Despite losing the College Football Playoff, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn’t giving up.
Dabo Swinney is fully aware of what everyone outside Clemson is saying about his programme, and they can debate whether the end is close now that the Tigers have missed the College Football Playoff for the first time in seven years all they want.
Swinney will tell you the following. On October 1, he arrived at a team meeting with a list. His squad had a 2-2 record. No one in the room had ever began their Clemson careers with two defeats in September.
Swinney had more than 30 teams on his list, all with two defeats. “We’re going to find out a lot about who we are over the next two months,” he informed his teammates.
Only two teams on that list had nine victories at the end of the regular season: Clemson and Utah. So, yeah, it wasn’t the season Clemson is used to. No, Swinney is not dissatisfied with his players, nor is he willing to admit that his programme has taken a step back.
Because when the Cheez-It Bowl starts off Wednesday night (5:45 p.m. ET, ESPN and the ESPN app), Clemson (9-3) will be attempting an 11th consecutive 10-win season against Iowa State (7-5). Only Florida State (14 from 1987 to 2000) and Alabama have ever won double digits in 11 consecutive seasons (14 from 2008 to 2021).
Swinney told ESPN, “You’re sitting there at 2-2 in September with a lot of disappointment, a lot of criticism, a lot of noise.” “And you truly saw our program’s basis shine and win the day.” I’m really incredibly happy of how it’s come together and how these people have stuck together and improved.”
Still, sceptics would argue that Swinney is just attempting to put a positive gloss on a season that began with a No. 3 preseason rating but concludes without a title for the first time since 2014. For extended periods, the offence looked extremely un-Clemson-like, beginning with quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who failed to establish any rhythm this season, tossing just nine touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
However, part of this might be attributable to significant injuries at running back and receiver. By the last week of the season, Clemson was down seven scholarship receivers.
“Every young player I’ve ever had, from Deshaun [Watson] to Trevor [Lawrence], they all made errors, but we were much better around them, and it sort of covered that up,” Swinney said. “Because we weren’t as excellent as we needed to be around D.J. early on, his errors were exaggerated.” But it has accelerated all of those other things, which I believe will really pay off for him as he progresses through his career.”
This season, the offence was not the only aspect of the club that was scrutinised. Swinney was chastised for failing to use the transfer portal to help bolster up various areas that needed depth, beginning with the offensive line.
When questioned about transfers in October, Swinney stated, “I wouldn’t do anything differently.” “[Adding a transfer] implies that I would not have accepted one of the children we have here.” There are only so many players you can sign.”
More criticism followed the departures of offensive coordinator Tony Elliott (Virginia) and defensive coordinator Brent Venables (Oklahoma) in recent weeks for head coaching positions. Swinney promoted from within, rather than a complete transformation in attitude. On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter and co-defensive coordinators Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn will make their debuts in their new roles.
Swinney has gone to great efforts to defend his programme and his way of doing things, and he is certain that the hardship his players experienced this season will help them in the long term.
Swinney said, “I believe certain things have been reset with these individuals.” “You win so often that you don’t always appreciate it.”
“What kind of difficulties have they faced, especially the seniors?” You are defeated in a playoff game. That does not constitute adversity. Six titles in a row, a slew of major triumphs along the road, a cadence of ‘This is what we do.’ It’s been interesting to connect with them in a new manner because of some of the issues we had, particularly early on, and then to see the correct things appear. ‘It either brightens you up or grinds you up,’ we say.
Swinney dismisses queries about whether this is a watershed moment in Clemson’s supremacy, citing Alabama as an example. Clemson defeated Alabama in the 2018 national title game, and the Crimson Tide did not enter the playoffs in 2019, instead facing Michigan in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl.
Swinney said, “I remember when it was going on.” “They were all saying, ‘They’re done.'” No, no, no. It’s simply that every year brings a new problem. They return the next year and win the national title because they have an excellent programme. That’s just who we are. We have a great programme. Every year we’ve been here, we haven’t won the ACC title. We’ve won it seven of the previous eleven years. I wish I could claim we won 11, but we simply went back to work those years we didn’t. We’ll continue to be one of those teams in the chase because we have a fantastic programme that is well embedded and well-established.”
Swinney can point to his seniors and draft-eligible guys as evidence. Despite the fact that they did not make the playoffs, no one opted out of the bowl game. Swinney recalls tight end Davis Allen, who just lost his grandpa but persisted on going to Orlando to play.
During a pre-game press conference, sixth-year linebacker James Skalski observed, “I believe it’s the culture of this club.” “We’ve gone to the playoffs and larger stages, but this is the first time we’ve gotten to play a game.” We all like playing ball. We like spending time together, so it wasn’t even an opt-out, like, what? That is not the case.”
Neither was going to miss the playoffs. Clemson hopes to avoid making it “a thing” in the coming years.