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Nov 16, 2023

2023 Senior Class | The Last Word

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the North Carolina football gameday program.

The seniors who are being honored on Senior Day have played between three and six years with the Clemson program, so it is difficult to do a capsule review of a senior class in this unusual era of college football.

Two players, Justin Mascoll and Xavier Thomas, who are being celebrated as seniors today own national championship rings, as they entered as freshmen in 2018, when the Tigers posted a 15-0 record and defeated Alabama 44-16 to win the national title. Eleven other Tigers (including Mason Trotter) joined as freshmen for the 2019 season, when Clemson raced to a 14-0 record before LSU ended the ACC Tigers’ 29-game winning streak in the national championship game in New Orleans.

Many of the players who are being recognized started their careers at Clemson in 2020. That was a trying time for everyone in college football, as the world was struck with the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect on college football was significant, as teams played between six and 12 games.

One weekend, Clemson traveled to Tallahassee to face Florida State, only to have the game canceled.

Clemson players persevered and the Tigers reached the College Football Playoff for the sixth straight year with a 10-1 record. The Tigers lost just one regular-season game, a 47-40 double-overtime thriller at Notre Dame. Trevor Lawrence missed that game with COVID-19, but he returned to face the same Fighting Irish squad in the ACC Championship Game in December. Lawrence led Clemson to a convincing 34-10 victory in Charlotte.

The 2021 season saw Clemson record another 10-win season (10-3) and a No. 14 final ranking. It was quite an accomplishment when you consider Clemson started just one senior on offense that year, one of only two years since 1965 the Tigers have had a winning record with an offensive lineup that had only one senior starter.

The 2022 season saw Clemson reach another ACC Championship Game, this time with an 8-0 ACC regular-season record. The Tigers won the league title by defeating North Carolina 39-10 behind reserve quarterback Cade Klubnik, who was the MVP of the championship game.

The 2023 season has been highlighted by a victory two weeks ago over No. 12 Notre Dame at Death Valley. Clemson was without 10 starters for the game, but it ran the ball effectively behind senior center Will Putnam, who was named the Outland Trophy Lineman-of-the-Week, and Phil Mafah, who had 186 yards on a Tiger-record-tying 36 carries.

Clemson showed its true grit and overall program culture in defeating the Fighting Irish. The victory was the 166th of Dabo Swinney’s head-coaching career, and that total broke Frank Howard’s Clemson record for coaching victories in a career.

In summary, this 2023 senior class has a 37-12 record, tied for the fifth-most victories among 2023 senior classes in the country, and tied for fourth among Power Five Conference schools. Only Georgia (47), Alabama (46), Ohio State (39)and Coastal Carolina (38) have more wins in the last four years.

The Tiger program has also won 24 of 26 games at home and has posted a 27-7 record against ACC opponents, including a 2-0 record in ACC Championship Games. There have been 12 wins on the road and eight victories over top-25 teams as well.

In the last four seasons, Clemson has won two ACC championships, has had three top-25 final rankings (with a chance for a fourth) and has made a College Football Playoff appearance. Clemson has won seven of the last eight ACC championships, and this class has had a lot to do with continuing that championship legacy atop the conference.

The senior class has continued Clemson’s exceptional record when it comes to academic excellence, with outstanding numbers in terms of graduation rate and APR scores. The 2023 seniors have been a big reason Clemson’s 995 APR rating between 2018-22 tied for third in the nation.