Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney met with the media that cover the Atlantic Coast Conference earlier this week in his weekly teleconference as he previewed Saturday’s top 5 showdown between No. 5 Florida State and No. 3 Clemson. Swinney answered questions about the matchup, FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, Tajh Boyd and what this game can mean to the ACC.
Opening statement: Good to be back with y’all this week. There is just a lot of excitement in the air, huge challenge this week for us. You know, this has been one of those games that I know a lot of people have been looking forward to for really the whole season and it’s just, again, for us, it’s the biggest game of the year, just like every week. But this is easily the biggest challenge that we’ve had with that type of philosophy. These guys, it’s a great football team, and as I said in my press conference here, very well could be the best team in the country, who knows. Very talented offense, defense, kicker is having a great year and quarterback is playing at an incredible level. You know, it’s a division game so there’s just a lot to learn and two Top-5 teams, I think that’s a special opportunity for both teams to be a part of a game like that, and defensively, very impressed with their personnel. They are explosive and balanced, special teams have dangerous returners and they hurt us in that area last year so it was a big difference in that game. Overall, again, just our most complete challenge that we are going to have here and we are going to have to play a great ballgame but looking forward to it and continue our week of preparation.
Q. If you had one word to describe the way your defense is playing right now, what would it be and why?
COACH SWINNEY: Consistent. They are playing very consistent for us. We have had five straight games now that we have been stingy with points. We have been holding opponents to 14 or less in these five games, that has not happened since 1989 or 1990, so just being very consistent, much more consistent with our execution, and we’ve still got some things that we have got to improve upon, but that’s the biggest thing. Last year at this time, we were very inconsistent from an execution standpoint and just doing all the little things that we needed to do. But that’s been the biggest improvement. Guys are where they are supposed to be and have a good feel playing with high energy and we are just much more experienced on that side of the ball than we’ve been in a while.
Q. In terms of the Coaches Poll, are you in favor of the BCS only making one-third of the standings?
COACH SWINNEY: I could really care less about all that stuff, because I don’t have any control over that. I think the Coaches Poll is good. All those formulas and how they figure out all that stuff, I don’t waste two seconds trying to put any energy into that. All I know is if we win our games, then good things happen, and I can live with whatever the results are. Just that’s the only focus I’ve got is just trying to win games.
Q. For the coaches that do the poll, how much thought and time do you think they put into the poll?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I’m one of them. I try to take pride in it. I’ve got a good feel for teams, especially the early part of the year, I don’t think anybody really knows, but I try to keep up with it. You know, I’ll take some time Saturday night and really kind of study a little bit and see who did what from my previous week’s poll, and I do it. Been doing it now for the last couple years, so I try to take some pride in it, but I can’t speak for everybody else.
Q. Florida State has always been a big game for your program but what does it mean to be now hosting a game where both teams are ranked so high?
COACH SWINNEY: It’s great. These are the type of games that you want to be a part of, whether you’re a player or a coach. You want to be at the highest level and be in the game. So it’s a lot of fun to be a part of it, and you know, this is our fourth Top-10 match up in our last nine games, including we played three in a row at one stretch. So our guys understand what comes with this type of matchup and the stage that you get. It’s fun. It’s exciting. You know, every week for us, again, is the biggest game of the year but some are just a little more special. You don’t get an opportunity to have this type of match up every single week. Some games you’ve got a little more room for error. This is one of them where you don’t have much room, very, very small margin for error. But again, that’s what makes college football great, and it’s great for our conference. We’re sitting here with three undefeated Top-10 teams. I think we are the only league out there that’s got three undefeated teams, and to have two of them have to match up, and not only match up and play, but be in the same division, I think it’s great. I don’t have any doubt that regardless of the outcome of this game, Clemson and Florida State are going to be very much in the picture the rest of the year. This is two really good football teams that are going to do everything they can to win this game and have a hard-fought game, I’m sure.
Q. As you’ve gone higher and higher, over the years, was Florida State, given all the success they have had in the ACC and nationally, were they the kind of program that you’ve looked up to a little bit?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I know when I came to Clemson when I first got here in 2003, Florida State was just kind of the standard at that time. When they were joining the league, they had quite a run going there under Coach Bowden. They had, I don’t know, 13, 14, 15 years or so of winning ten-plus games and certainly one of the best teams in the country and a couple national championships to go along with it. They certainly were kind of the standard. But Clemson has a great tradition, as well. We’ve won more ACC titles than anybody, Florida State is second. So two great, traditional teams within this conference and also nationally. It’s good for Clemson to be back where we want to be as a program and that’s being one of those top teams every year that’s consistently competing at a high level and consistently in the mix. You know, you get a little luck, catch a break here or there, you have that special year. But we want to be one of those teams that year-in, year-out, Clemson comes to everybody’s mind. Our brand is out there, and when people sit down to write out their Top-10, Top-15, we are one of those teams that should be there, along with Florida State.
Q. You talked a little about Tajh Boyd yesterday and the effect he’s had on your program. Can you talk about what he’s meant to the program and the lasting effect a guy like that can have on your team, even when he’s gone?
COACH SWINNEY: He’s part of the bricks and mortar around here. He and I came in here together. I mean, we started together. 2009 was his first season, my first full season; he redshirted that year. My big thing with him was I’ve got this job and here’s the vision for the program. I didn’t really have a track record at the time as a head coach obviously and I was like, you know what I need a quarterback, somebody I can build this thing around. He trusted me and he came here, and like I said, he’s been a part of all the bricks and mortar that’s taken place. And we’ve really built a great foundation over the last four years, a great foundation that can sustain consistent success; so that when Tajh Boyd is no longer here, we can continue to do well. It’s been a great journey to watch that young man come in here and have the type of career that he’s had, grow into the man that he is and just embrace being the starting quarterback at Clemson like he has. He’s been such a great ambassador, and his impact and legacy will last a long, long time here at Clemson University. There’s no doubt about that. We’re very proud of him.
Q. You have three games in the Top-10, I think four in the Top-16; is this all indicative of the ACC making a move nationally? Do you feel this is a game-changing season so far where you guys can really take off and strengthen yourself as a conference?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, that’s what we’ve been needing as far as from a national standpoint. Listen, our league has been good, and there’s been a lot of good football played. It’s just been very – there’s been a lot of parity. We haven’t produced a dominant team, the 12-0, 13-1, whatever, 11-1 type team like some other conferences have always had one or two teams that have at the end of the year been there. So, it’s good, because we need — at the end of the year, we need to have a couple of teams vying for the BCS bids. This is the type of conference that it is. And again, it’s good to see us starting to develop some of those teams that have separated a little bit, but it’s a long way to go and have to be consistent with that. But proud of our conference and what’s going on and hopefully at the end of the year, we’ll have a couple teams playing in those BCS Bowls, because that’s the type of recognition that you want for your conference.