Clemson’s Dabo Swinney said this year’s Tigers squad is the easiest team he’s had to coach, and it just may be the key to a College Football Playoff run.
Clemson (9-0, 6-0 ACC) is coming off of a 54-0 shutout victory over Syracuse last week, which is quite the accomplishment considering the Tigers had to deal with an injury to Deshaun Watson, who had two touchdown passes and ran for a third before leaving the win with a bruised right shoulder. Head coach Dabo Swinney maintains that the injury will not prevent Watson from facing Pitt this week, as the Tigers look to return to the College Football Playoff for a second straight season.
But first things first in Death Valley. Clemson still needs to take care of business in its own division and conference before even considering claiming its first national championship in football since 1981.
The immediate task involves winning the ACC Atlantic division crown, which would put the Tigers in the league title game in Orlando. Slotted at No. 2 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, Swinney and Co. will unquestionably earn a spot to the national semifinals as an unbeaten ACC champion.
During Wednesday’s weekly ACC coaches teleconference, Swinney was asked what he finds most satisfying and encouraging about the journey this year’s team is on.
“Just the consistency from day one, this has been the easiest team I’ve had to coach,” Swinney said. “It’s been the [most fun] team I’ve had to coach. The leadership has been unbelievable, and just very little drama or distractions with this team at all. They have been tremendous. Very accountable to one another.
“When they’ve showed up to practice, they’ve been locked in,” he continued. “We’ve had very few days when I’ve walked off the practice field, all the way back to last spring and our off-season where I just felt like, ‘Man, we weren’t locked in today.’ These guys have really bought into what we do and how we do it.
“It’s just been a fun team.”
That fun will likely continue this week with Watson at the helm against a Pitt secondary that has been lit up on a weekly basis, with the latest coming at the hands of Miami’s Brad Kaaya. The Hurricanes signal-caller passed for 356 yards and four touchdowns against Pat Narduzzi’s team, as the 23-point ‘Canes victory was the largest margin of defeat for the Panthers since a 56-28 setback to Georgia Tech on Oct. 25, 2014.
While Clemson has had its share of scares and was on the cusp of getting upset at home by NC State earlier this fall, the Tigers have shown their championship mettle when they needed to the most. And it has set up an exciting end of the season for the team’s coaches, players, fans and alumni.
No matter how many mistake-filled or crazy games Swinney’s squad finds itself in, there never seems to be any doubt creeping into the minds of anyone associated with the program.
“The [players] have a rock-solid belief that they’re going to win, and they’re willing to do what it takes,” Swinney said. “They trust each other. They complement each other well. Sometimes they’ve got to compensate for each other, but they don’t panic. They just keep playing, so I love that mentality with these guys.”