CLEMSON — Before Clemson’s Thursday night game at Wake Forest, offensive coordinator Chad Morris said the Tigers’ staff and players make a habit of watching ESPN’s Thursday night game, a practice shared by teams around the nation.
This Thursday, Clemson should be collectively glued to flat screens across campus. With two ACC games left, the Tigers must beat Maryland and N.C. State – and hope Florida State loses at either Virginia Tech or Maryland – to claim their second consecutive Atlantic Division title.
This week, the Seminoles visit Virginia Tech, and while Swinney said the game will have his team’s attention, it isn’t a be-all, end-all.
“What we’ve tried to preach is focus on things you can control,” he said. “You can have external distractions. What we focus on is our daily preparation, commitment, execution, our performance, our attention to detail. If Florida State beats Virginia Tech Thursday, nothing changes for Clemson. We’ve got a game to win. Regardless of what happens, we’ve got a ton of opportunity. We’re trying to be the best we can possibly be – that’s our goal.”
Same goes for if the Hokies upset FSU.
“If Virginia Tech wins, we’ve still got a ballgame to win and nothing will change. That shouldn’t impact our performance. If it does, we’re never going to be consistent. I don’t pay much attention to that. It could impact our standing in the conference, but in regards to (our) game, it has nothing to do with it.”
Ellington on pace: Senior tailback Andre Ellington is officially listed as “questionable” for Maryland; he tweaked a hamstring on a game-opening 26-yard run at Duke, although Swinney said Sunday he could have potentially returned.
“He is on pace to return,” Swinney said Tuesday. “We expect he’ll do a little bit more today, and he felt good this morning. We’re not going to force him into action. If he’s ready to play, he’ll play. If not, we’ll go with ( D.J. Howard and Rod McDowell). They’re more than capable of playing winning football.”
Howard and McDowell combined for 148 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries; McDowell is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and Howard 4.4.
Go ACC: In this week’s BCS standings, both Clemson and Florida State are rated lower than in traditional top-25 polls. The Tigers are No.10 in the Associated Press poll, but No.13 in the BCS. Florida State is eighth in the AP poll, No.10 in the BCS. Why? Computer rankings, which comprise one-third of the BCS formula. Florida State averages No.19 in the computer rankings, and Clemson ranks 16th.
The overall weakness of the ACC is a big reason why: FSU, Clemson and Duke are the league’s only bowl-eligible teams with three regular-season weeks remaining.
In the Sagarin top 30, four teams have strength of schedule ratings worse than No.62 nationally: Utah State (No.88), Mississippi State (No.71), Clemson (No.76) and Florida State (No.108).
Swinney doesn’t think the ACC’s overall issues weigh his team down in national perception, however.
“Florida State has recruited well and we’ve recruited well,” he said. “I’m focused on Clemson and building it into the best we can be. That’s really all my focus is. This league has beat each other up. For whatever reason, we go back and forth in this league. Virginia had lost six in a row and they go in and hang 30 on N.C. State (in a 33-6 win).”
Even at No.13, Clemson is within range for an at-large BCS bid if it beats Maryland, N.C. State and South Carolina. BCS at-large rules state a team must have at least nine wins and finish in the top 14 of the final regular-season BCS pool. Following the Duke win, junior quarterback Tajh Boyd discussed racking up “style points” to influence voters.
Swinney says his team simply wants to play its best and not be sloppy, reversing last November’s 1-2 trend.
“I want to play good football,” he said. “When people watch Clemson, I want them to say, ‘That’s a good football team – those guys have improved over the year.’ Maybe they saw us earlier in the year and they’re checking us out now and we’ve improved. I want to put a good product on the field and make Clemson the best it can be.”