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by Matt Kupec

January 21, 2019

As I marveled watching Clemson’s convincing win over Alabama recently to capture the NCAA College Football national title, I began to think about Clemson’s remarkable success in Head Coach Dabo Swinney’s tenure.  In ten years, Coach Swinney has bought a powerhouse at Clemson that some of our now thinking may be the best program in the country.  At worst, Clemson is second only to the Alabama Crimson Tide juggernaut.

But in thinking about Clemson and their run to the national championship, I kept having thoughts back to the UCLA Bruins in basketball under legendary coach John Wooden and the seven consecutive national titles the Bruins won from 1967-1973.  Many consider the UCLA streak the #1 untouchable streak easily in the history of college basketball.

So, how am I connecting Clemson’s recent surge with the UCLA basketball Bruins nearly 50 years ago?

It’s called an easy path.  At least an easier path.  Taking nothing away from the powerhouse Clemson and UCLA squads, one key characteristic for both teams was the relatively easy path to the championships because of their light schedules.  Granted no matter what the path, you must win on the field or court.  And UCLA during those seven years had a record of 205-5!  Wow!!

Clemson’s undefeated season was the finest in college football history and this squad ranks up with the top 3 – 2001 Miami Hurricanes, 2005 Texas Longhorns and 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers – as the best college football teams ever.

But let’s take a look at the paths to National Titles for Clemson this year and the seven year magical run for UCLA in basketball years ago:

  • UCLA’s Seven Consecutive NCAA Basketball Titles. Here is a summary of UCLA’s path through the NCAA Tournament as it captured seven consecutive National Championships (1967-1973).  The NCAA Tournament had only 25 teams not today’s 64 teams so many of the best teams were left home as only conference champions were invited to the dance.  With fewer teams, it took just four teams to capture the national title whereas today a team must win six games to become national champs.  Finally, teams were kept in their respective regions until meaning that no teams from other regions outside the West were placed in UCLA’s region.  UCLA did not face a team from the ACC, Big Ten or other Power 5 Conferences until the national semi-finals.
  • UCLA’s NCAA Tournament Record (1967-1973)
    Year # Teams # Teams Game #1 Game #2 Game #3 Game #4
    Tournament West Region Regional Semi-Final Regional Final National Semi-Final National Final
    1967 22 5 Wyoming Pacific Houston Dayton
    1968 23 5 New Mexico St. Santa Clara Houston North Carolina
    1969 25 6 New Mexico St. Santa Clara Drake Purdue
    1970 25 6 Long Beach St. Utah St. New Mexcio St. Jacksonville
    1971 25 6 BYU Long Beach St. Kansas villanova
    1972 25 6 Weber St. Long Beach St. Louisville Florida St.
    1973 25 6 Arixona St. San Francisco Indiana Memphis St.
    • Clemson’s 2019 National Football Championship. The Tigers play in the Atlantic Coast Conference which is the lowest ranked Power 5 Conference.  Florida State is in the Central Division with Clemson and has been a major national power for years but the Seminoles have struggled mightily of late as a .500 club.  As a result, Clemson does not face significant conference competition during the year.    And in the ACC Conference Championship game Clemson had to face the very weak Pittsburgh Panthers, winners the ACC Coastal Division the weakest division in major college football.  Throw in Clemson’s very average non-league schedule this past year which included Furman, Texas A&M, Georgia Southern and a very average South Carolina squad and you can see the Clemson path to the national title was much easier than the path of Alabama, Oklahoma and an Ohio State team that did not receive an invite to the national playoffs.
    • Clemson’s 2019 Football Sechule:
    • Opponent Final Score
      Furman 48-7
      Texas A&M 28-26
      Georgia Southern 38-7
      Georgia Tech 49-21
      Syracuse 27-23
      Wake Forest 63-3
      NC State 41-7
      Florida St. 59-10
      Louisville 77-16
      Boston College 27-7
      Duke 36-6
      South Carolina 56-35
      • Summary. Congratulations to great Clemson and UCLA squads.  Both had magical runs, maybe the greatest of all time.  But sometimes a “path of least resistance” is an easier way to get to your final destination.   We probably will never see a UCLA-like run in basketball now that the tournament has 64 teams, you must win six games, and schools are seeded throughout the country regardless of their location.

      For Clemson, perhaps the ACC’s continued mediocrity will allow the Tigers to have a magical run over the              next decade.  Let’s hope not and that Florida State returns to its former greatness and other ACC teams                rise to challenge to compete with the Clemson Tigers.  College football will be better for it.

    • About the Author
  • Matt Kupec is a fundraising professional with 32 years of significant higher education development experience.  He has directed three major university fundraising campaigns and nearly $5 billion has been raised under his leadership.  He has led the fundraising programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hofstra University, Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and HelpMeSee, a New York City based non-profit.  He is currently serving as Senior In-House Fundraising Counsel for Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.Matt is a former record-breaking four year starting quarterback for the UNC Tar Heels.  During his career he set 19 season and career passing records.  Two of which still stand – most consecutive games with a TD pass and most wins as a starting QB.  Matt also set the ACC record for TD passes his senior year at UNC.  Matt was named MVP of the 1977 Liberty Bowl and the 1979 Gator Bowl becoming the 1st player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to be named MVP of two bowl games.