Never before has Dabo Swinney been so excited to watch a Portland State football game. Why? Because it meant football season is finally here. His fifth-ranked Clemson team will kick off their season on Saturday against Kent State in the friendly confines of Death Valley.
“I really enjoy this time of year,” the Tigers’ head coach said. “Game week … there’s just nothing better, and I’m excited to kick it off and see us play, and see what the identity of this team is going to be. How we shape up as we go through the course of the season.
“I think it’s going to be fun. This has been a fun team to be around since last spring.”
Though football season will begin for Tiger fans on Saturday in Death Valley, for the Clemson football team it began the moment it returned from Tampa, Fla., with that shiny golden trophy in its hand. The defense of the Tigers’ 2016 National Championship started in earnest and now they are ready to go out and play some football.
“This is just the next part of our journey … what we call ‘primetime,’” Swinney said. “The first two phases that we went through were critical, and this has been a really fun team to be around. They’ve worked really hard since January and they’ve improved all year. I have seen improvement from one phase to the next and I expect that to continue as we get into the course of the season.”
It’s been a long off-season for Clemson, but Swinney has watched his team improve as the year has moved long from mat drills, to spring practice, to summer workouts and then fall camp.
“It’s been a long camp, but very productive,” he said. “I am proud of how the guys have worked. I think we’ve gotten a lot accomplished and we’re as ready to play as you can possibly be for an opener.
“You can only bring them so far, and then you’ve got to go play. That’s the next step of the process of getting a team prepared for the course of a season and getting some things figured out. At the end of the day, you’ve got to play the game.”
Clemson will get to play Kent State officially at 12:02 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.
“You can’t just practice … you’ve got to go play,” Swinney said. “This is our first opportunity to really go do that, and I think it’s a big step for us as we get going.”