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Clemson in 2017: Reloading for a repeat

Since 2011, only one team in college football has won more games than the Clemson Tigers, and they beat that team in the 2017 College Football National Championship Game last January.

In the last six years, Clemson has produced a 70-13 overall record. It has won five straight bowl games, three ACC Championships, played for the national championship and of course won it all last season.

It’s an amazing six-year stretch, but have the Tigers reached their peak?

“The best is yet to come for us. This is not the end all,” Swinney said. “(Winning the national championship) is a great moment and it is something we needed to get done.”

Last year’s national championship was the program’s first in 35 years when a Homer Jordan led squad led the Tigers to the Promise Land in 1981. After that, Clemson stayed relevant in college football for the better part of a decade, but it could never capture that moment again.

So what makes Dabo Swinney’s group different?

The overall health of the program seems to be in better shape than it was in the 1980s. Though Clemson produced back-to-back 9-1-1 seasons in 1982 and ’83 following the national championship, it was also put on three-year probation, banned from ACC Championships and bowl games and suffered from scholarship reductions. The program fell a little in 1984 (7-4) and ’85 (6-6) as a result before finally getting back to its winning ways in 1986, the first of three straight ACC Championships (four overall) and six-straight two-loss seasons.

However, allegations of 14 rules violations hit the program again in 1989, while there was also a power struggle between then head coach Danny Ford and then Clemson President Max Lennon, who passed away last November. Ford and Clemson agreed to part ways in January of 1990 and the program began a decline that saw it go 20 years before winning another ACC Championship.

These days the Clemson program appears to be in much better shape than it was back in the 1980s. Overall, its winning at a more consistent level, plus its graduation success rate is the best the program has ever seen thanks to its PAW Journey program, which is unlike anything anyone else has in college football.

It also doesn’t hurt that the program just recently moved into its brand new $55 million Allen Reeves Football Complex, which is currently one of a kind in college football with its spacious locker room, state of the art training facility, dining hall as well as a nap room, two bowling lanes, a putt-putt course, full-length basketball court, wiffle ball field and a large gazebo area for grilling and cookouts.

“Clemson is only going to get better,” former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “It is just going to keep growing and keep growing. This is the best (five years) at Clemson, but wait until the next five years. There is going to be even more exciting (moments).”

And some of those moments could come this year. Though Clemson has to replace Watson, it has the talent everywhere else to stay in position to compete for another ACC Championship, and thus an opportunity at another CFP appearance.

Clemson returns seven starters from a defense that led the ACC in scoring, total and pass defense in 2016, as well as being ranked in the top 10 nationally in all three categories. Defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence return as well as Clelin Ferrell to help anchor what some consider the best defensive line in the country.

Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel are both back at linebacker as well as cornerback Ryan Carter and safety Van Smith in the secondary.

“I know Coach Venables and the rest of our staff is going to bring in some of the best talent in the country,” former linebacker Ben Boulware said. “The talent is always going to be there so that is not something we really worry about.”

On offense, Clemson returns four starting offensive linemen and has playmakers like Hunter Renfrow, Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain back at wide receiver.

“There will be new challenges and a new journey,” Swinney said.

And all they are doing is reloading for a repeat.

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