It's only two days into the bowl-season preseason, and I'm weary of some of the storylines already.
Can the Tigers, 10-2 and unhappy as they are, take advantage of another chance against the almighty SEC?
Can Clemson, after 'pulling a Clemson' or 'pulling an FSU' or 'pulling an ACC' or whatever they did against South Carolina, validate their season by finding some way to beat LSU?
Should Dabo Swinney be considered a coach on the 'hot seat' if his team has another poor bowl showing?
Can the Tigers take advantage of their chance to 'make a statement?'
I suppose, still nearly a month before kickoff, we have to talk, and write, about something.
And maybe I'm just a grumpy old man with a cold in my nose.
For what it's worth, here's my take:
Swinney's Tigers are an ongoing work-in-progress.
They're not 'there' yet, wherever 'there' is.
They're not quite good enough yet to beat South Carolina, which got at least a three-year jump on this serious improvement thing.
They may not be good enough to beat LSU, which played for the national championship a year ago, entered this season ranked No. 1, and is only a play or two away from playing for the national championship again.
But they're getting better.
Swinney needs more, and better, defensive linemen and defensive backs. And another year of seasoning on the offensive line. And he needs to win a recruiting war or two for the likes of Georgia's Todd Gurley, who appeared Clemson-bound for months before signing with the Bulldogs.
The Tigers won't magically arrive at their destination on New Year's Eve, even if they beat LSU.
Clemson's growth into a consistent national contender is not a one-and-done deal. To get where the program wants to go, Clemson has to start beating South Carolina again, it has to start beating the likes of LSU and Georgia. I offer no argument on those points.
But just as importantly, the Tigers have to keep doing the things they've done with increasing consistency over the past three seasons: compete for the ACC division and conference titles (that, in reality, is where the Tigers live), don't lose to teams that aren't as good as themselves (they laid no eggs this year, they had one stinker game last year, a couple in 2010, and one in 2009); recruit head-to-head and win their share against the nation's elite (which Swinney's staff has done and is doing); develop talent and execute a well-designed strategic plan under the guidance of highly-competent and correspondingly well-compensated coaches; use facility upgrades to their advantage in both recruiting and preparation; hold up their academic and social obligations in a manner congruent with the goals and objectives of the university and the community.
Swinney bristled a bit Monday when he was asked whether the Chick-fil-A Bowl game against LSU affords an opportunity for the Tigers to change the perception about Clemson's readiness to play 'Big Boy Football' on a national stage.
There's no need for that, either.
Swinney is the one who has set the standard, both in terms of expectations for his team and fan expectation, and he's stated both plainly on multiple occasions. And neither the fans, nor media, are necessarily dismissing or undervaluing what he's already done when questions are asked about the goals that have yet to be achieved.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl is the next opportunity for the Tigers to go do what Swinney has been growing them to do for the last three and a half years.
Nothing less, nothing more.
Either way, there will be a next time, when next time comes, it will be the Tigers' job to do it again.
This is, indeed, a 'statement game.'
Just like they all are.