Clemson may have fallen short of its first goal this season, but the sixth-ranked Tigers are officially on the clock when it comes to the pursuit of their next one.
And given recent history, Clemson fully expects to get everyone’s best shot along the way.
Team goals laid out by head coach Dabo Swinney at the start of each season start with winning the opener, something the Tigers weren’t able to do in a 10-3 loss to Georgia in a top-5 matchup two weeks ago. Next up? Winning the Atlantic Coast Conference, which, if it’s going to happen, has to start with winning the Atlantic Division.
After a 49-3 tuneup against in-state FCS foe South Carolina State over the weekend, the Tigers will get started in that endeavor Saturday when Georgia Tech visits Memorial Stadium for both teams’ ACC opener. The Yellow Jackets started the third season of the Geoff Collins era with a loss to Northern Illinois before beating an FCS opponent of its own, Kennesaw State, last week.
“We’ve been in a lot of big-time postseason games around here for a long time now, and the only reason that’s happened is we’ve been able to win this league,” Swinney said. “So everything for us is inside-out, and it’s about winning this league.”
Saturday is a chance for the Tigers to get off on the right foot in their chase for a seventh straight ACC championship. Clemson is 45-3 against league opponents since beginning that streak during the 2015. The last time the Tigers lost to a regular member of the conference (which doesn’t count last season’s loss to Notre Dame) was at Syracuse on Oct. 13, 2017.
“Our next goal is to win the division, so this is the first step toward winning the division,” receiver Beaux Collins said.
Collins, a true freshman, is one of the few players on Clemson’s roster that has yet to be a part of a conference-title team, but he said there is “most definitely” an understanding within the locker room that the Tigers are once again starting their league slate as the hunted.
“I feel like throughout the whole year, no matter who we play, it’s going to be like that,” Collins said. “Even starting this year with Georgia, we had a huge target on our back.”
Unlike most years, though, Clemson isn’t heading into ACC play as an unbeaten. The defense has yet to allow a touchdown. But with quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei going through his first season as the full-time starter and a committee of backs taking over for the departed Travis Etienne, the Tigers rank 87th nationally in scoring (26 points per game) and 93rd in total offense (393 yards) after two games.
“Just going through the ACC, there are teams that have had success in the past and feel like they could probably finally get us this year,” Collins said. “There’s going to be a whole lot of teams that think they have a chance against us and things like that. We just have to stay ready, not play to opponents and just be Clemson at the end of the day.”
Running back Kobe Pace said it’s up to this year’s version of the Tigers to show they’re still the class of the conference starting Saturday.
“We’re always going to have a target on our back just because of the things we’ve done in the past, but we’ve still got to out there and prove it every weekend,” Pace said.
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!