Throughout the years, Clemson football has varied between average, good, and great. Clemson has had excellent coaches such as John Heisman, Frank Howard, and Danny Ford; and won the national championship with the young Ford in 1981. Clemson is not a traditional blue blood in the vein of Michigan, Alabama, Texas, USC, or Notre Dame; instead the Tigers reside in the next tier down. This tier is the schools that have storied football programs in their own rights, but not the schools that dominated the twentieth century. This is not to put down Clemson’s incredible achievements, but instead to give an accurate historical context of where the Tigers stand.

Currently Clemson is in a golden age of football, playing at possibly the highest level the Tigers ever have. The Tigers are certainly the most consistent they have ever been in their history under Coach Swinney, so how has Clemson created a recipe of Champions?

Branding

Clemson has always loved football, but support from administration has varied throughout certain decades. Ever since Coach Bowden took over and was embarrassed to show the locker room to recruits, so much has changed. Death Valley has had facelifts, the press box was changed from below average to enjoyable, the locker room has been remodeled and the West Zone was born. A new indoor practice facility was built, and now an over-the-top football operations facility (complete with a new weight room) will be completed within a year. While throwing money at something doesn’t solve all problems, it certainly helps in the facilities department. Facilities are so finicky and ever changing that a school does not need to have the absolute best ones, they just don’t need to be sub par.

Outside of facilities, Clemson has unique advantages that are hard to imitate. The tiger paw is known across the nation as a symbol of Clemson, and the uniforms are built upon tradition and simplicity. The location is a positive, as the hills of northwestern South Carolina draw in fans, coaches, and recruits alike. Clemson’s campus is so powerful that it helps the team land players it normally wouldn’t land, such as CJ Spiller. Sayings like “There is something in these hills” and “a Clemson man needs no introduction” do not just materialize from a marketing scheme that Dave Brandon would create. Clemson has a tradition of hospitality and friendliness that draws people in.

The ACC is a solid football conference that excels in both athletics and academics. There are some hidden perks into being in the ACC that outsiders may not realize. Two of them include being able to rush the field after a game (which the SEC prohibits) and not having a roster size limit for game day (which the SEC has). Along more conventional lines, four of our six rivals reside within the ACC – only arch rival South Carolina and SEC foe Georgia are not in the ACC. While ACC fans certainly wish that the worst schools would start pulling their football weight, the ACC is good enough as a Power Five Conference to where a team that runs the table will not be left as the odd man out when the playoff rankings come out.

The fans may not number as many as the blue bloods, but the passion of this sizeable legion is second to none. Football is king in the South, and this also rings true in Clemson. The spring game attendance has shot up, and a new record was set this year with 50,500 attendees. This is not as many as Ohio State, but Clemson is also in a remote, rural area and many fans have to travel for several hours to reach Clemson on game day.

Clemson has always been the program that could be great, but now Clemson is the program that is great. The rural setting and friendly people help in both branding and recruiting, as one of the nation’s best teams resides in the edge of the mountains. Clemson has capitalized its resources to ascend into a national contender and now an emerging national powerhouse. For all of the times Clemson’s potential was underutilized, it is now being harnessed, returned, and unleashed on opponents.

Read Part II
*Top image is snapshot of website: http://www.clemsontigers.com/SportSelect.dbml