Clemson: Tough group ready for another title-game run

Clemson is the school that fans in the ACC whose teams aren’t expected to do much in 2010 point to and say, Yeah, but who expected anything out of them, and look what they did?

“This is a team that wasn’t ranked. This is a team that wasn’t picked to win their division. This is a team with a freshman quarterback, a freshman center. C.J. (Spiller) can’t do all these things. We had a lot of question marks. And they learned a belief, and were a closer team. But I think they’re also motivated by the fact that they didn’t finish where they wanted to,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said at last week’s ACC Football Kickoff.

His Tigers, a year after Tommy Bowden walked out on them midseason, roared back from the dead all the way to the 2009 ACC Championship Game, where Clemson had a late lead over Georgia Tech before falling 39-34.

The team is a reflection of the coach, who took over for Bowden in ’08 and led Clemson to the Gator Bowl after a 3-3 start.

“Toughness. Team. You tackle. You get after the quarterback. You get after the wideouts. Run the ball with authority. Have great play-action. You’re disciplined with your schemes as far as not tipping things, being balanced with how you distribute it, and that kind of stuff. But it all starts up front, both sides of the ball. That’s just what I grew up on,” Swinney said.

“There’s a lot of ways to do it, but when it all comes down to it, you peel it back, you better have toughness in your football team. We made strides there last year. We’re definitely a tougher team,” Swinney said.

It’s also a team that won’t have Spiller to carry the load on offense. Swinney concedes that it will be a tough climb back up the hill toward an ACC championship this go-round, but he likes his team because of what it has gone through together the past two years.

“One thing I like about this team is, everybody has been there. You talk about getting there and this and that, but not only have these guys experienced a championship game and all that comes with it, but they’ve experienced and know what it takes to get there,” Swinney said.

“They believe in themselves. They believe in what they’re doing. “There’s no question that our team is in a different place mentally right now. Because they’ve been there. They’ve walked off that field with oranges being thrown, and they picked themselves up, they were going to the Orange Bowl, and the next thing you know, they’re in the Music City Bowl,” Swinney said.

“That’s one of the things that I love about our team. They went back to work, and they went and won a tough, physical football game against Kentucky and overcame disappointment, and didn’t let the disappointment define their season. They went back to work, and I think that’s carried over for our team into their offseason, the spring and summer, and certainly it will be a motivating factor,” Swinney said.

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

Keywords: acc, atlantic coast conference, clemson football

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