ORLANDO, Fla. — There is no substitute for experience.
It’s that experience third-ranked Clemson hopes gives them an edge when they take on No. 18 Virginia Tech in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. With the exception of a couple of freshman on offense and defense this year, the majority of the Clemson football team played in last year’s run the College Football Playoff national championship game.
Part of that run was playing in and winning last year’s ACC Championship Game.
“I think the experience that they’ve drawn from last year of playing in this 13th game is, you know, priceless,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said during Friday’s ACC Championship press conferences. “I think experience is your greatest teacher and we’ve got great leadership that is doing an unbelievable job in leading our young team, because we’ve got a bunch of young guys, bunch of guys that didn’t play last year, a bunch of freshman that are helping us and these seniors and juniors have done an outstanding job.”
The Tigers (11-1) can also draw from last year’s experiences when it comes to the so-called pressure being placed on them. Many wonder if the pressure of having to win to make the College Football Playoff for a second straight year might be too much.
However, Clemson won eight games last season ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, including a victory over Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl so playing with a lot of pressure is not really anything new for most of the Tigers.
“They all know it’s a big game. They don’t live in a cave, but I try to make sure we’re having some fun along the way,” Swinney said. “Let’s make it about Clemson. Let’s stay focused on what’s real, what’s not real.”
Some thought Clemson was being weighed down by some of the pressure in the last two regular season games, but the Tigers went out and took care of business in soundly beating Wake Forest, 35-13, and by destroying archrival South Carolina, 56-7.
“Our staff does a great job of getting our players ready to win games. There are still things we’ve got to correct. We lost a game, but there was a lot of good. So we grow every week.
“We truly try to keep a windshield mentality of what’s next, all right? Let’s just lock into that and just stay and keep a daily focus. We don’t really vary. We have a lot of consistency as far as how we game plan, how we get ready as a staff, and the same thing on how we practice. I think that gives our guys confidence.”
Swinney says it all starts with how they approach each and every game.
They really truly believe they’ll follow through with the things we’re asking them to do on a daily basis. When they leave to go to the hotel on Fridays, they’re ready and they put in the work,” he said. “So we just try to stay focused on the moment and not get distracted by that and then you have a lot of communication that has to go on within your program. You know things like leadership meetings on Mondays and Fridays. We have what we call the council meeting on Tuesdays. And so we have a lot of communication that goes on and makes sure that we provide good leadership within that locker room and that those guys have the right message.”
That message … draw from past experiences and play hard on every down and through every whistle.
“I think the experience for our team last year was tremendous,” Swinney said. “You know, we don’t really do anything different. It’s just it’s the next game. I mean, it’s the championship game. There is no next Saturday, but as far as our preparation, we don’t really do anything different. It’s the same as far as how we get ready.
“We truly believe every game is a championship game. That’s how you get to these type games, you know you have to have that mentality all throughout the season because if you don’t, then you have a hard time getting to this spot. The biggest difference is, you know, these guys know that truly, every play Saturday night is a championship play and somebody’s going to hold the trophy up when the game is over. There is no game next week.”