Top 7 Clemson Sports Stories in 2014

CUTigers publisher Roy Philpott looks back on the top Clemson sports stories of 2014.

#7. RETURN OF JACK LEGGETT: After being swept in the Nashville Regional by a combined scored of 24-5, Clemson ended its 2014 baseball season with a disappointing 36-25 record and speculation swirled around the future of Hall of Fame head coach Jack Leggett. 10 days later Clemson Athletic Director Dan Radakovich announced Leggett and his entire staff would return with several minor changes implemented to help improve the program moving forward.

#6. CLEMSON MAKES DEEP RUN IN NIT: After a strong run to end the regular season and a one-point loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament, the Tigers won three postseason home games against Georgia State, Illinois and Belmont to advance to semifinals of the National Invitational Tournament in Madison Square Garden. With future second-round draft pick K.J. McDaniels leading the way, fan turnout was tremendous at Littlejohn Coliseum as the Tigers won three consecutive thrillers. While Clemson ended the season at 23-13 when it lost by six to SMU in New York City, the postseason run was a reminder of how special Clemson hoops can be.

#5. THE DEFENSE: All you need to know here is the Tigers had the No. 1 defense in the country in 2014 on the gridiron. Clemson also led the nation in tackles for loss and run defense as well. With arguably the top front seven in school history, the Tigers won nine regular season games and made life miserable for opposing offenses - including top ranked Florida State, which recorded -13 rushing yards in four quarters against the Tigers in late September. It was also a standout year for players like Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony, not to mention defensive coordinator Brent Venaables. This unit lived up to the preseason hype - and then some.

#4. CHAD KELLY: A week in to spring practice, Chad Kelly was thought to have the inside track on the starting quarterback position at Clemson. Four weeks later, he was booted off the team after confronting Dabo Swinney in his office for being benched in the second half of the annual Orange and White game. After a strong fall at East Mississippi Community College, Kelly then signed scholarship papers with Ole Miss, before punching a bouncer of a New York bar in the face and threatening everyone in the building. His future is currently up in the air, but needless to say, the right call was made by Clemson's head man, even if it was deemed controversial at the time.

#3. BEATING SOUTH CAROLINA: Many would argue this deserves to be No. 1 on the list, however its hard to put a win over a 6-6 team as the top story of the year. The Tigers dominated their rival for the first time since 2008, winning with defense and also with injured quarterback Deshaun Watson... who just happens to come in at No. 2 on our list. It was an enormous win for Dabo Swinney, who had put together three-straight 10-plus win seasons, won a conference championship and an Orange Bowl - but had only beaten the Gamecocks once. Not anymore.

#2. THE EMERGENCE DESHAUN WATSON: Watson, a Gainesville, Ga. native and one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country, committed to Clemson in February 2012 and never wavered in his pledge. He enrolled at Clemson in January, practiced last spring and the table was set. In his first career drive, he calmly led the Tigers right down the field at Georgia, dropping in a perfectly thrown 30-yard touchdown pass to Charone Peake. He nearly engineered an upset at No. 1 Florida State and never lost a game he started and finished. Simply put, he represents Clemson's best chance ever of winning a Heisman Trophy.

#1. BEATING OHIO STATE IN THE ORANGE BOWL: The Tigers returned to the scene of the crime from 2012 when they gave up 70 points to West Virginia and played one of the better games of the Swinney era. In a contest that featured several wild swings in momentum, Clemson proved victorious, 40-35, after Stephone Anthony intercepted Braxton Miller with time winding down in Clemson territory. The victory game Clemson a much-needed BCS bowl win to its resume and reinforced the notion this has become a national program under Swinney's leadership. It was also Clemson's first Orange Bowl victory since it won the National Championship in 1981.


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