Preview: Twin SEC tests determine perception of '13 Clemson success

Clemson interim football coach Dabo Swinney encourages his players during warmups Saturday before the game against South Carolina.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson interim football coach Dabo Swinney encourages his players during warmups Saturday before the game against South Carolina.

The stakes change when coaching a major Division I program.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows full well what can happen in the coaching community in a short span in a BCS conference without the necessary results.

“I was hired December 1 of ’08,” Swinney said. “May of ’09, Bobby Bowden is sitting in there and I’m last from a tenure standpoint, and now I’m fifth (in tenure) in four years.”

By 2010, Bowden made way for Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, while Virginia brought an end to the Al Groh era and hired current coach Mike London from Richmond.

The next year, Maryland, Miami and then North Carolina all made moves.

Last season, UNC settled on a permanent replacement for Butch Davis in Larry Fedora and then N.C. State (Dave Doeren) and Boston College (Steve Addazio) made moves for ’13.

Going into his fifth full season, Swinney trails just Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe (13 years), Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer (nine years), Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson (six years) and Duke’s David Cutcliffe (six years).

Finding his place in that group isn’t easy for the Tigers’ head man.

“(That’s) four very established and very proven consistently winning type of people,” Swinney said. “It’s a scary, humbling thing when you look at it from that perspective. It’s a volatile field. I don’t focus on that and just try to focus on the best I can do.”

His best has been pretty good so far.

The Tigers have owned at least a share of the Atlantic Division crown three of his four seasons — topped by the school’s first ACC Championship in 20 years back in 2011.

Last season, Clemson put together back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since 1989-90.

Clemson is 16-2 at home in conference play under Swinney, which ranks second all-time by winning percentage in the ACC (.889). That trails only former Tiger coach Ken Hatfield (.893, 12-1-1).

Preseason ACC favorites with a pair of bona fide Heisman contenders, the usual expectations for a storied program like Clemson have been raised.

Swinney says the key behind the success is staying on edge.

“You have to constantly reinvent so that you don’t plateau. So that you don’t decline,” he said. “You just consistently keep getting better. That’s the mentality of the best of the best. Always striving to be better. I hope that as long as I’m here we’re always striving to be better.

“I hope that will resonate to the coaches and the staff because that’s what it takes to be consistently great.”

The roles have certainly reversed from his predecessor Tommy Bowden, but that’s not all been a good thing.

Bowden failed to grab even a share of a division title in 10 seasons, but he kept the locals happy in one key area: beating South Carolina in seven of nine matchups.

To close 2008 as an interim coach, the Clemson “birthright” seemed preserved as chants of Swinney’s name fell like the rain pouring that day in Death Valley to the tune of a 31-14 triumph over the Gamecocks.

Beating South Carolina, however, has turned out to be Swinney’s white whale. If it loses in Columbia come November, Clemson will own its first-ever five-game losing streak in a series stretching back to 1896. The games haven’t been close either — an 18-point average margin.

The overall series? Well, it’s still lopsided in favor of Clemson (65-41-4), but the winning percentage would see a 27-point drop from when Swinney started full-time with another defeat.

Clemson’s 2013 campaign is bookended by gigantic ACC-SEC clashes: at home versus Georgia and traveling to South Carolina. The next step — a step more and more in the vocabulary of Clemson’s staff and players — again reaching national championship glory.

Albeit a rough road to title site Pasadena, they can likely survive a loss to Georgia and stay in the conversation. The same can’t be said for a late-season loss down in Columbia, and that’s really the catch for this season.

Is it successful with a second ACC title in three seasons — and no victory over the rival? Of course it is, but it won’t necessarily feel like it.

The “volatile” college football world, as Swinney says, really keeps any coach on the precipice of two fronts.

If Swinney’s program can close with wins in Columbia and Charlotte, we’re talking the ushering of a new era in Clemson.

At the same time, combine another loss to South Carolina and falling short in the conference, and that’s a road unfriendly to any top-tier coach.

The Tigers haven’t closed a regular season with more than five wins a row since 1991, and that’s exactly what they need to join the elite.

