CLEMSON — This week, Clemson is back on the radar of college football fans across the nation.
The Tigers are 4-0. They’re exciting. In the last two weeks, they’ve taken out the defending national champions (Auburn) and the team many picked to win the ACC (Florida State).
They’ve risen to No.13 in the Associated Press poll, and the spotlight only gets hotter when they travel to No.11 Virginia Tech – also 4-0 – at 6 p.m. Saturday.
It smacks of overnight success, especially with Chad Morris, one year away from coaching high school football, at the helm of the newly explosive offense.
Dabo Swinney suggests it is anything but that.
“We’ve been working here not to get here for four weeks,” he said Saturday night. “We’ve been working to get here for two years.”
Two years ago, Swinney rode the legs of C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford to an ACC Atlantic Division title.
Now, the Tigers have the speed and explosive pieces back in their offense lost when those stars left for the NFL, and they’re doubly dangerous, thanks to a system that actually fits their talents.
Sammy Watkins is the best freshman receiver in America, and one of the top receivers, period; his speed and toughness make him a gamebreaking threat on any play, just like Spiller.
DeAndre Hopkins is a physical, tough wideout who’d be the No.1 target in any non-Watkins offense in America.
Dwayne Allen is an athletic tight end who is finally developing into an everyday threat, team leader and major target over the middle.
And don’t forget Andre Ellington, who gutted through a pulled hamstring for 71 yards and a touchdown Saturday.
Combined with a veteran offensive line which still hasn’t hit on all cylinders this season, Morris’ offense is flat scary. Saturday, it ripped a talented FSU defense for 455 yards and 35 points.
This was what Swinney imagined when he held back scholarships in 2009 for a loaded 2011 class, perhaps without last fall’s 6-7 slog.
“We’re just a better team,” he said. “Two years ago we were pretty good, we won this division. … It’s a process. The recruiting, our coaching staff, the attitude and overall commitment of players. It’s the fact that they’ve bought in and believed allowed us to be where we are.”
Most local observers projected they’d be better with Morris and the talent infusion inked in February, but did anyone think they’d be this good, this fast?
And did anyone at all think it nationally?
“I like how they’ve refused to listen to the negativity and naysayers,” Swinney said, “and there’s been plenty since last January.”
At the same time, he wants his players to stay humble, saying “everything would be wiped off the board at 6:30 a.m. Monday” when Virginia Tech preparations begin.
That’s a smart move.
This isn’t an overnight success, and as Morris’ mentor, Gus Malzahn, has proved, his system can work at college football’s highest level.
Swinney’s plan and his staff’s hard work has paid off beautifully.
But as Swinney saw five years ago, sudden success can come crashing down quickly in Blacksburg.
To stay on the radar, his team would be wise to remember that.