Dawkins didn’t fully blossom until his professional career, which ended in his retirement after the 2011 season. Before his potential Pro Football Hall of Fame career for 16 years in the NFL, Dawkins was productive safety for two coaches (Ken Hatfield and Tommy West) at Clemson. A three-year starter, Dawkins was a second-team All-ACC selection as a sophomore and junior before emerging as a second-team AP All-America selection as a senior in 1995. He finished his career with 11 career interceptions and 251 tackles. Dawkins showed a glimpse of what was to come in his pro career when he intercepted three passes against Duke in his final home game with the Tigers.
Compared to some others on this list, Simmons did not play during the best years of Clemson football. The Tigers went 22-14 during his three seasons with the Tigers, but Simmons was a dominant force anyway. He started all but one game in his three seasons at Clemson, racking up 486 career tackles. In 1996, Simmons set a school record with 178 stops, topped only by Keith Adams’ 186 three years later. Simmons earned consensus All-America honors the following seasons.
There is little left for Tajh Boyd to accomplish in his college career. He returned the Tigers to ACC supremacy with its first league championship in two decades as just a sophomore. He then shattered most Clemson and some ACC passing records as a junior in 2012. He owns the single-season school record for passing yards (3,896) and the ACC single-season touchdown record with 36 scoring strikes. He has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 4,000 total yards of offense and has a chance to finish as the ACC's most productive player in history (passing yards and total offense). Against NC State, Boyd set an ACC record by accounting for eight total touchdowns (5 pass, 3 rush) and the third best total offense game in ACC history (529). The reigning ACC Player of the Year wants more than just a conference championship in 2013.
Like his quarterback Steve Fuller, Bostic helped return Clemson to national prominence in the late 1970s. Behind Bostic, Fuller and running back Lester Brown, Clemson had a dominant run game during the 11-1 season of 1978. The ACC and Gator Bowl champions, Clemson set school records that for total rushing yards (3,469), rushing yards per game (289.1), total carries (741) and carries per game (61.8). Not even Chad Morris’ up-tempo offense topped Clemson’s 78.8 plays per game in 1978. Bostic was an All-America selection in 1977 and ’78.
The Refrigerator’s brother was more than just a familiar name along the Clemson defensive line. Michael Dean Perry picked up where his brother left off and exceeded him in some areas. Like his brother, he was one of a handful of defensive players to win ACC Defensive Player of the Year (1987). Michael also broke William’s ACC records for career tackles for a loss (61) and career sacks (28). He remains Clemson’s sole record holder for career tackles for a loss and was tied for career sacks by Gaines Adams in 2006. Perry’s best season came in 1987 when he recorded 24 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks as Clemson went 10-2 with an ACC title.
Arguably Clemson’s most dynamic offensive playmaker of the Athlon era (since 1967), C.J. Spiller arrived to Clemson from Lake Butler, Fla., as an elite all-purpose recruit. He delivered in all areas, earning ACC Player of the Year honors in 2009. He was the first Clemson player to receive the award since Michael Dean Perry in 1987 and the first offensive player from Clemson to earn the award since quarterback Steve Fuller in 1978. Spiller had only one 1,000-yard season in his career (with 1,212 yards as a senior), but his 7.27 career yards per carry was the second-best average in Clemson history and the best since 1950. A threat as a runner, receiver and return man, Spiller shattered the Clemson record for all-purpose yards with 7,588 in his career, an ACC record and the third-most in NCAA history. His 51 total touchdowns (31 rushing, 12 receiving, seven on kickoff returns, one on a punt return) is a school record.
Clemson re-emerged from NCAA sanctions and a recruiting scandal in the late 1980s with defense once again at the forefront. After recording 71 tackles as a freshman, Kirkland enjoyed a breakout game at the end of his sophomore season in the Gator Bowl. With nine tackles and a sack, Kirkland was the Gator Bowl MVP as the Tigers’ defense held Heisman finalist Major Harris to 119 passing yards in a 27-7 win over West Virginia. Kirkland was a second-team All-American as a junior and a consensus first-team All-American as a senior, leaving school with 273 career tackles and 19 career sacks.
