NEW ORLEANS — Clemson’s mantra entering the season was “new team, same dream.” Despite losing a lot of key players from the 2016 national championship team, Clemson’s dream remained the same — get back to the top of the college football mountain.
Four months into the season, Clemson’s dream is still on the table and fully attainable. The Tigers are where not many thought they would be before the year began — back in the College Football Playoff, preparing to face Alabama in the Sugar Bowl semifinal, needing just two wins to accomplish the rare feat of repeating as national champions.
“It’s crazy,” Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell said. “To look up and see where we are now, it’s crazy to appreciate the work and the time that you have put in with the guys around you, because it’s a special group.”
Few outside the Tigers’ lock room thought they would make it back to the College Football Playoff. There were plenty of question marks surrounding the defending national champs after the departures of Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott and others.
Clemson wasn’t supposed to be here again this year. But here they are, preparing to compete in the CFP for the third straight year after defying the doubters yet again.
“It’s really special for us,” Ferrell said. “Last year’s team, they were kind of supposed to be there. They were the preseason number one, had a lot of hype around them. But I feel like this year’s team, we kind of battled through all the doubters and the things we had going against us as far as the outside world.”
Clemson enters the playoff as the No. 1 seed for the second time in the last three seasons. Clemson advanced to the championship game two years ago as the top seed, and last year won the national championship as the No. 2 seed.
The Tigers earned the No. 1 ranking while compiling an impressive resume over the course of the season that includes six wins over top-25 teams. Clemson is certainly a battle-tested bunch, and that is a good thing for the Tigers as they get ready for what figures to be another fierce battle with Alabama.
“I think we really showed that we deserve to be there and we’re battle-tested through the tough schedule that we had,” Ferrell said.
The CFP semifinal at the Sugar Bowl kicks off at 8:45 p.m. Jan. 1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in New Orleans.
Clemson is currently a three-point underdog.