If college football allowed Mulligans, Dabo Swinney would certainly take a couple of do-overs for the 2013 season.
Eliminate all, or most, of the six turnovers, and there are reasons to believe that Clemson's bottom line against South Carolina would have been considerably more favorable.
Avoid spotting Florida State 21 points, and the Tigers would expect to at least put up a decent fight against the unbeaten national champions.
That being said, 11-2 and a final No. 7 national ranking (the program's highest since winning the 1981 national title), an unprecedented second straight 11-win season and back-to-back bowl victories over top 10 national title contenders gives the Tigers plenty to be proud of, and to build on, as they begin looking ahead to 2014.
These are, for Clemson football, the good times.
For some Tiger fans, the fact that South Carolina is also good, and, the record says, better than Clemson on a running set of given-Saturdays, is putting a damper on the enjoyment; as is Florida State's resurgence as a national power and the ACC's kingpin program.
Those are hurdles that Swinney's Tigers will have to deal with, and conquer, if they're to realize their “quest for best.”
For now, going into his fifth season at the helm and the fourth of a sustained turnaround in the wake of a 6-7 finish in 2010, Swinney likes what his Tigers have done and where they're headed.
“The Orange Bowl was a big deal, especially from where we were two years ago,” said Swinney on Saturday before the Tigers' banquet to honor the 2013 team. “It was really special to be able to celebrate with those guys because the great majority of those guys were in that room two years ago. It was unthinkable to a lot of people outside of that locker room that we would be back and have the success that we would bring with us. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Swinney acknowledged the problematic nature of Clemson's current situation in relation to Florida State and South Carolina.
“Obviously we want to win them all, and we didn’t get that done,” Swinney said. “But at the end of the day, you have to give your opponent some credit. We lost to the No. 1 team in the country that was undefeated and we lost to the No. 4 team. It’s unfortunate that the No. 4 team was our in-state rival and it’s unfortunate that the team we lost to that won the national championship is our big ACC rival.
“I love how our guys competed and how they fought all year with consistency. Those particular games we didn’t get it done. We did some good things, but we didn’t win.”
Swinney said the team and coaching staff had their first meeting of the new year a few days ago.
“It’s what you do - you start over every year,” he said. “It’s always fun to have that first team meeting. Those seniors that have been here four or five years are no longer in the room and you immediately kind of notice that. It’s exciting because it’s a new beginning. We start back Monday with our off-season program.
“We’ve moved on. It’s about getting ready all over again to go do something special.”
The team banquet held Saturday night was “a formal, final, special time to be together as a football team and really celebrate our seniors and the other guys that had special performances throughout the year,” said Swinney. “We're saying goodbye to a very special group.”
Swinney's big-picture assessment is that the Tigers' future is bright.
“I love the guys that we have coming back,” he said. “I’m excited about the recruiting class that we're putting together and for the most part are almost finished with. I’m really, really excited for what’s coming down the pipeline for 2015 as we really focus on that recruiting cycle.
“It’s a good time to be a Clemson Tiger...We'll get back to recruiting this week, and we'll have official visits for the next few weekends. Once we get through signing day, we'll really turn the page and get back to self-evaluation and get ready for spring ball.
“It'll be here before you know it.”