Quietly, without anyone noticing, Dabo Swinney built a giant in college football.
Back in 2011, when Clemson won its first ACC Championship in 20 years, most college football fans acknowledged the accomplishment but perhaps thought, “Okay. Clemson finally lived up to its potential and won a conference title. That’s nice.” After that, they did not give it another thought.
When Clemson took down Les Miles and LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl the following year, people again noticed, but no one outside the state of South Carolina thought anything of it. Then the Tigers toppled big-bad Ohio State and three-time national championship Urban Meyer the following season, and that turned some heads.
Still, when Clemson played Notre Dame in 2015, not many fans, experts or national media realized what was about to happen in the small town located in the northwest corner of South Carolina. Quietly, Swinney built the Clemson program into one of college football’s elite programs.
When Clemson thrashed Oklahoma later that year in the 2016 Orange Bowl and then took mighty Alabama to the brink in the national championship game, the Tigers had everyone’s attention then.
Even though there were still a few non-believers the following year, everyone knew what Dabo Swinney and Clemson had when the Tigers shutout Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and then beat the Crimson Tide to win the program’s first national title in 35 years.
Now, as second-ranked Clemson embarks on a new season, everyone knows about Clemson. It can’t hide anymore.
It can’t play the David vs. Goliath card anymore. The Tigers are no longer the underdog. Instead they, along with Alabama, are the standard in college football.
“It is different than it was back in 2009, 2010, and 2011,” Swinney said.
It’s different because the Tigers are now the hunted, instead of being the hunter. On fall Saturday afternoons, teams are gunning for Clemson, because a win over the Tigers can be a program changer.
“Really since (2011) we’ve been pretty good,” Swinney said.
Actually, the Tigers have been great!
Since the 2011 season, only Alabama and Clemson have won 10 games for seven straight seasons. Since then, Clemson is 82-15, has won three more ACC Championships and has been ranked in 108 of the last 115 weekly polls.
“We’re the second winningest team in the last eight years,” Swinney said. “It just has taken some people longer to figure out that we are pretty good. We’re just operating the way we’ve always operated. We’ve been in the top 10 for 45 weeks in a row … us and Alabama. The next closest team is about 20 weeks. It’s really just business as usual for us.”
However, Clemson just can’t go about its business quietly anymore.