Clemson not fazed by big stage anymore

Jan 11, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney congratulates Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban following the 45-40 victory in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Dabo Swinney has not forgotten the times when he received emails from fans telling him what uniform combination they needed to wear before playing in a big game. The emails would say, “Ya’ll have to wear this uniform because ya’ll win X-amount of times in this uniform.”

“I’m like, ‘Give me a break!’ That’s why we just cut all that crap out. I used to get so sick of that because then it affects the players,” the Clemson coach said. “‘Oh, we have to wear this. We are not wearing that. Oh, man! It’s a noon game? Oh man! Dang! We play better at seven.’

“No, we play when they tell us to play, and we play to a standard. Our guys have bought into that.”

And they have. That’s why you hear and read about every Clemson player saying, “It’s a big game because it’s the next game on the schedule.”

Though Saturday’s 8 p.m. showdown with No. 4 Louisville has huge implications on the ACC and the national landscape, the third-ranked Tigers have not broken away from their culture, which explains why they have a 10-8 record since 2012 in games where there is a lot riding on the outcome.

Clemson’s eight losses during this time have all come against teams that finished the season ranked inside the top 10. The Tigers have won six of their last eight high-profiled games.

“Since ’11, anytime we have been beat it has been to a really good team and they have been better than us on that day. It’s not because of the moment or whatever,” Swinney said.

The moment this week will be a big one for the Clemson football program. ESPN’s College GameDay is back in Clemson for the fourth time in four years, and will broadcast its preview show at Bowman Field from 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday. The Cardinals come in with all the hype as quarterback Lamar Jackson is considered to be the early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

Two weeks ago, Louisville beat then No. 2 Florida State by 43 points after hosting GameDay for the first time. The Cardinals are averaging 63.5 points and 682 yards a game, while Lamar Jackson has 25 total touchdowns this season, nine more than the entire Clemson team.

But none of that matters to the Clemson football program. The only thing that matters to the Tigers is making sure they do what they need to do to put them in position to win.

“We do not prepare any differently. They all are aware that there are two undefeated teams and this is one of those moments that come along the way in your journey,” Swinney said. “’Alright boys, we don’t have to play perfect, but we are going to have to play well.

“’We do not have a lot of room for error in a game like this and neither do they. Let’s understand that, but let’s do what we always do. Let’s prepare with a purpose, with great effort, with technique. Let’s be committed to being the best we can be and doing the best we can.’”

And none of that has changed regardless of who the opponent is, what uniform they’re wearing or what time the game kicks off.

“It just doesn’t change. What the other team is ranked? None of that can affect that mindset as a player. I know for fans it does, but as a coach and as a player, you can’t have that,” Swinney said. “We have been pretty good at that. If we get beat, and I don’t like to throw excuses out there, but if we get beat, it is not because GameDay came.

“The other team just beat us. You shake their hand and you move on to the next one. That is just the way we look at it. There are twelve games, and they are all huge and we put everything into each game trying to find a way to win. We have been able to win a bunch, a lot more than we have lost, and hopefully, we can keep it that way.”

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