There is much excitement in Tigertown, South Carolina this week as the Clemson Tigers host the Georgia Bulldogs in Death Valley Memorial Stadium. College Gameday will make this college town its first destination to kick off the 2013 season.
And Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney couldn’t have asked for anything more. And fellow Clemson fans, both young and old, should share in the excitement for the opportunity presented so early in the season. It’s not only an opportunity to silence the critics who are all about the SEC, but it’s also an opportunity to show how the culture of Clemson football has changed since Dabo took the reins as head coach.
Five years ago, many were uncertain about hiring the former receivers coach without any kind of coordinator or head coach experience. But he has developed the persona needed to become a successful head coach at this level and quickly proved that he can win with this team, winning the ACC Championship in 2011 and finishing at the top of the Atlantic Division three of the last four years. He has changed the mental makeup of this team, which in the Bowden era was known to crumple under the bright lights and fade away when they didn’t have the lead. Sure, some are still bitter over the current four- year losing skid to in-state rival South Carolina, but if beating rivals were all that mattered to Clemson, they may still very well have Tommy Bowden as head coach, no Chad Morris or Brent Venables as offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively, no ACC Championship, no marquee LSU victory, and they likely would not have the crop of players that they do now, either.
But now there’s always a continual buzz of excitement for how far the program has come in five years. Swinney has put together a solid coaching staff that can recruit with any school in the country and develop their players as well. And having a pivotal matchup like this one to kick off the season, well, in a Tommy Bowden era, it may have been met with a huge amount of anxiety and nail biting. But this time around, the team is mentally stronger and ready to prove themselves to the rest of college football.
Facing a top five SEC team like Georgia to start off the season after coming off of a hard fought victory against an NFL-laden LSU team will allow Clemson to prove that they can consistently play, and win, against top competition in football. Despite being in the top of the ACC, many discount Clemson for playing in a conference that hasn’t quite been on the upswing. Clemson and Florida State have both defined themselves as the cornerstones in the ACC and have been in that position for the past few seasons now as other teams have yet to prove otherwise. For all of the SEC talk, only Alabama and LSU have earned the right to be called the cornerstones of that conference, and, more specifically, the SEC has been running through Alabama the past few seasons.
But despite it all, this Clemson team is without a doubt Dabo Swinney’s team. He still retains that players’ coach persona at times with his enthusiasm and personality with the media, but he has evolved into the head coach executive that this team has been missing. And his fifth year in the head coach business will begin with the Bulldogs. A win like this goes a long way towards establishing something greater, and Clemson is looking to be just that: Great.