Though a lot of people think Clemson is going to roll through the Atlantic Coast Conference this year, Dabo Swinney doesn’t see it that way. The Tigers’ head coach feels the conference, and the Atlantic Division in particular, is going to be as tough as ever.
“It’s a challenge every year,” Swinney said. “You’re talking about a league that’s had twenty-one bowl teams in the past two seasons, so very deep. We had ten bowl teams last year, eleven the year before. I think that’s a record of any conference, so that tells you the depth of our league, first of all.”
Florida State, who is still loaded with talent, has a new coach in Willie Taggart and new enthusiasm in the program. NC State returns a lot of offensive weapons, including quarterback Ryan Finley. Wake Forest is coming off an eight-win season and Boston College has 18 starters back from a team that surprised most everyone by going to a bowl game last season.
“Man, Coach (Dave) Clawson up at Wake Forest, and the job he’s done. Steve (Addazio) at BC, man, I think they’re going to be a really good team. Dave Doeren has done a phenomenal job up at NC State. That’s a few plays every single year,” Swinney said. “Obviously with Florida State, with Willie coming in there, I think he’s a great fit for Florida State, and he’s a winner. He’s won everywhere he’s been. No real reason to think that he’s not going to get them going.
“This is a job where he’s got really all the resources to be successful, and I don’t have any doubt he will. They’ve always got players, always got talent … so very, very difficult.”
Syracuse is the only team from the Atlantic Division the last three seasons to beat Clemson, when the Orange upset them at the Carrier Dome last October. The Orange returns 15 starters, including quarterback Eric Dungey.
Dungey threw for 278 yards and three touchdowns, while running for another 61 in the Orange’s 27-24 upset of then second-ranked Clemson.
“He has got moxie and toughness and just — the kid is a player,” Swinney said. “He is a very good player. I was hoping he might leave early. But heck, he’s back.”
Though Swinney forgot about Louisville at first, he quickly remembered, especially considering the Tigers and Cardinals played to the final possession for three straight years before the Tigers’ 26-point win at Cardinals Stadium last year.
“Our division is tough. It’s going to be a battle to the end,” Swinney said.
The Tigers also have to play rival Georgia Tech and Duke, who has 17 starters back, from the Coastal Division. In all, six of Clemson’s eight ACC opponents played in a bowl game, while three won eight games or more.
“It’s incredibly competitive. You’d better show up and get better,” Swinney said. “You’d better show up and be ready.”
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