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Being Ranked Number-One

Being Ranked Number-One

By Sam Blackman

There is something special about being ranked number-one in the nation, especially for the first time by a young program.

It’s also gratifying to see both the Clemson men’s and women’s programs being ranked in the top 20 of their respective polls and bringing national attention to their teams this season.

It will soon be 40 years ago since the Clemson men’s soccer team was ranked number-one in the nation for the first time.  At the time, the program was only in its ninth season. Head Coach Dr. I.M. Ibrahim was a miracle worker building the program to national prominence in such a short time and the Tigers being ranked number one was a testimony to his hard work.

(The 1975 Clemson Men’s Soccer team is pictured below.)

Ibrahim had a very talented team in 1975. He had captured three straight league crowns in as many years and his teams advanced to the NCAA post season in each of the past three campaigns. Clemson had a combined 41-5-1 record in the previous seasons, but Ibrahim was not satisfied and he had hopes in 1975 of challenging for the National Title. Why not? He had 13 lettermen returning and he had eight freshmen coming to campus that he labeled “the best recruiting class he ever had” at that time.  

In 1972, Clemson won the first ACC Championship with a perfect 5-0 record.    This was also the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the Tigers and they advanced to the Final 16 that season.

In 1973, Clemson finished the season with a 16-1 record and added another ACC Championship.  The Tigers advanced to the NCAA Final Four and lost to UCLA in overtime on January 2, in the Orange Bowl in Miami, FL. The Tigers finished fourth in the final poll. Clemson scored 97 goals in 1973 and gave up only seven the entire year.  

In 1974, Clemson had a perfect 5-0 record in claiming the school’s third ACC Championship. Clemson defeated Navy in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and lost to perennial power and number one-ranked, Howard 1-0, in Washington DC in the round of 16.

In 1975, Clemson reeled off six straight wins to start the season.  They were ranked seventh in the preseason poll and climbed the way to number two on September 16. In the season opener, the Tigers defeated third-ranked SIU- Edwardsville on the road that gave the coaches voting in the poll, enough reason to vote the Tigers number one in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll. 

On September 23, 1975, Clemson was ranked number-one in the NSCAA poll for the first time ever. Clemson remained number-one for two more weeks before losing to fourth-ranked Howard in the Clemson Invitational 1-0, on October 12 the next week and moved up one spot to second on October 21, and stayed there the next two weeks. During this time Clemson had wins over North Carolina (3-1) N.C. State (10-0), Duke (8-0), and Furman 7-0.   

On November 4, Clemson was again voted number one in the nation according to the NSCAA poll. Clemson closed out the regular season on the road and defeated Virginia 2-0 and Maryland 5-1. 

The final NSCAA poll was released November 11, before the start of the NCAA Playoffs and the Tigers were voted number one. 

“In 1975, Clemson had very talented players from the United States, Nigeria, Jamaica and Guyana,” said Christian Nwokocha.    

“It was very special to be ranked number one, especially for the first time ever for Clemson soccer.  I feel like our success helped make soccer popular in the south and the Atlantic Coast Conference area.  With the hard work of our coach, Dr. I.M. Ibrahim and the support of the Clemson Athletic Department, we enjoyed many successful years and it has continued to this day.”

The Tigers ended the season with a 3-1 loss to fourth-ranked Howard in the NCAA Tournament at Washington, DC. 

The 1975 starting lineup consisted of five freshmen including Godwin Ogbueze who led the Tigers in scoring with 16 goals and two assists.  Nwokocha was also a freshman that season, and he finished with 11 goals and three assists.   

The 1975 season was the final campaign for midfielder Clyde Brown. Brown and Ogbueze were both named ACC Co-Players of the Year. It was Brown’s fourth time to be honored ACC Player of the Year. He remains the only player in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference to be named ACC Player of the Year four times regardless of sport.  

This 1975 season gave the Tigers momentum for the 1976 season, when the Tigers again were ranked number one for most of the season. The Tigers went unbeaten during the regular season and advanced to another NCAA Final Four.  

Clemson has been ranked first in the NSCAA poll 29 times, and in the Soccer America poll, the Tigers have been first 16 times.  There is something special about being ranked number-one for the first time, a claim that the 1975 Clemson squad can make. 

It would be in 1984, before Ibrahim would lead the Tigers to a National Championship and then repeat the accomplishment in 1987.  However, these teams in the 1970s built a solid foundation for the program and the national winning reputation that is still enjoyed today.