Ohio State is making its sixth Sugar Bowl appearance and Clemson is making just its third appearance. The seven combined appearances are the least by a pair of Sugar Bowl teams since Virginia Tech (3) and Michigan (1) met in the 2012 Classic. The Buckeyes have a 3-2 on-field record entering this year’s contest (their 2011 victory over Arkansas was vacated due to NCAA violations. Clemson is 0-2 in the Sugar Bowl.
This year’s game marks the 20th time that a pair of top five teams (based on AP Poll) have matched up in the Sugar Bowl. The first time was in the 1936 contest when No. 4 TCU topped No. 1 LSU, 3-2. The most recent time was the 2018 Playoff Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl when No. 4 Alabama upended No. 1 Clemson. 24-6.
Sugar Bowl Playoff History
This year’s game will mark the third time the Sugar Bowl has hosted a Playoff Semifinal – the previous two included teams from this year’s match-up. Following the 2014 season, eventual national champion Ohio State defeated Alabama, 42-35. Eventual national champion Alabama shut down Clemson, 24-6, in the Playoff Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl following the 2017 season.
It’s no surprise that Clemson and Ohio State already have appearances in the Sugar Bowl Semifinal contests. The Tigers and Buckeyes are unquestionable part of a new class of postseason royalty that has established itself following the inception of the College Football Playoff for the 2014 college football campaign. In the seven years of the Playoff, Clemson is making its sixth appearance (tied for the most with Alabama), while Ohio State is making its fourth appearance (tied with Oklahoma for third).
This year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl will be the 14th College Football Playoff Semifinal in history (including the Rose Bowl which will kick off at 4 p.m. on January 1). Higher-ranked teams are 8-4 entering this year with two of the upsets coming in the Playoff Semifinals at the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
2014-15 Rose Bowl No. 2 Oregon def. No. 3 Florida State 59-20
Sugar Bowl No. 4 Ohio State def. No. 1 Alabama 42-35
2015-16 Orange Bowl No. 1 Clemson def. No. 4 Oklahoma 37-17
Cotton Bowl No. 2 Alabama def. No. 3 Michigan State 38-0
2016-17 Fiesta Bowl No. 2 Clemson def. No. 3 Ohio State 31-0
Peach Bowl No. 1 Alabama def. No. 4 Washington 24-7
2017-18 Rose Bowl No. 3 Georgia def. No. 2 Oklahoma 54-48 (2OT)
Sugar Bowl No. 4 Alabama def. No. 1 Clemson 24-6
2018-19 Cotton Bowl No. 2 Clemson def. No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3
Orange Bowl No. 1 Alabama def. No. 4 Oklahoma 45-34
2019-20 Peach Bowl No. 1 LSU def. No. 4 Oklahoma 62-28
Fiesta Bowl No. 3 Clemson def. No. 2 Ohio State 29-23
2020-21 Rose Bowl No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame TBD
Sugar Bowl No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State TBD
The ACC and the Big Ten in the Sugar Bowl
This year will mark the third time in history that the ACC and the Big Ten have met in the Sugar Bowl. The first meeting came in the 1998 game when ACC champion Florida State took down Ohio State, 31-14. In 2012, Michigan evened up the series with a game-winning field to top Virginia Tech, 23-20, in the only overtime game in Sugar Bowl history. ACC teams (by current membership, not including Notre Dame) have posted a 17-13-1 mark in Sugar Bowl history while the current members of the Big Ten have an 8-8 record in the New Orleans Classic.
Ohio State’s Ryan Day will become the 99th different head coach to coach in the Sugar Bowl. Only 25 of those coaches made a second appearance in the Sugar Bowl – Clemson’s Dabo Swinney will become the 26th with Friday night’s appearance.
Dabo Swinney is one of 10 people in history to both play in the Sugar Bowl and serve as a head coach in the Classic. The Alabama native was a wide receiver for Alabama in the Crimson Tide’s 1993 Sugar Bowl victory over Miami, which clinched a national title. Swinney was also on the Alabama roster for a 1990 Sugar Bowl loss to Miami.
Name Player Coach
Gaynell Tinsley 1936, 1937 (LSU) 1950 (LSU)
Frank Broyles 1944 (Georgia Tech) 1962, 1963, 1969, 1970 (Arkansas)
Darrell Royal 1949, 1950 (Oklahoma) 1958 (Texas)
George Welsh 1955 (Navy) 1991 (Virginia)
Johnny Majors 1956 (Tennessee) 1977 (Pitt), 1986, 1991 (Tennessee)
Bill Battle 1962 (Alabama) 1971 (Tennessee)
Jimmy Johnson 1963 (Arkansas) 1986 (Miami)
Jackie Sherrill 1964 (Alabama) 1982 (Pitt)
Steve Spurrier 1966 (Florida) 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001 (Florida)
Dabo Swinney 1990, 1993 (Alabama) 2018 (Clemson)
This year’s game will be the 26th Sugar Bowl to match conference champions against each other. Clemson and Ohio State are the 89th and 90th conference champions overall to play in the historical game. The Tigers were ACC Champs in both of their previous Sugar Bowl trips (1959 and 2018) and the Buckeyes were Big Ten Champs in three of their five Sugar Bowl visits (1978, 1999, 2015).
National Champions in New Orleans
The winner of the 87th annual Allstate Sugar Bowl could become the 29th national champion hosted by the Sugar Bowl in its history. Some of the national champions earned that title following a victory in New Orleans, some had been crowned as national champions prior to the Sugar Bowl (including two years in which the Bowl hosted two national champions) and two had to go on to win another game following their Sugar Bowl triumphs to earn the crown (Ohio State in the 2015 Playoff Semifinal and Alabama in the 2018 Playoff Semifinal). See the Inside Front Cover of the History & Record Book for a full listing.
Random Stat History
In the first 86 editions of the Sugar Bowl, the higher-ranked team has posted a 50-35-1 record – however, over the past four decades (since 1980), the higher- and lower-seeded teams are exactly even at 20-20-1. This year’s game will be the 14th Sugar Bowl to be played on a Friday. For what it’s worth, the higher-ranked team has posted a 7-5-1 mark in Friday Sugar Bowls. Ohio State won its only Friday Sugar Bowl appearance, taking down Texas A&M, 24-14, behind a big game from wide receiver David Boston in the 1999 Sugar Bowl. Clemson’s first two Sugar Bowls were played on Thursday (1959) and Monday (2018). This will also be the 42nd Sugar Bowl to be played at night versus 45 day games.
Interestingly, only one player in this year’s Allstate Sugar Bowl is a Louisiana product. Clemson running back Travis Etienne grew up in Jennings, La., and attended Jennings High School, which is about 170 miles from New Orleans. While most Louisiana high school athletes dream of playing in the Superdome as that’s the usual host site of each year’s state football championship games, Etienne has had far more luck reaching the Superdome since moving more than 700 miles away from home. This will be his third trip to the Superdome with Clemson following the 2018 Playoff Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship game. In 2016, his high school team had its best run in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Class 3A Tournament, advancing to the quarterfinals (two wins from a Superdome trip).
500 Yards of Offense?
After four straight years of seeing a team surpass the 500-yard mark in total offense, the last three Sugar Bowls were more defensive battles. Two years ago, Alabama and Clemson combined for just 449 yards as the Crimson Tide won 24-6. The 2019 game saw Texas top Georgia, 28-21, with the teams combining for 639 total yards – the Longhorns managed 355 yards and the Bulldogs had 284. Last year, Georgia and Baylor combined for 675 total yards. Only 12 of the 172 Sugar Bowl teams have tallied 500 yards of offense in the game,