On October 19, 2013, Clemson welcomed ACC rival Florida State into Death Valley for a highly anticipated nationally televised top-five matchup.
The Tigers, with Tajh Boyd at quarterback, the dynamic Sammy Watkins at wide receiver, and Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Bashaud Breeland starring on defense, were primed to make a run at a possible national title.
But Clemson coughed up the pigskin on the first play from scrimmage, and it went downhill from there with eventual Heisman-winner Jameis Winston throwing for 444 yards and three touchdowns in a 51-14 rout.
Ever since, the term “Clemsoning”—applied to the previously snakebitten Tigers—has been dead, while they build toward a historic run by restocking talent once stars depart for the NFL.
So how did we get here?
The answer could be as simple as dogged recruiting, and infusion of cash that allowed massive upgrades to facilities, which also parlayed into coach Dabo Swinney becoming one of the sport’s highest-paid coaches when he received a 10–year, $92 million deal this spring.
Since 2015, Clemson has not finished below 10th in ESPN’s recruiting class rankings and is leading the way for a top ranking in the 2020 class, with a half-dozen, five-star commitments already in the fold.
Here are a few players in Clemson’s new talent pool and how three other classes who made tremendous jumps in recruiting this past decade have fared.
In comparison to just talent and where recruiting services such as ESPN and Rivals rank players, Clemson’s 2020 class is something to behold along the likes of the 2010 Florida (Dominique Easley, Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd), 2017 Alabama (Najee Harris, Dylan Moses, Jerry Jeudy, Tua Tagovailoa) and Texas A&M’s post-Johnny Manziel Heisman hauls.
The jewel of the class could be quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who at 6’4”, 245-pounds is your typical drop back passer, with a cannon of an arm, decent escapability from the pocket, and could be an effective pitcher if he chose to go that route. He is next in line to succeed Trevor Lawrence, the top QB in the 2018 class, once he turns pro as most expect him to do in 2021.
Bryan Bresee, a 290-pound defensive end from Damascus, Maryland, is another potential impact player, considering the loss on the defensive line the past few years. Noted for his quick hands and extreme playmaking ability, especially off his first step, Bresee can hunt down ball carriers with his 4.8 speed or make any offensive line think about double- or triple-teaming him on every play.
The nation’s No. 2 running back is Demarkcus Bowman from Lakeland, Fla. The Tigers continue to raid the talent rich Sunshine State for blue-chippers having already received a verbal commitment from Jacksonville product cornerback Fred Davis II. Bowman is a legitimate home run threat every time he touches the ball and can show off that sub-11 second 100-meter to leave even the most talented defenders in the dust.
Myles Murphy, another defensive end from Powder Spring, Ga, had five sacks during his junior season at Hillgrove High School. His biggest asset is that he brings versatility where by the time he leaves Clemson he could become a run-stuffing tackle in a 3-4 scheme or even switch to linebacker, where some programs wanted Murphy to play.
Anchoring the offensive line will be guard Mitchell Mayes, one of 11 recruits to commit to the program in the last six months. He is also the fourth offensive line verbal commit in this class, and although listed at guard can project to tackle if he can handle the pass rushers at the college level.
How close is Clemson to a dynasty?
If history tells us anything, Clemson probably won't be hoisting the trophy in New Orleans, but will be in the national championship conversation for years to come. The last to pull off back-to-back championships was Alabama in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
The aforementioned big recruiting winners over the past 10 years did fine on the field, with only Texas A&M not sniffing title aspirations.
The 2010 season was Urban Meyer’s last in the Swamp and despite that heralded class, Will Muschamp took over after Meyer briefly retired and was gone after four seasons with no SEC titles to show for it.
It’s no secret Alabama’s 2017 class will be the class all are measured against for years to come. This class has appeared in the College Football Playoff in each of the last two years, resulting in one championship and a title game blowout loss to Clemson in January. The Tide expect to be back in the final four this year and have another top five class on the way, as Nick Saban just plays a football version of "Keeping Up With Joneses."
There have been far better recruiting classes than Texas A&M's subsequent hauls after the Manziel era, and the only reason they are mentioned here is because of what can happen when you put a premium on replacing a transcendent player. Kenny Hill in 2013, Kyle Allen in 2014, and Kyler Murray in 2015 all came in highly touted and were recruited by Kevin Sumlin. By the time Sumlin was given a healthy payday to go away in 2017, all three star QB recruits had also left the program, with Murray going to Oklahoma, winning the Heisman Trophy and being selected with the No. 1 pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2019 NFL draft.
Recruiting isn’t an exact science, and while Clemson is better at it than most, no matter how successful the school is, the Tigers know a few mistakes could lead to players seeking the transfer portal.