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Comments » 15

rsb8931#286014 writes:

My first Clemson football game was the 1957 Orange Bowl. I have been going to games since then. I graduated from Clemson as did my father, brother and a couple of uncles. I was born into a Clemson family and whether it's in my DNA or just a learned behavior, that I think it probably is, I have a genuine hatred for Carolina. I hate for them is deep, real, and consumes me at times. That is sick and I admit it, but that's who I am. To lose again to the stinking Gamecocks is unacceptable. There are reasons why coaches lose their jobs, and at Clemson losing to Carolina too much is at the top of the list.

rsb8931#286014 writes:

Let me add something to my above comment. We were better than they were last year. We lost because our defensive secondary was depleted due to injuries and they made too many third down and long plays to keep the ball and keep our offense off the field. We were only down by 3 points with a little over 4 minutes left in the game. We were better than they were last year and will be much better than they will be this year. The better team does not always win the game. Had we lost to LSU last year it would have been a clear injustice put on us by the football Gods because we totally dominated them in the game, but almost did not win.

FlopEye writes:

South Carolina played Clemson without their
starting quarterback ( Shaw) and #1 running
back ( Latimore).
rsb###### care to comment?

rsb8931#286014 writes:

in response to FlopEye:

South Carolina played Clemson without their
starting quarterback ( Shaw) and #1 running
back ( Latimore).
rsb###### care to comment?

Yea, and I say we could win without our top tailback because we have so many good ones. And Cole Stout could more than likely beat SC this year and would have last year had we not played SC with 7 on defense for all intense and purpose. Care to reply to that?

33dtb writes:

I'd feel a lot better with more emphasis on the O-Line. ...........speaking as a former fullback (and middle guard).....

TRUETIGER1 writes:

in response to rsb8931#286014:

My first Clemson football game was the 1957 Orange Bowl. I have been going to games since then. I graduated from Clemson as did my father, brother and a couple of uncles. I was born into a Clemson family and whether it's in my DNA or just a learned behavior, that I think it probably is, I have a genuine hatred for Carolina. I hate for them is deep, real, and consumes me at times. That is sick and I admit it, but that's who I am. To lose again to the stinking Gamecocks is unacceptable. There are reasons why coaches lose their jobs, and at Clemson losing to Carolina too much is at the top of the list.

There are things that are NON-NEGOTIONABLE in any job. Well said.

TrevorT writes:

I love the spirit of rsb's comments. He's old school and well spoken. On the other hand, you have to consider that the chickens are by far better now than they ever have been before. True, this ugly skid has to be turned around in the near future, but there's no way I could agree with putting Dabo on the chopping block this year or even next year based solely on the USC game. I think that would be very short-sighted and bad for the program.

FlopEye writes:

rsb######
My only comment is look at the actual score.
You may live in a world of " what might have been",
but I prefer reality.

radtiger writes:

in response to FlopEye:

rsb######
My only comment is look at the actual score.
You may live in a world of " what might have been",
but I prefer reality.

Its clear that Rsb is old and has altered mental status with his delusional mind set and suggestion of getting rid of Dabbo. Dabbo is the best thing thats happened to Clemson in years and its not his coaching skills that has caused him to lose to SC, if that was the case, we would lose to a lot more teams since hes coaching those games as well. We lost to SC because theyve had a better team for the past few year and we got out played. You are far too old to be on here talking about, what should have, would have, could have.Weve got to stop living in the past or ESPN is going to give us or own spot on the HISTORY CHANNEL with you being the HOST/EMCEE

TrevorT writes:

Way to respect your elders. Classy as always.

TrevorT writes:

in response to FlopEye:

rsb######
My only comment is look at the actual score.
You may live in a world of " what might have been",
but I prefer reality.

Better than the world of trolls.

radtiger writes:

in response to TrevorT:

Way to respect your elders. Classy as always.

Respect is earn, not given and we are talking about a Grandpa on here talking of how much he HATES a team for years and years as if thats something to be proud of....You cant tell me anything about class. and if Im not mistaken, wasnt it you that promised to never respond to anymore of my comments????

TrevorT writes:

You know, you're absolutely right. I've really been trying to ignore you, but it's like trying to ignore a fly buzzing around your head. I'll try to do better in the future.

radtiger writes:

in response to TrevorT:

You know, you're absolutely right. I've really been trying to ignore you, but it's like trying to ignore a fly buzzing around your head. I'll try to do better in the future.

Admit it,YOU GOT A CRUSH ON ME...This isnt Twitter so you can stop following me.

TrevorT writes:

in response to radtiger:

Admit it,YOU GOT A CRUSH ON ME...This isnt Twitter so you can stop following me.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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