By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
When he officially became the head coach at Clemson in December of 2008, Dabo Swinney remembers being asked about playing Georgia this year, and how big of a game it was going to be for the program.
“I was just hoping I could live until 2013, you know. That was the furthest thing from my mind at the time, but that is the significance of this game,” Swinney said from his media golf outing Tuesday from The Reserve on Lake Keowee.
Swinney said he remembers watching those epic Clemson and Georgia battles of the late 1970s through the 1980s when the two teams spilt 11 meetings 5-5-1. The average margin of victory in those 11 games was four points.
“There is a tremendous amount of history,” he said. “It has been neat to kind of watch it unfold, and again, all the way back to when I first got this job, people have been talking about this game. Now fast forward four years and both teams finished in the top 10, it’s Clemson-Georgia, GameDay, ESPN, night game and all that stuff. It makes it exciting.
“Our players don’t live in a cave. They understand the importance of this game.”
And because the players understand that, Swinney says it is even more important the players don’t lose focus on the big picture, which is the season as a whole and what they can accomplish this year.
“You have to be careful in games like this,” he said. “If you put everything else into this game and it is the ‘win all or else’ type of deal and you win the game, well if you don’t manage it the right way it can become a letdown and then it is that rollercoaster deal and vice versa.”
It’s no secret both Georgia and Clemson enter the 2013 season with big aspirations. Both will come into the game ranked in the top 10, and the winner will surely get itself off to a good start. But Swinney’s says his team has to be cautious that a loss would not end any of their dreams and goals they have set.
“Both of us hope to be in that top 10 and competing for the whole thing when it is all said and done,” Swinney said. “The winner of this game is not guaranteed a slot and the loser of this game is not guaranteed to be out of it. All you have to do is go look at the last couple of years.
“Georgia lost an emotional game early last year, but they were five yards away from playing for the national title. Alabama has won (the national championship) two years in a row, and lost at home in November. So the key thing is to stay focused on the right things and that is your commitment, your preparation, your work ethic and what our formula for success as we have defined at Clemson is. The rest of it will take care of itself. You have to keep it all in perspective.”
For Clemson, that means approaching every game the same.
“The opening game at Clemson and in this part of the country is big,” Swinney said. “People love college football and they want to get going. They don’t care who you play. I tell our team all the time, everybody is a faceless, nameless opponent. We are playing Clemson every week. That’s who we are playing.
“That is our toughest opponent every single week. That is the mentality I have tried to engrain in these guys so they are not up this week and down the next week. ‘Oh this is a big game,’ and ‘this isn’t a big game.’ When the scoreboard lights up, it is big, regardless of what the name on the jersey is.”
But, there is no questioning that the name on the jersey in Week 1 says Georgia and Clemson’s players and coaches are fully aware of that.
“There is so much more noise from a national standpoint surrounding the game than maybe if you were playing someone who was a non-BCS type of opponent,” Swinney said. “That’s the biggest difference, and then you throw in the fact that it is Georgia. This is Clemson-Georgia.”