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February 26, 2013
CLEMSON -- It's almost astounding to realize that Clemson was coming off a losing season a mere two years ago at this time.
It wasn't a fun offseason, with Dabo Swinney firing two coaches and fans in an uproar after a miserable bowl loss to South Florida capped a 6-7 campaign.
But Swinney referenced that period today in a media teleconference to preview next week's start of spring practice. On the surface there's a completely different feeling two years later after 21 wins, an ACC title, and a monstrous bowl victory over LSU. But internally the message and the expectation are similar:
Eliminate distractions from the outside. Stay focused on the day-to-day tasks. Demonstrate a total commitment in work ethic and in attitude.
Not many people were talking ACC title and BCS title contention two years ago as Clemson embarked on 2011 spring practice with three new assistants, including offensive coordinator Chad Morris. But Swinney said today that the players and coaches on the 2010 team knew how close they came to doing special things. The narrative of that season turned with five of the seven defeats coming by six points or less, including an excruciating 16-13 defeat at Florida State that denied the Tigers a second consecutive Atlantic Division title.
The formula from the past two seasons has been mostly about doing away with the close games and blowing just about everyone off the field. Clemson has played in just four games decided by a touchdown or less, and it won all four - 35-30 over Florida State and 31-28 over Wake Forest in 2011, and 26-19 over Auburn and 25-24 over LSU last season.
The Tigers have gotten a taste of elite status the past two seasons, dashing off to an 8-0 start in 2011 and then finishing in the Top 10 according to the coaches after the victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
But the six losses from the past two seasons have come by an average of 19.6 points, including losses by 21 and 10 to South Carolina. So as much as the Tigers have accomplished in Swinney's third and fourth full seasons, there's room for more growth. And they'll have an opportunity to show that growth right away with an opening game against Georgia in what figures to be a Top 10 showdown.
Swinney said he doesn't detect any satisfaction or contentment in his players right now. He sees a strong hunger to reach the top level in college football.
"Our goal is to compete for national championships. We want to be in the mix for a BCS bowl every year. We want to finish in the Top 10 multiple times. That's what we're trying to do. I think the guys understand the margin is very small when you're trying to be one of those elite teams."
Swinney said his players "are not just hoping to go have a good season; we're expecting to have a good season." He said the success of the past two seasons has taught his players how to prepare to be great.
"There's a lot that goes into that. It's not just talent. It's not just experience."
Swinney and his staff turned the page on 2012 after National Signing Day, and the current rigors of All-In winter conditioning drills represent the building blocks for 2013. Swinney isn't afraid to send a message to those who aren't showing a full commitment in the classroom or locker room; he's suspended defensive back Garry Peters for the first few sessions of spring practice for what he termed "attitude-academic" issues.
"When you're trying to be great, everything counts," Swinney said. "It's a privilege to go out there and compete on the field. We want to make sure these guys are fully focused on the attitude and consistency you've got to have to win at a high level. We just can't have any entitlement on this team. It's a privilege for all of us."
*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.