One of three defensive players from the title-winning 1981 team to make our list, the team captain Davis played a major role in clinching Clemson’s only national title by earning Orange Bowl Defensive MVP honors in the 22-15 win over No. 4 Nebraska to clinch the championship. Davis led Clemson in tackles that season with a then-school record 175, earning ACC Player of the Year honors and consensus All-America honors. More than a sure tackler, Davis had a penchant for forcing opponents to cough up the ball with 10 forced fumbles and eight recovered fumbles in his career. Both are school records.
“The Refrigerator” had a knack for the big debut, even before helping the Chicago Bears’ dominant defense to the Super Bowl as a rookie in 1985. As a freshman at Clemson, Perry helped the Tigers to the 1981 national title. That season, Perry came off the bench to 48 tackles and four sacks, including two in a key win over North Carolina. That was only the start for the 300-pound lineman, who earned his nickname as a senior at Clemson after earning consensus All-America honors as a junior. In his final season in 1984, Perry led the nation with 27 tackles for a loss and had 100 tackles – as a nose guard – to earn ACC Player of the Year honors. Only three ACC defensive players and two players from Clemson since then have earned such honors.
A dominant defensive back, Kinard was Clemson’s first of four unanimous All-America selections and the only one until 2006. The safety from Sumter, S.C., remains the Tigers’ only two-time consensus All-American. As Clemson went 12-0 and won the national title in 1981, Kinard led the Tigers with six interceptions and added 95 tackles. He returned for his senior season in 1982 to record 89 tackles and another six picks. He is Clemson’s career leader in interceptions with 17 and leads all Clemson defensive backs with 294 career stops.
Down 14-13, with 0:10 left, Clemson QB Woody Dantzler connects with Rod Gardner on a 50-yard pass to the South Carolina eight-yard line that sets up a game-winning 35-yard field goal by Aaron Hunt. Clemson fans dub the play “The Catch II,” while Gamecock supporters complain that Gardner pushed off.
Mark Buchholz hits a 35-yard field goal with no time remaining to give Clemson a 23-21 victory over South Carolina. It is the first time in the history of the rivalry that the game is won on the last play and is the Tigers’ fifth win in six games against the Gamecocks.
Tajh Boyd throws three touchdown passes to lead Clemson to a 38-10 romp over fifth-ranked Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game. The triumph gives the Tigers their first conference crown in 30 years and sends them to the Orange Bowl.
Steve Fuller completes a 20-yard touchdown pass to a twisting Jerry Butler with 0:49 left to give Clemson a 31-27 win over South Carolina. “The Catch” serves as notice that the Tigers have returned to the top echelon of college football.
Clemson stifles Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, 22-15, behind QB Homer Jordan and receiver Perry Tuttle to complete a 12-0 season and win its first national championship. The Clemson defense holds the Cornhuskers to 256 total yards.
In front of the largest crowd in Cardinal Stadium history, Louisville holds on to defeat Memphis State, 19-17, when sophomore free safety Ray Buchanan blocks a field goal with 1:31 remaining. The Cards had held a 19-7 lead but gave it up and then needed Buchanan’s heroics to overcome a Browning Nagle interception in the game’s waning moments.
Kerry Rhodes intercepts Jared Zabransky in the end zone as time expires to preserve a 44-40 victory over Boise State in the 2004 Liberty Bowl. The Cardinals overcome five turnovers and score nine-unanswered fourth-quarter points for the victory in a matchup of the nation’s top two offenses.
Playing in a downpour that is the residue of Hurricane Isidore, the Cardinals knock off fourth-ranked Florida State in overtime. The teams finish tied at 20 in regulation, and on the first play of OT, Anthony Floyd intercepts Chris Rix. Cardinals back Henry Miller then goes 25 yards for the winning touchdown in a 26-20 win. The drenched crowd storms the field and tears down the goalposts.
