By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
The 2014 football season began Monday for the Clemson football program.
On Saturday night Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff said goodbye to those players that graduated or left early to explore a future in the NFL at the annual end of the year banquet. On Monday, those returning to play football in 2014 for the Tigers were back at work as the off-season conditioning program started up in earnest.
“Listen, we have moved on,” Swinney said. “It’s about getting ready all over again. Let’s go do something special.”
It’s hard to get any more special than the 2013 season, which saw the Tigers finish No. 7 and No. 8 respectively in the Final Coaches and The Associated Press Polls. The 2013 team finished the year 11-2 and beat two top team teams for the first time since the 1981 season, which included a victory over No. 7 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 5.
“It was a great season. It truly was,” Swinney said. “We finished in the top 10 for the second time in back-to-back years and it has been a long time since that has happened. There were a lot of great accomplishments from this group, but winning the Orange Bowl was a huge deal, especially from where we were two years ago.
“There was that eight-month stretch where anytime I got with anybody outside this media base, it was always about the (2012) Orange Bowl and that one moment. Everybody always wants to talk about that one moment so it was really special to be able to celebrate with those guys because a great majority of the team was in that locker room two years ago.”
Swinney pointed out that the Tigers have done the unthinkable in a lot of people’s mind by winning 22 of their last 26 games after being embarrassed by West Virginia in that 2012 Orange Bowl. He said few outside of the program thought they would get back to the Orange Bowl that fast and few doubted they would knock off Ohio State.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” he said.
Clemson’s head coach admitted there were still some things they fell short on this past year. He acknowledged the losses to Florida State—the eventual national champion—and rival South Carolina as disappointing because the FSU loss kept them from playing for an ACC Championship and the loss to the Gamecocks was their fifth straight to their archrival and prevented them from winning the coveted state championship.
“At the end of the day, you have to give your opponents the credit and we lost to two really, really good football teams,” Swinney said.
While the Seminoles won their third national championship, South Carolina’s No. 4 final ranking was the highest in the final poll in school history.
“It’s unfortunate that the number-four ranked team was our in-state rival, and it is unfortunate that the other team we lost to won the national championship and is our big ACC rival. But at the same time they have great football teams and our guys, I loved how they competed and how they played all year.
“In those particular games, we did not get it done. Although we did some good things, we did not find ways to win those games.”
Those games are in the past though, and if defensive end Vic Beasley is returning to school for his senior year, the Tigers will welcome eight starters back on a defense that finished in the top25 in several defensive categories, including scoring and pass defense, which is good considering the offense must replace its starting quarterback, running back, two best wide receivers and its two best offensive linemen.
“Big picture wise, I think we are in good shape,” Swinney said. “I love the guys we have coming back. I’m excited about the recruiting class we are putting together and for the most part we are almost finished with. I’m really excited about what is coming down he pipeline in 2015 as we really focus on that recruiting cycle.
“So it is a good time to be a Clemson Tiger. I’m proud of our staff. I think we have a tremendous staff with great chemistry and that’s one of the main reasons why we have been able to sustain success.”