This past summer, during the talking season, the question was asked, “What possibly could Dabo Swinney use to motivate his football team this year?”
Clemson is the defending national champions. It’s coming off a 28-point win over Alabama in the national championship game and it returned eight starters from an offense that scored 37 points on Nick Saban’s proudful defense.
The Tigers were no longer driving the R.O.Y Bus, but instead they were driving the lead bus. A lot of the media pundits said there was no way Swinney could play the underdog card this season or say his team is being disrespected.
They were wrong.
Six weeks into the season, Swinney doesn’t have to push any buttons or say anything to fire up his team because the national media has already done it for them.
Despite a 20-game win streak, despite winning 14 games in a row by 14 or more points, despite thrashing their first four opponents by an average of 32.3 points and winning two of the last three national championships, the national media wasted little time getting on the Tigers’ case following a 21-20 victory over North Carolina on Sept. 28.
The national media has bashed Clemson, a lot, over the last nine days. Some have even said the Tigers are not a top 4 team right now, while others said they don’t even consider Clemson to be a contender in national championship race.
Clemson not only fell from No. 1 to No. 2 in the AP and Amway Coaches poll, but they lost first-place votes during an open week to an Alabama team who was also idle this past weekend.
Admittedly, the Tigers owned the fact they did not play well against the Tar Heels, but they also figured they had done enough with how they played in past performances, plus they still found a way to win a road game when they weren’t playing well, to be given the benefit of the doubt.
“If you look at that stuff, it can get frustrating,” quarterback Trevor Lawrence said Monday. “We are the only ones who really know our team and know what we are doing and how hard we are working to be the best we can be. It’s also just a learning process.
“This is a new team. It’s not the same makeup as last year. It’s nice now having everyone say we suck, so we are in the back seat. It’s nice we can go to work and not worry about the No. 1 expectation.”
Though the Tigers (5-0, 3-0 ACC) may not be No. 1 anymore, it doesn’t mean the haters out there are not waiting on them to mess up again. The perception by many in the media is if Clemson does not win by 28 points every week than something must be wrong.
“That’s what everybody expects us to do, is just to blow everyone out,” linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. “But it’s football — that doesn’t really happen with everyone. It’s not very often where a team just goes in and just kills everybody all through the year. They have scholarships just like we do, they put their shoes on and cleats on just like we do.
“So, of course the media is going to do that, just because I guess that’s what is expected. But each win is hard to come by. So, the media, whatever they want to say about it is what they say. I don’t think the team, we’re really worried about that. We know what we’ve got, and we believe we have all the ingredients that we need.”
But it doesn’t hurt to have a little extra motivation, either. The Tigers don’t think they are the underdogs, or anything like that, but they seem mad.
“I think we know what we got, but we have a chip on our shoulder for sure,” linebacker James Skalski said. “But, I think, we really believe in what we got and what we can do.”
Skalski is under the impression the national media does not like Clemson because they keep winning and they keep beating powerhouse teams like Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame in the process.
“I don’t think anyone wants to see Little Ole Clemson dominating like we have,” Skalski said. “We just have to keep doing us and just keep believing and working, and everything will play out like it should.”
Clemson, a 27-point favorite, hosts Florida State Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
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