In its second Big East season, Louisville finishes 11-1 and earns its first BCS bid, to the Orange Bowl. Down 13-10 early in the third quarter, the Cardinals use touchdown runs by Anthony Allen and Brock Bolen to pull away and earn a 24-13 victory.
After several other teams turn down the chance to play in the Fiesta Bowl because Arizona wouldn’t recognize Martin Luther King Day, the Cardinals accept a bid to their first bowl in 13 years and roll to a 34-7 win over Alabama behind 453 passing yards and three TDs by quarterback Browning Nagle. Louisville outgains Bama, 571-189.
Athlon ranks the top 10 Florida State players since 1967. Buckley started for only two seasons in Tallahassee, but got his name securely into the record books. He claims the school’s all-time interception record with 21 and INT return yards with 501 – which also happens to be an NCAA mark as well. In 1991, Buckley led the nation – and set an FSU single-season record – with 12 interceptions (returned for 238 yards and two TDs). He was named an All-American and claimed the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. Buckley also played two years of varsity baseball and lettered on the Outdoor Track and Field team once. He was selected with the fifth overall pick in the first round on the 1992 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.
As a three-time All-ACC performer, Dunn is the only Seminole to top the 1,000-yard mark in three consecutive seasons. His 3,959 career yards and 1,418 yards in 1995 represent the career and single-season records for Florida State. Dunn was a part of the 1993 National Championship team and has scored more TDs (49) than any other Florida State player. His 21 100-yard rushing efforts are also a school record. The Noles were 31-1 in ACC play during Dunn’s four-year career. He was also an All-American on the Track and Field team in Tallahassee. He was drafted in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the Bucs and went on to rush for 10,967 yards in his illustrious pro career.
The frst three-year starter at QB for the Seminoles under Bobby Bowden, Weinke became the second FSU player to win the Heisman Trophy when he was named the nation's best player in 2000. He led the nation in passing with 4,167 yards. Weinke led the Noles to an undefeated season in 1999 and the National Championship. He was a remarkable 32-3 as the starter. He set both ACC and school records for career passing yards with 9,839 and would set 26 Florida State records. His 536 yards against Duke in 2000 and his 79 career TD passes highlight the long list of FSU benchmarks. Weinke also won the Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas trophies in 2000. The stellar QB was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.
Jones became the first Seminole to capture two major national awards in the same season when he earned the 1992 Butkus and Lombardi Awards. He was only FSU's third two-time consensus All-American, and his 111 tackles helped lead the Noles to an 11-1 mark that year, when Jones finished fourth in the Heisman voting. He finished his career with 369 tackles (seventh all-time at FSU) and 28 tackles for a loss (third all-time at FSU). The New York Jets selected Jones with the fourth overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft.
Sellers remains the prolific receiver in FSU history. He held most of the NCAA receiving records from the end of his final season in 1968 until 1987. A flanker for FSU, he accumulated 3,979 yards on 240 career receptions. He caught a pass in 30 consecutive games, averaging 119.9 yards per game. He led the Noles to three straight bowl games in his time in Tallahassee. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and was drafted by the Boston Patriots with the sixth overall pick in the Common Draft of 1969.
A two-time consensus All-American, Brooks was the big-play man on dominating defenses that not only won ACC championships but also the 1993 National Title. That year, Brooks made 77 tackles, seven for a loss, en route to ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He finished his career with 274 tackles, five interceptions, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Brooks is one of eight Noles to have his number retired. The talented tackler was selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay, where all he did was go to 11 Pro Bowls, win a Super Bowl and the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
Few players from any school have ever had the raw explosiveness and play-making ability that Mr. Warrick possessed. He was virtually impossible to stop in the open field. The two-time consensus All-American caught more touchdown passes (32) than any FSUer in history. His 207 career receptions and 3,517 receiving yards rank second all-time to Ron Sellers. He was also the front-runner for the 1999 Heisman Trophy - scoring from five different positions on the field - before an off-the-field incident slowed his final season. He bounced back as the MVP of the 2000 Sugar Bowl, scoring three times in the National Championship victory over Virginia Tech. Warrick was the fourth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Very simply put: Simmons was the dominant defensive lineman in Florida State history, which is quite a statement considering the talent to roll through Tallahassee along the D-Line. After recording 81 tackles, six sacks and 17 tackles for a loss in 1979, Simmons finished ninth in the Heisman and earned his first of two consensus All-America awards. His career totals of 25 sacks and 44 tackles for a loss were Seminole records until the 1996 season. Simmons was the first Nole defender to have his jersey retired. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round of the 1981 NFL Draft.
