Clemson Football

Why the U.S. Women's National Team would fit right in at Clemson

July 11, 2019

Wednesday night, some of the world’s greatest athletes were all in one room, and Clemson football sat among them as peers.

Dabo Swinney and a few other players including Isaiah Simmons, Travis Etienne, and Justyn Ross attended ESPN’s annual ESPY award show in Los Angeles as the Tigers were nominated for “Best Team.”

Regardless of winning the award or not, to be included in the same category as some of the great dynasties such as the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, and U.S. Women’s National Soccer team was impressive and could be used as another recruiting tool.

© Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Clemson celebrates winning its second title in three years.

In the end, the USWNT held the ESPY high, and some were left wondering how the Tigers, who became the first 15-0 team since 1897, didn’t win the award.

A few days prior, this article began as an argument as to why Clemson football deserved to be known as “Best Team.”

After watching the World Cup and the impressive feats the U.S. women accomplished, it became hard to make arguments against that club. The women not only added a fourth star to their name by winning a fourth World Cup, but they also captured the attention of an entire nation, while inspiring more conversation beyond the sport in the process.

Those accomplishments arguably outweigh what Clemson was able to do in the realm of college football in 2018. 

However, the closer we looked, the more similarities we found between the two.

Soccer and American football are two completely different sports to compare, but the two team’s dominance on their respective playing fields this calendar year was unmatched -- especially when it mattered most.

The women’s national team played 17 games this year. They lost their first game, an exhibition friendly, against No. 4 France. Since then they had two draws and 14 victories, including seven in a row en route to winning the World Cup.

Clemson’s record-setting season, the first in the modern era of college football, was well documented throughout the year. Yet, even an unblemished champion, who cruised through the playoffs wasn’t able to overcome the global stage.

It’s challenging to compare the scoring in football and soccer because of the vast disparity between both sports. But let’s say a three-goal lead in soccer is equivalent to a 21-point margin in football -- both significant deficits to overcome.

© Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports
United States forward Megan Rapinoe (15) celebrates with teammates Alex Morgan (13) and Sam Mewis (3) after scoring a goal on a penalty kick against the Netherlands.

In 2019, USWNT scored 55 goals, 3.23 goals per game, in the 17 games played. On defense, they gave up 0.76 goals per game, along with nine shutouts. In football terms, we’d place that around an average score of 23-6 -- in fairness, though, it’s much more difficult to score in soccer.

Clemson football ended the season averaging 44.0 points per game while leading the country yielding just 13.6 points. 

In our estimation, Clemson’s 30.4 margin is much greater than the 17 points we estimate for the USWNT, but that’s not the end of the story.

The USWNT had the best goal differential in World Cup history 26 goals and four shutouts to three goals allowed. Those 26 goals are also a World Cup record.

Yes, many people will point out the USA’s 13-0 win over Thailand as an outlier, but you can’t ignore the Tigers’ trouncing of Louisville, scoring 77 points in that contest or the 63 points they put on Wake Forest.

Thirteen of Clemson’s 15 wins were by at least 20 points, including the final 10 games of the season.

Clemson’s total offense ranked No. 3 in the country, scoring a national-best 86 offensive touchdowns (5.73 per game), and averaging 7.35 yards per play. On defense, Clemson finished No. 5 in the country, only allowing 23 touchdowns (1.5 per game) and 285 yards per contest. 

In the playoff portion of the World Cup, the USWNT had to defeat Spain (No. 13) in the round of 16, host-team France in the quarters, England (No. 3) in the semis, and the Netherlands (No. 8) in the final. They never trailed once in any of those games. 

© Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Lawrence talks with ESPN after Clemson’s 30-3 win over Notre Dame in the 2019 College Football Playoffs.

In the College Football Playoff, the Tigers went toe-to-toe against two unbeaten teams (Notre Dame and Alabama) and won both games by at least 27 points. Dominance when it mattered most.

But neither of these teams would be in the position that they are in without the cast of characters on each side. The players are the utmost competitors, but also know when to have some fun and celebrate their accomplishments.

What are you most likely to see if you go into each team’s locker room after a big win? Dancing.

Long-haired Alex Morgan led the national team with six goals and three assists. Long-haired Trevor Lawrence led the Tigers to a national championship with 674 passing yards and six touchdowns in the Playoff.

Dabo Swinney could be compared to head coach Jill Ellis. The USWNT head coach is the first coach in history to win two World Cups with the same team (2015, 2019). Swinney, who also has two titles to his name as a coach, was the first person in college football to win a championship as a player and a coach.

Or maybe Swinney could better be compared to Megan Rapinoe. They may not share the same political views, but whenever they talk, you are damn sure listening. 

Both talk the talk and walk the walk, are the faces of their program, and are always prone to a “drop-the-mic” moment.

Chase Brice was an unlikely hero for coming into the game and keeping Clemson’s title hopes alive with a game-winning drive against Syracuse. Alyssa Naeher came up with the play of the tournament for the USWNT with her penalty save in the 86th minute against England to allow the Americans to hold on and advance to the final.

Julie Ertz has the competitive demeanor, yet infectious personality of Clelin Ferrell. And have you seen Ashlyn Harris’ Instagram stories from the celebration after the final? Look them up. She’s definitely the Christian Wilkins of the group.

Regardless of what you think of these two squads, they are champions and are self-proclaimed best ever in their arena. Maybe these two spectacular teams from two totally different sports aren’t so different at all.

The ESPY for “Best Team” may belong to the team who brought home the gold from Paris, but those individuals would easily fit right in at Clemson - the team who brought home gold from Santa Clara.

Both dominate, celebrate, and have been deemed “best ever” by many. Last night, they deservedly sat in the same room as peers.

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