Deshaun Watson has said one of the reasons he came to Clemson was so he can help win championships.
Last year he and No. 4 Clemson did exactly that. The Tigers first took home the ACC’s Atlantic Division Title, won the state championship with a win over rival South Carolina, and followed that up with a win over North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game.
Clemson then advanced to the College Football Playoff where it defeated Oklahoma in the semifinals at the Orange Bowl.
However, the last two times the Tigers have had an opportunity to win a championship, they failed to cash in. Alabama used a couple of special teams blunders to rob Clemson of a national championship in last year CFP Championship Game, and then just last week two red zone interceptions did the Tigers in against Pittsburgh when they had a chance to clinch the ACC Atlantic Division Championship at home.
Now, with a berth in the ACC Championship Game at stake, Clemson must go on the road and face a Wake Forest team that would love nothing more than to spoil the Tigers aspirations, while dashing their playoff dreams.
In a way, the playoffs begin tonight at Wake Forest (7 o’clock, ESPN).
“We are fortunate that we get another chance. But they have earned that. They have played well all year,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
The Tigers (9-1, 6-1 ACC) earned it by winning their first nine games and climbing to No. 2 in the College Football Playoff Committee Poll. Along the way, they won at No. 15 Auburn, beat No. 5 Louisville and won at No. 17 Florida State.
Despite the loss to Pitt, Clemson remained in the top 4 of the playoff committee’s poll and still controls its own destiny when it comes to making the CFP.
And though Clemson earned the right to be in a position to win a championship, it still has to go out and earn it, and that’s something, according to Swinney, they did not do against Pitt.
“The one thing that they know from last week, and the thing that we talk about week in and week out, is that you have to earn it. You have to play well,” Swinney said.
The Tigers did not play well at all against Pitt. Besides the offense’s three turnovers, the defensive was penalized in key situations and gave up 43 points. Even Swinney and the coaching staff took the blame with a questionable pass call on second-and-goal from the three, which resulted in an interception and then the two short-yardage calls on third-and-fourth down that allowed Pitt to take the ball and drive for what turned out to be the game-winning kick.
“We are going to have to play much better this weekend, especially being on the road up there against a team that is much improved,” Swinney said. “Defensively, they will be a big challenge for us. We all know what we gotta do.”
They have to go earn a championship.