Scott Adamson: Chasing greatness, Tigers taste BCS victory at last

Friday night in south Florida, the No. 12 Tigers looked like a team no longer content to stand on the doorstep of greatness

Clemson's Sammy Watson scores a  touchdown in the third quarter of the Tigers' 40-35 win over Ohio State in the 2014 Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla Friday night.

Mark Crammer Independent Mail

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson's Sammy Watson scores a touchdown in the third quarter of the Tigers' 40-35 win over Ohio State in the 2014 Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla Friday night. Mark Crammer Independent Mail

Greatness, as a concept, is the end game of all sports.

Coaches talk about it, players strive for it and fans demand it.

Achieving it, of course, is the tricky part.

There is no doubt Dabo Swinney wants greatness for the Clemson football Tigers. He’s preached it since he took over for Tommy Bowden on an interim basis in 2008 and has pursued it ever since.

Last season, following the Tigers’ 25-24 victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, he said his team — his program — was “on the doorstep of greatness.”

Friday night in south Florida, the No. 12 Tigers looked like a team no longer content to stand on the doorstep of greatness.

Instead, they shoved a foot in the door with a 40-35 Orange Bowl victory over No. 7 Ohio State.

This game — played on the third day of 2014 — didn’t define the entire 2013 season, of course. Nor did it establish a legacy.

And let’s be clear — the Tigers have not yet “arrived” in the Swinney era.

But just as the Chick-fil-A Bowl advanced the Clemson cause a year earlier, so did this BCS bowl victory.

Two times earlier this year — on big stages against outstanding foes — the Tigers came up short.

This time they came up big, whipping one of college football’s most storied programs and proving they could shine in a glaring spotlight.

Sammy Watkins had a record night receiving but it was Stephone Anthony who ended the Buckeyes’ hopes with a pick 1:13 from the finish. It was a wild, exciting affair and another high-profile achievement for Swinney, who is building a pretty nice resume for himself as a Clemson University employee.

In five and half seasons he has guided Clemson to an ACC championship, three Atlantic Division titles and three consecutive double-digit win seasons.

He won the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award in 2011 and, as a master recruiter, he’s able to bring some of the country’s best football players to Death Valley.

By the numbers — and by most standards of measurement — he’s been one of the nation’s most successful coaches.

But the Tigers aren’t where he wants them to be.

The 10-4 season of 2011 included the school’s first league championship in two decades, but ended with a puzzling — and embarrassing — 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

Last year the worksheet improved to 11-2 and had a happy ending as the campaign concluded not just with a “W” but with a “W” against an SEC power.

And an 11-2 mark this season should be enough to propel the Tigers back into the Top 10, although the hopes for a much higher finish were very real right up to Oct. 19.

Clemson got as high as No. 3 in the polls before Florida State busted its bubble and busted its chops, 51-14, before a national TV audience and bewildered Memorial Stadium crowd.

And the Palmetto State rivalry?

Yeah, there’s that.

Five losses in a row to South Carolina are unprecedented and unimaginable to those who thought this series would be forever drenched in orange and purple.

The events taken together or separately have stood between the Tigers and greatness.

On one night, though — facing a major challenge in a major bowl — Swinney and company looked like a football program on the verge of something special.

Doorstep of greatness, foot in the door — more results like the one they had on Friday will help them barge right in sooner than later.

“In 110 years of Clemson football, we’ve never had back-to-back 11 win seasons,” Swinney said on the field after the game. “The best is yet to come.”

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