Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Worst Ever - Part I (Clemson)

Determining the worst loss ever will not be an easy, or enjoyable, task.  But before we can repair the wound, we need to clean it.

And cleaning requires digging.  Not for gold or treasure, but pain, anguish, and despair - with the goal to come out healthier, stronger, and ready for the next challenge.

When looking at past failures, we must start with the recent and work backwards, as the recent wounds are still the freshest.  And the most recent wound is deep.

Clemson's last game?  A 70-33 blowout loss at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.  A rout so bad, 9 records were broken or tied and Clemson's defense became a punch line.

Clemson was the reigning ACC Champ and the higher ranked team.  They were celebrating their first ACC Championship in 20 years and playing in their first BCS Game.  Plus, this was their first game in the Orange Bowl since their National Championship win over Nebraska in 1982.

During the season, they had consecutive wins over Auburn, FSU, & Virginia Tech en route to the Division Title.  They followed that with a second, more thorough thrashing of Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game.

West Virginia? The opposite, as they were best known for losing a slugfest to LSU and laying an egg at Syracuse.  They were Co-Big East Champs, but there was little on their resume of which to be proud.

The game was bad enough, but the stage deepens the wound.  This was a BCS game, the only show in town, and seen by over 5 million people.

As such, Clemson set the bar pretty high with their last game (let’s be honest, we wouldn’t be writing this if Clemson won – or even lost a close game).

And many are saying we don’t even need to pick the scabs of past wounds as this is the worst ever.  They’re saying it’s not even a contest.

But that doesn’t make for good copy, so we need to dig a little, see what we find, and see how it stacks up.

The most notable contenders from the past 20 years:

1993 FSU (57-0 FSU takes reign in ACC)
1995 SU (41-0 Bowl Game)
1996 UNC (45-0 Season Opener & 2nd Straight Shut-out)
2000 FSU (54-7 Top 10 battle)
2002 TT (55-15 Manhandled in Bowl Game)
2003 WF (45-17 It's friggin' WF)
2004 Duke (16-13 - See WF)

If you consider the stage, the Orange Bowl still bleeds the most.

However, if you consider the stakes, the 1993 & 2000 FSU games were worse.  The 1993 game represented the changing of the guard.  Following this beat down, FSU officially crowned themselves kings of the ACC – taking that spot from the team they just hammered.

And coming into the 2000 game, Clemson felt like it might be back.  It boasted a Top 10 ranking and some swagger.  It lost both as it was humiliated by Weinke's play-action skills.

If you consider the opponent, every other game would qualify as Clemson should never lose to those teams, especially in the fashion they did.

But what makes the Orange Bowl so hard to look past isn't the stakes, the stage, or even the opponent.  It is the shock value.  Giving up 40 or 50 will happen.  Giving up 70 should not.

At 70, you don’t celebrate the offense, you ridicule the defense.  Somewhere is a magic line where the focus leaves the offense and lands on the defense.  Clemson crossed that line.

A Conference Champion and 10-win team shouldn't lose by 37 in a bowl game.  And it shouldn't give up 70 points.

So, when you tally up the results, the simple fact that Clemson gave up 70 points to a Big East team in a BCS game witnessed by over 5 million people make this the worst it’s ever been.

"Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure."
George Edward Woodberry

The good news – Clemson is seven weeks from redressing that wound.  And while the scar will never disappear, it may eventually blend in.  If Clemson goes on to continue to win the ACC, play well on the national stage, and achieve greater heights, then the wound from the 2012 Orange Bowl begins to heal.

However, if Clemson falters and this game remains the pinnacle for another 5-10 years, then the scan shall remain prominent and this game shall remain as the worst it's ever been.

And regardless of what happens, this game will continue to bring great joy to USC fans. 

But should it?  Do they have any room to boast or brag?  Haven’t they suffered losses just as bad – or even worse?  Is this worse than 63-17 or 45-0.  Or being blown out in their only appearance in the SEC Championship Game? 

And what bragging rights do we, as Clemson fans, have?  Will our triumphs over USC always trump our failures against others?  You’ll notice known of the losses on our list include a loss to USC.

So, stay tuned for Part II as we take a closer look at USC’s losses to see which of theirs qualifies as the worst.

And then we’ll place them head-to-head to see who has bragging rights – and who’ll be crowned “The Worst Ever”.

And history shows, we have a 60% chance of winning.

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