The core of my college football fandom as a kid was 1987 through 1994. That's basically age 9 through 16. During that time, it was a rare autumn Saturday that wasn't spent watching college football while obsessing over the results during the other six days of the week. As a Notre Dame fan (sorry) I had scrapbooks of newspaper clippings during seasons (again, sorry). I created my own version of one-man college football that played out in the backyard as I determined the two teams that would play in the Peach Bowl by throwing a football high into the air and then running to catch it before I did (?).
I always remember having this list in my head of College Football Programs That Should Be Better Than They Are. Weirdly, that list basically reminds unchanged, as if those same schools that underachieved (in my mind) during the 80's and 90's continued to do-so to this day. And many of them kinda do, at least according to the criteria in my head that I can't quantify other than, "it feels like they should be better based on a lot of stuff."
UCLA - This idea only grew stronger when I moved to Los Angeles. If you ever get the chance, take a stroll on UCLA's campus on a beautiful day. Then go watch a football game in the Rose Bowl. Then try to explain to me why five-star football players aren't falling all over themselves to play here. You can't. They should have won 37-straight national titles by now.
Michigan State - For some reason, I always thought the Spartans were on the verge of greatness growing up. A 7-5 program destined for 11-1 glory (or 6-5 destined for 10-1 back then). They've had some nice runs every once in a while but never come close to matching UM. And I don't think they ever will.
Pitt - I know! But I grew up in the post-college Dan Marino world. I knew that Pitt had been really, really good for a short period of time. And I guess, I dunno, I saw them as a program in decline that was 1-2 good seasons away from getting back there. As a Syracuse fan today, I'm fine with that not working out.
Georgia - Did you see the way Georgia folks reacted after their win over LSU last weekend? That's was like three decades worth of almosts and could'ves and should'ves and so-closes coming out. I was always kinda rooting for the Bulldogs growing up (and would often play a couple seasons as them in EA NCAA) and I have no good reason why other than they always seemed like The Team That Almost Did But No, Aw Shucks. Tell me that doesn't still sum up Georgia football.
Clemson - Even before my Syracuse days, I had a thing about teams in orange. Clemson's 1981 National Championship was always a mystery to me. Clemson? THAT Clemson? The quintessential No. 10-19 squad that did well but never amazing during my heyday? Certainly they didn't win a national title. I've seen what it takes to win a championship and...Clemson?
The Tommy West/Tommy Bowden years did nothing to change that mental view. Clemson, to 12-year-old me, and even adult me, is a perpetual 7/8 win team playing in a bowl game in Northern Florida.
So I totally get why "Clemsoning" has become a part of the college football vernacular. Because even as Dabo Swinney's explanation as to why it's bulls*** totally makes sense, it also misses the point.
"It’s really kind of a joke to be honest with you. So what if we lose a ball game? How many teams don’t lose a ballgame? It’s a joke. I think it was really poorly done by their part [ESPN]… the one guy who was doing the broadcast. It just gets old. It’s disrespectful to our players. I’ve beat this horse to death. There are only 7 teams in America that have been ranked 33 weeks in a row or more and we are one of them. To me that is consistency. We have now won 11 straight games against unranked opponents by double digits and only Alabama has a longer streak. We have won 9 out of our last 10 conference games by double digits. It doesn’t seem to matter what we do. Certain people have their own agendas. That’s just the way it is. We just focus on trying to be our best. I know there is a lot of people tired of hearing that [Clemsoning]. "
Dabo's absolutely right. And yet...personally, I feel as though Clemson has been Clemsoning for as long as I've been a college football fan. And apparently a lot of other people see them that way, consciously or subconsciously.
It also helps to explain Clemson football fans, who seem, at least so far, to be the most thin-skinned and butt-hurt of all the ACC fanbases. That national title is a long ways away and even though they consider themselves among the CFB elites, they're still the same program that the rest of us have been watching fall short of expectations, real or imagined, for decades.
I'm not trying discredit what Clemson has accomplished over the last couple seasons, they've certainly ascended to the next level of college footballdom. But they're not "there" yet. And until they actually do it, I'll still feel the same as I did back in 1988, wondering how the heck that team that's always in the Florida Citrus Bowl was ever that good.