Just like everybody else out there, No. 5 Clemson is ready to tee the football up and kick off the season. The defending national champions will get that opportunity on Saturday when they host Kent State at Death Valley in the season opener for both schools.
“We’re finally excited to have game week here and an opportunity to go play somebody,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on Wednesday during the ACC Coaches’ Teleconference. “Let’s kick this thing off. I’m looking forward to watching our team play. Every team is different, and there is an identity that develops throughout the course of the season.”
Last year, the Tigers opened the season at Auburn and came away with a hard fought 19-13 victory. It marked the first time Clemson won at Auburn since 1950 and the first time it opened a season with a road win over an SEC opponent since 1903.
But don’t think for a second the Auburn win demonstrated to Swinney what kind of team he was going to have in 2016.
“I think that those games, if you played one of those games, they’re really hard,” he said. “You don’t have near as much room for error and things like that. But as far as finding out about your team, I don’t think that you know everything about your team either way.
“Whether it’s opening up with Auburn or opening up with Kent State, you’ve still got a lot to learn. There is a lot to emerge either way. You really do. So it’s just the course of the season, but the first few weeks, I think you’ll start to see an identity of who you are and what you’ve got and you go from there.”
Under Swinney, Clemson is 7-1 in season openers. The one loss came at Georgia in 2014. The Tigers were worn down in the second half as the Bulldogs literally ran away for a 45-21 victory. However, Clemson bounced back and still had a 10-3 season and ended the year as the No. 1 ranked defense in the country.
“Guys are so excited to go play, it doesn’t matter if it’s Florida State or Kent State,” Swinney said. “When you’ve spent a month just looking at each other and practicing with each other, you’re so excited to go play and you want to perform.”
Swinney has enjoyed watching the 2017 team this off-season and he can’t wait to see what they do this coming season. Clemson is replacing six starters on offense, including at quarterback where Kelly Bryant beat out freshmen Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson for the starting job.
Wide receivers Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain, running back C.J. Fuller, tight end Milan Richard and center Justin Falcinelli are the other new starters. In all, the Tigers lost 78 percent of its offensive production from 2016 … only two of the 130 FBS schools lost more.
“They’ve put the work in, and I’m excited for a lot of these guys’ opportunities,” Swinney said. “They’re guys that a lot of people don’t know about right now, but I think they are poised to go have good years for us here at Clemson.
“So we’re just ready to go. We’re a team that has a lot of spots to fill, especially on the offensive side. Again, I think we’re as prepared as we could possibly be, and now the next step is just to go play.”
Clemson and Kent State will kick off at noon on ESPN.