Signing day, spring practice next as Tigers continue to close the gap on nation's elite

'This team has earned the right to be respected as a very good football team...you just have to go and do things, and then you learn'

Dabo Swinney celebrates with Tajh Boyd after the Tigers' 25-24 win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl

Photo by Mark Crammer

Dabo Swinney celebrates with Tajh Boyd after the Tigers' 25-24 win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl

Prior to the Chick-fil-A Bowl Dabo Swnney said his Tigers want to grow up to be like LSU.

He wasn't just saying nice things about rival coach Les Miles in a public setting.

Asked recently if he believes the Tigers have closed the gap on the nation's elite programs in a meaningful way, Swinney said Clemson is getting there.

The next step comes next week on signing day, and shortly thereafter, the Tigers will move into spring drills. Swinney is looking for a high level of consistency on both fronts.

Looking back, he's happy with the progress made so far.

"There are only 11 teams in the country that have had back-to-back 10-win seasons, and we're one of them," said Swinney. "There are only six teams in the country that have been ranked 29 straight weeks or more: us, South Carolina, Stanford, LSU, Oregon and Alabama.

"I think this team has earned the right to be respected as a very good football team, and I'm proud of what they did this year. I wish we could have been 13-0, because we had a couple of very difficult losses.

"But then we beat LSU, and LSU is the winningest program in the SEC in last 10 years. They've won more games than anybody. I don't even know how many NFL guys they've got, and it seems like they've got 22 juniors leaving early. It's unbelievable the talent that they have there.

"So it just does a lot for our football team knowing that we can play and compete with anybody in the country. Until you play and do it - you just have to go and do things, and then you learn."

Swinney noted that Clemson's 2012 senior class, which was comprised of just 11 scholarship players, will be followed by an even smaller 2013 senior class.

"When you look at the makeup of our team, we've only got 10 scholarship seniors for this next year," Swinney said. "So we're a huge junior-sophomore team right now, and all these guys have won 21 games in two years. With that comes an expectation and a belief. They understand the commitment that it takes, and those are positive things."

Swinney said Clemson's victory over LSU started with an attitude.

"They weren't hoping to win against LSU, they were expecting to beat LSU," he said. "They paid a price, they prepared well, and they made those few plays that made the difference in that game. LSU had a great team and they competed their butts off, but we just made a few more plays.

"That's what it comes down to when you have two good football teams playing. There's going to be a winner and there's going to be a loser."

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