasons like this for years. Seasons filled with preseason promise, but that ultimately resulted in 7-9 wins, with the occasional 10 win season scattered in. Much like Miami had in the 10 seasons leading up to now, Clemson was inconsistent, and could never quite push their success over the edge.

By the end of the season Dabo Swinney had made waves and ruffled feathers in South Carolina. Swinney’s immense talent for recruiting (more on this later) ultimately pushed him to the interim Head Coach, and eventually full-time Head Coaching position. He responded to his new position by firing Offensive Coordinator Rob Spence, and instituting new gameday traditions.

Dabo was determined to return Clemson to the national stage, much like Mark Richt, he made waves in his first full season on the job, knocking off then ranked #8 Miami, Dabo also won his first bowl game as Head Coach.

In 2010 Clemson stumbled to a 6-7 record, and many called for the firing of Clemson’s young head coach, however, much like last season for Miami, many of the Tigers’ losses in 2010 were by less than ten points. Despite the rough season, Swinney was saved by his immense recruiting talent. Clemson signed a Top 10 class according to the 247Sports Composite, and Swinney was given one last chance at the helm for 2011.

2011 would turn into a breakout year for Clemson and Dabo Swinney, after 2011 Clemson has rattled off 7 straight seasons of at least 10 wins. The Tigers have also averaged the 14th best recruiting class each season from 2011-2017. However, before 2015, Clemson had never been able to push it over the hump, the Tigers could never quite put together the season that would lead to the National Championship, a season so many had pursued since 1981.

In 2015 Clemson entered the season as the #12 team in the nation. The Tigers had something to prove, they felt like they were National Title contenders. Miami entered the season with decidedly different expectations. Many in Miami expected the season to be a disappointment, one that would almost certainly result in the firing of Al Golden and his staff. However, no one expected the disastrous start that Miami would have. After starting the season 3-0, including a win over hated rival Nebraska, Miami travelled to Cincinnati, a Group of 5 opponent that a 6-7 Miami team had soundly defeated the year prior. Al Golden told his team “not to rise to the occasion” and unsurprisingly, the Hurricanes did not, and lost by 11 points in what was an embarrassment for the program. The next week Miami would lose to rival Florida State on national television, but the real embarrassment was yet to come.

Meanwhile Clemson sprinted out to a 6-0 record, including a 24-22 win over #6 Notre Dame, the Tigers were rolling, and for the most part, were winning in blow outs, yet they still had to prove something, the Tigers would travel to South Beach with an agenda to prove to America that they were back to the glory days that Clemson had seen in the early 80s.

Miami came into the game after getting a much needed win over rival Virginia Tech. A win that probably saved Al Golden’s job for another week.

Then came October 24th, the Clemson Tigers came in as the No.6 team in the nation, facing a 4-2 Miami team on the road, what happened next was unimaginable, even for the most dedicated Clemson fan, or the most pessimistic Miami fan. Clemson routed Miami, holding a 42-0 halftime lead, and eventually winning 58-0. To add insult to injury Miami’s star quarterback, Brad Kaaya, was knocked out with a concussion, and Miami fans, disgusted with the depths to which the program had fallen, made their anger known. Dabo Swinney didn’t even take his team to the locker room at halftime, instead staying on the field to rip into them about sportsmanship. The entire community had seen enough, the fanbase was embarrassed...

As we all know, Al Golden was fired the next day, and Miami is now coached by Mark Richt.

For Clemson, this became a shout to the national media, Clemson was here, they handed a conference opponent their worst loss in school history. Clemson would rise to #3 in the First College Football Playoff Poll that weekend. They would go on to a 14-1 record, with a loss in the National Championship Game. In 2016 they would push it over the edge and win it all. October 24th, 2015 was not just significant for Miami, it was Clemson’s message that they were one of College Football’s elite programs.

Now, in 2017, Mark Richt has led his Hurricanes to the ACC Championship Game, they face that familiar foe from 2015, Clemson and Miami are two programs whose success or lack thereof, in the last 5 years are closely tied. Clemson’s two wins over Miami in the two squads last two matchups have helped propel them to a National Championship, while setting up Miami for quite possibly the same success.

On Saturday another chapter will be written in the story, one that may prove to be the first of many meetings in the ACC Championship game. While many may not know it Miami and Clemson have many ties in their recent history, and now both are competing for success on the field and on the recruiting trail. Clemson has risen to their previous glory, can Miami do the same on Saturday? And do it by beating the team that put them there?

We’ll just have to wait and see...

Go Canes!