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Nov 11, 2023

Academic Excellence During The Swinney Era

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the Georgia Tech football gameday program.

When Dabo Swinney became Clemson’s head coach on a full-time basis on Dec. 1, 2008, it was apparent during his press conference that he wanted Clemson to be among the elite programs in college football in all aspects. That meant excellence on the field and in the classroom.

Every one of the 133 FBS head coaches strives for that end, but few have had the success in both areas as Swinney.

When someone asks what has been Swinney’s greatest accomplishment, one can look to 2018. That year, Clemson won the national championship in dominating fashion. The Tigers won all 15 games, the first team to do it since Penn in 1897. Each of the last 10 wins of that season were by 20+ points, including a 44-16 win over top-ranked Alabama in the national title game.

The 2018 roster included 26 players who already had their Clemson degrees when that national championship game was played, including two with master’s degrees. Clemson led all bowl teams in graduates that year. The team had 66 players who earned a 3.0+ GPA that semester, and thus were named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll. The team GPA was over 3.0 during the season.

Equally impressive was the fact that Clemson won the AFCA Academic Achievement Award, an accolade that dates to 1981. That 2018 Tiger team is still one of just three seasons in which the national champion also won the AFCA Academic Achievement Award. The others came in 1988 (Notre Dame) and 2017 (Alabama). That is the highest athletic-academic double a program can achieve in college football.

The following is a list of some of the other notable off-the-field achievements of the Swinney era that have made Clemson one of the most respected programs in the nation.

• The top individual award in college football when it comes to academic and athletic excellence is the Campbell Trophy. Christian Wilkins won the award that is referred to as the “Academic Heisman Trophy” in 2018. The award is presented to a college player each year for excellence on the field, in the classroom and in terms of community service. That year, Wilkins was a consensus first-team All-American, earned All-ACC Academic honors for the fourth time and received national acclaim as a substitute teacher at the grammar school level. He had a particular impact with some special education students. Wilkins became the fifth player in the history of the award, and the first in the CFP era, to win the honor on a team that won the national title in the same season. The others to do it were Barrett Jones of Alabama (2012), Joaquin Gonzalez of Miami (Fla.) (2001), Danny Wuerffel of Florida (1996) and Rob Zatechka of Nebraska (1995).

• Prior to the suspension of the APR Public Recognition Awards during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA recognized Clemson with its annual honor, which is bestowed to programs in the top-10 percent of their sport, for nine of the previous 10 years. Clemson, Duke and Northwestern were the only FBS schools to be recognized nine times in the 10-year period.

• Entering 2023, Clemson was the only school in the nation to finish in the top 25 of the AP poll and top 25 in APR scores each of the last 12 years.

• Clemson, Air Force and Northwestern are the only FBS programs to produce a 990+ multi-year APR score each of the last four reporting cycles.

• Most recently, Clemson posted a 995 multi-year APR covering 2018-19 through 2021-22, tied for third in the FBS and trailing only Northwestern and Wisconsin, who had 996 scores. On the field during that period, Clemson won three ACC titles, made three College Football Playoffs, played in two national championship games and won the 2018 national title.

• Of the 357 eligible senior lettermen and early graduates in Dabo Swinney’s 14 full years as head coach, 351 (98.3 percent) have earned their degrees during their time at Clemson.

• Only eight players who applied for early entry to the 2017 NFL draft had their college degree when the draft took place. Four of the eight (Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams) were from Clemson.

• Clemson had 29 players named to the All-ACC Academic team in 2022, more than any other school and a single-season record for the program.

• Running back Will Shipley was named an Academic All-American in 2022, the first Tiger running back so honored. He was also a First-Team All-ACC selection on the field at three different positions, a first in league history.

• In 2023, Shipley became the ninth member of the Clemson program to earn an AFCA Good Works Team distinction, joining Robert Carswell (1999), Nick Eason (2000), Xavier Dye (2009), Deshaun Watson (2016), Sean Pollard (2018), Dabo Swinney (2019), Trevor Lawrence (2020) and Darien Rencher (2021). Clemson, Duke and Georgia are the only FBS programs to place a player or coach on the AFCA Good Works Team in five of the last six years.