Playing for another ACC Championship
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is not surprised that for a third year in a row, his Clemson Tigers will play for another ACC Championship.
The top-ranked Tigers will do that today when they play No. 7 Miami in the ACC Championship Game (8 p.m.) at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
This year’s Clemson team took a different path to get to Charlotte than the previous two ACC Champions.
The last two seasons, the Tigers won thanks to the arm of Deshaun Watson and his ability to find wide receivers like Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, along with tight end Jordan Leggett. This year’s team has won with defense and a strong running game led by a quarterback in Kelly Bryant who refused to listen to all the naysayers about his ability and has simply just won.
“What I love about Kelly is for two years he had a front row seat to a phenomenal player in Deshaun Watson, who is also a 10-star person,” Swinney said. “But how he prepared, how he got ready, how he handled the bright lights, how you handled failure, how he handled criticism, just his weekly commitment, his preparation, all of those things. I think he really took note of that, just learned a lot.
“He put the work in. He prepared every week to go be the guy, even though he probably wasn’t going to play, barring an injury. I think that has paid off for him.”
And it has paid off for the Tigers (11-1) who once again are sitting at the top of the College Football World with a an opportunity to win the program’s third straight ACC Championship for the first time since the 1986-’88 era and advance to the College Football Playoff for a third consecutive year.
“I am pleased and proud of the performance and effort put forth by our players and our staff,” Swinney said. “I’m not surprised (to be here) because, to be honest with you, this is what we expect. It’s a mentality, it’s a mindset, it’s our culture.
“I mean, we’ve won 81 games in seven years. These guys think they’re supposed to win. That’s where it starts. You got to win in the mind before you win anywhere. Our guys, they just believe and they think they’re supposed to win. When we don’t win, you know, it’s like, ‘Wow, we lost, okay. Why did we lose? Let’s go back to work.’”
Swinney says his team never loses focus, even when they lost at Syracuse and everyone was wondering what was wrong. The Tigers kept their mind and eyes on the prize and have won five straight games by an average margin of 24 points.
“I think that’s, again, a credit to just the culture that we have that’s been established over the last eight years,” Swinney said. “Then recruiting and developing your players.
“In college football, you’re going to have guys leave every year, you’re going to have turnover. Guys, man, they got it, and they take that with them. Now you got new guys who don’t have it, and you’ve got to start over every single year with who you are, why you do it that way, what are your core values, just really install all of that. That’s what we do.”
And that once again has the Tigers’ playing for another ACC Championship and possibly even more.
“We’ve recruited well. I think we’ve evaluated and developed well,” Swinney said. “We’ve gotten the right guys to help us sustain and maintain some consistency in our program.”
—Photo Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports