CLEMSON, S.C. — Georgia hasn’t played Clemson since 2014, and the teams aren’t scheduled to meet again until 2024 in Atlanta.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney thinks that’s too long, telling AJC-DawgNation on Saturday that Clemson would welcome an annual series with the Bulldogs.
“We should play Georgia every year if it was up to me,” Swinney said. “We’re 80 miles, and they need a game, we need a game. We had to travel to Texas A&M last year, when we could have gone 80 miles.”
The future schedules of both teams wouldn’t seem to allow for an earlier meeting than the 2024 date. But as recent history has shown, things can change quickly in college football.
Georgia is actually closer to Clemson geographically (58 miles) than Georgia Tech (60 miles), though it takes 79 driving miles to get from Athens to the South Carolina school.
The Bulldogs and Clemson Tigers have home-and-home series scheduled for 2029-2030 and 2032-2033, but Swinney notes this was once an annual rivalry.
“For years and years and years, Clemson and Georgia played every year, and somewhere along the line that went away,” Swinney said.
“It’s a tough game because they are one of the best teams in the country, but it’s great game for the fans, and we have to play people. I’d just as soon play them than have to go all the way somewhere else to get a game.”
UGA and Clemson played every year from 1897-1916, and all but two seasons from 1962 to 1987. Upon SEC expansion in 1992, Georgia had home-and-home series with Clemson in 1990-1991, 1994-1995, 1998-1999 and 2002-2003.
Clemson plays in-state rival South Carolina as a non-conference home-and-home every season, just as Georgia is saddled with in-state non-conference opponent Georgia Tech annually.
But Swinney, much like Georgia coach Kirby Smart, is a proponent of aggressive scheduling.
Swinney, 55-4 over the past four seasons with two national titles, said he has sought elite competition since he was promoted from interim to full-time head coach at Clemson after the 2008 season.
One wonders if the insight Swinney and Smart have as former SEC players helps them recognize and appreciate the value of the marquee matchups more so than coaches who didn’t compete at the most elite level.
Swinney explained part of the logic for the aggressive scheduling model the two-time and defending national champions operate with.
“When I got the job, I didn’t think we knew how to win, we didn’t have the mindset, and the mentality and mental toughness that it takes,” said Swinney, who won a national championship playing under Paul “Bear” Bryant disciple Gene Stallings in 1992 at Alabama.
“I went to the AD right out of the gate and I said, ‘We’re going to play our eight games, we’re going to play South Carolina, and I’d like to play another SEC team if we can, but we need to play people so that I can teach and get these guys ready for postseason,’ “ he said.
“That’s how it’s played out. We’ve beat Auburn four in a row (2011, 2012, 2016, 2017), and we played Georgia, and we played Notre Dame. We lost one to Georgia, and we beat Georgia. But its helped me to develop the team, to know that you’re going to play people.”
Georgia vs. Clemson schedules
A look into future Clemson schedules is similar to future Georgia schedules, in terms of playing two or more Power 5 level non-conference opponents each season. Below are the two most notable non-conference games for the schools through 2030. Most years each team has at least two Power 5 non-conference opponents.
The comparison is worth noting as the schools figure to compete against one another on the recruiting trail each year and ultimately meet in the College Football Playoffs, perhaps even this season:
Clemson (Texas A&M, at South Carolina); Georgia (Notre Dame, at Georgia Tech)
Clemson (at Notre Dame, South Carolina); Georgia (Virginia, Georgia Tech)
Clemson (Wyoming, at South Carolina); Georgia (UAB, at Georgia Tech)
Clemson (at Notre Dame, South Carolina); Georgia (Oregon, Georgia Tech)
Clemson (Notre Dame, at South Carolina); Georgia (UNKNOWN, at Georgia Tech)
Clemson (Georgia, South Carolina); Georgia (Clemson, Georgia Tech)
Clemson (LSU, at South Carolina); Georgia (at UCLA, at Georgia Tech)
Clemson (at LSU, South Carolina); Georgia (UCLA, Georgia Tech)
Clemson (Notre Dame, at South Carolina); Georgia (at Florida Sate, at Georgia Tech)
Clemson (at Notre Dame, South Carolina); Georgia (at Texas, Florida State, Georgia Tech)
Clemson (Georgia, at South Carolina); Georgia (Texas, at Clemson, at Georgia Tech)
Clemson (at Georgia, South Carolina); Georgia (Clemson, Georgia Tech).
Risk vs. reward
Swinney said playing an aggressive schedule comes with some risks, such as when Clemson initiated its series with Auburn. But there has been a payoff.
“I knew we might take some lumps, and we lost one year at Auburn, in overtime the year Cam (Newton) won the national title,” Swinney said of a 27-24 loss in 2010. “But we went 4-1 in games against them, and even though we lost that one game it allowed me to teach and expose the team to what it takes to win.
“That’s just been our philosophy, and it has worked well for us and allowed us to grow our program.”
Smart has been behind Georgia’s aggressive scheduling of late, and the Bulldogs show no signs of slowing down.