We’re recognizing the college football playoff teams (Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, and Oklahoma) by doing a four part series called Championships of the Past honoring past championship teams from these schools. We start with Clemson’s 1981 National Championship.
The Clemson Tigers 1981 team went through their schedule undefeated going 12-0 culminating in an Orange Bowl win against the Nebraska Cornhuskers 22-15. It’s their only national championship in football. It wasn’t an easy road getting there. Earlier in the season they played the Georgia Bulldogs (then reigning national champs). The Tiger defense came up big by forcing two Herschel Walker fumbles and holding on to a 13-3 victory. The next big test came on November 7, 1981 when they met the #8 North Carolina Tarheels in Chapel Hill in a battle of top 10 teams (Clemson was #2). It was a hard fought 10-8 win, but the game wasn’t without controversy. The NCAA was investigating Clemson and head coach Danny Ford on possible recruiting violations on two players from Tennessee. ABC had interviewed the two players and wanted to air the interview during halftime of the game. Ford threatened that his team wouldn’t take the field (the UNC game was being aired on ABC). The interview was never aired and the game was played. You can read more here.
The #1 Tigers met the #4 Cornhuskers on January 1, 1982 in the Orange Bowl to end the season. Earlier that day both #2 Georgia and #3 Alabama lost in their respective bowls. The Orange Bowl would be for the National Championship.
Here’s the game synopsis from Wikipedia: “Clemson scored first on a 41-yard field goal by Donald Igwebuike to take a 3–0 lead. Nebraska then succeeded with a trick play, as running back Mike Rozier threw a 25 yard halfback pass to Anthony Steels for a touchdown to take a 7–3 lead. Donald Igwebuike kicked a 37-yard field goal to pull Clemson to 7–6. Following a Nebraska fumble, Cliff Austin scored on a 2-yard touchdown run as to give Clemson a 12–7 halftime lead. In the third quarter, Clemson’s Homer Jordan threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Perry Tuttle and the Tigers then added another Igwebuike field goal, this time a 36 yarder, and Clemson led 22–7. In the fourth quarter, Roger Craig scored for the Huskers on a 26-yard touchdown run. Following a penalty on the first two-point try, Craig then scored from the eight on a two-point conversion attempt which closed the margin to 22–15. The Huskers would get the ball back, but more penalties would ultimately kill the drive and force them to punt the ball back to Clemson, who managed to hold possession of the ball for the bulk of the last six minutes and would secure their only national championship to date.”
This 1981 football team put Clemson University on the map. They ended the 1980’s as the fifth most winning Division I program with a record of 85-25-4 (.765). Today, everyone who follows college football knows of Clemson as they sit undefeated at #1 waiting for Oklahoma in the 2015 Orange Bowl. Will they bring home the schools 2nd national championship? Only time will tell.