Likely the most exciting college player of his era, Sanders was a two-time consensus All-American and won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1988 as the nation's best defensive back. He intercepted 14 passes in his career (not including bowl games) and was a stellar return man who led the nation in punt returns at 15.2 per return in 1988. He holds seven FSU school records for INTs and/or punt returns. Sanders lettered in three sports - baseball, track and football - and is one of very few players to excel at two professional sports. Despite his lack of desire to tackle, Sanders is widely considered the best cover corner to ever play the game. Sanders was the fifth overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. The NFL Hall of Famer also was a career .263 hitter in 11 MLB seasons.
Ward might be the most decorated player in NCAA football history. The list of awards and accomplishments for No. 17 is astounding. The two most important took place in 1993. Ward, an experienced leader on both the gridiron and hardcourt, earned the Heisman Trophy as the game's best player as well as the National Championship. He set 19 school and seven ACC records in his two years as the starting QB in Tallahassee. A consensus All-American, Ward claimed upwards of 30 individual awards including the Davey O'Brien Award, the Johnny Unitas Award, the Walter Camp Award and the ACC Player of the Year. His dynamic rush-pass ability netted him 6,636 yards of total offense (second in FSU history), and he posted the highest completion rate in school history with a 62.3% mark. Despite playing baseball and football at Florida State (at an elite level), Ward took his raw ability to the NBA, where he was a first round pick in 1994 by the New York Knicks. He helped lead the Knicks to the NBA Finals in 1999. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Known as the “Choke at Doak,” referring to the Seminoles’ Doak Campbell Stadium home, Florida State overcame a 31-3 fourth-quarter deficit, scoring four touchdowns to tie Florida. Rock Preston’s four-yard run with 1:45 left and Dan Mowry’s subsequent PAT evened the count at 31-31 and gave the ‘Noles a huge moral victory over their biggest rival.
On the game’s second play from scrimmage, cornerback Terrell Buckley returned an Elvis Grbac pass 40 yards for a touchdown, starting the top-ranked Seminoles’ 51-31 rout of third-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was the most points scored on the Wolverines since 1958 and gave FSU another contribution to its growing sod cemetery.
The standing ovation from the Nebraska fans said it all: Florida State football had arrived. The Seminoles stunned the number-three Cornhuskers, 18-14, for the first big road win of coach Bobby Bowden’s tenure in Tallahassee. (Note: We don't have video of that game, so enjoy this little promo for the 1980 Super Seminoles.)
Peter Warrick caught six passes for 163 yards and two TDs and scored on a punt return to help Florida State cap a tumultuous year with a 46-29 win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl that clinched the national title. Chris Weinke threw for 329 yards and four scores for the victorious Seminoles.
Facing a 16-15 deficit to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl and the prospect of losing a shot at the school’s first-ever national title, the ‘Noles drove 62 yards in under a minute to set up Scott Bentley for a 22-yard field goal – his fourth of the game – to give FSU an 18-16 lead. When the Cornhuskers failed to convert a 45-yard try at the gun, Florida State was number one.
Athlon Sports ranks the best Tigers teams since the AP Poll debuted in 1934.
The Clemson Tigers are a proud program that has had some excellent decades — see the 1980s — as well as some times of struggle (1992-2010). But this is a program with loads of potential, committed fans, a great gameday atmosphere and has tasted the top of the mountain once upon a time. Unlike many programs the Tigers have one team that stands above the rest.