Earlier this week, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said the team he has this year has a chance to be, potentially, the best he has ever coached.
Of course, that is saying something considering two of Swinney’s teams have won national championships, two others have played for a national title and a total of six have captured ACC Championships. The Tigers have also appeared in the College Football Playoff in each of the last five years, played in Orange Bowls, Sugar Bowls, Fiesta Bowls and the Cotton Bowl during Swinney’s tenure.
Saturday morning on “The Huddle” on ACC Network, analysts Eric Mac Lain, E.J. Manuel and Mark Richt weighed in on whether this year’s Clemson team could indeed be Swinney’s finest.
Mac Lain, an offensive lineman for the Tigers from 2011-15, when they won two conference championships and made a national championship appearance, said he had to “pump the brakes” on Swinney’s comments when he heard them and actually reached out to Swinney for his opinion on why the 2020 Clemson squad could be his best.
“I’m like, hold on, there were some really good teams to wear that Tiger Paw, and to dub these guys No. 1 right off the bat is a little bit interesting,” Mac Lain said. “So, I had to hit up Coach Swinney and say, ‘Why do you feel this way, why are you so confident about this team?’ And he said, hey, when you have such a great culture in place and you go through some unexpected adversity – a la COVID-19, a la all these horrible social injustices – it galvanizes your team much quicker.
“So, imagine these guys are playing in Week 7 in Week 1 – the leadership, the young talent … And Coach Swinney said ‘this might be the best young talent that we have ever had.’ So, everyone I’m sure is very excited to see that translate to the field.”
Richt, the former Georgia and Miami head coach, has a difficult time imagining this could be Swinney’s best team ever due to the fact Clemson has four new starters on the offensive line. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility and does expect the Tigers to get off to a fast start in 2020.
“We’re talking about Clemson being maybe the best team ever, and when you lose four offensive linemen, it’s hard to think that you could have your best team ever,” Richt said. “But it’s possible when you have a quarterback who gets the ball out quickly. These guys are going to be hitting the ground on all cylinders, on both sides of the ball. Continuity with the staff, great players, veteran players and great young ones on the way. And if we think this is the best team ever, wait till next year – they might even be better. So, it’s just going to be fun to watch these cats play.”
Manuel believes Clemson is well-equipped to handle the unique challenges this college football season presents because of how much talent and depth the Tigers have across the board.
Said Manuel: “You look at the second- to third-stringers, guys who will be called on this year because say if someone goes down with an injury or the COVID-19 protocol and they can’t play, that second- to third-string guy can step right in and fill that void, and that’s why I think Clemson is such a strong football team because they’re two, three deep at most positions.”
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