SUNSET, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney wants little to do with last year’s breakthrough, 11-win season and tossed out a magazine featuring ACC Player of the Year Tajh Boyd to prove it.
The accolades that often follow special seasons don’t matter to Swinney or the Tigers as they prepare for preseason camp and the new year. So far, Swinney says his players haven’t proved they can match what happened a year ago.
So that’s why Swinney threw a preseason glossy in the trash during a team meeting, even with Boyd’s smiling face on the cover. “They all come out and say this team’s this or this guy’s that,” Swinney said Tuesday. “And that stuff is so irrelevant.”
“You’ve heard me say this a hundred times,” Swinney continued, “let’s talk about it in November.”
By then the Tigers could be in the hunt for second Atlantic Coast Conference crown in three years or even a spot in the BCS title game. Swinney says there’s plenty of time before Clemson gets to that point.
“You have to go and stay focused on the formula, stay focused on the fundamentals and try to get better,” he said. “You can draw from your experiences, but still understand there’s a price to be paid.”
The cost of winning got a bit easier in this off-season when the Tigers offense held on to two of its key members in coordinator Chad Morris and Boyd, who looked hard at giving up his senior season for the NFL.
Morris has led the Tigers revamped offense to school record with 512 yards and 41 points a game last season. His named popped up for several head-coaching vacancies, including the opening at Texas Tech. But nothing stuck and Morris was glad to have another year in charge.
Boyd thought he’d leave on a high-note after leading the Tigers on a fourth-quarter, last-second scoring drive to defeat Louisiana State University 25-24 in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Instead, Boyd discovered he wasn’t done with college and hoped to have a final standout season before moving on.
And he’ll have speedy receiver Sammy Watkins back to catch all the passes. Watkins had a subpar year – 57 catches, 708 yards, 3 touchdowns compared with 82 catches, 1,219 yards and 12 TDs as a freshman All-American – in part because he missed four games because of suspension and illness.
When he returned, Boyd had latched on to DeAndre Hopkins as the team’s outside threat. Hopkins set a school mark with 1,405 yards receiving and an ACC mark with 18 touchdowns.
Boyd won’t have all his playmakers back. Hopkins left for the pros and top rushing Andre Ellington was a senior, meaning openings at some of Clemson’s skill positions.
Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant figure to get first look at Hopkins spot while Rod McDowell, D.J. Howard and Zac Brooks will vie for time in the backfield.
Things on defense will be smoother in coordinator Brent Venables’ second season after coming over from Oklahoma. The defensive line features three returning starters and backup Vic Beasley, who led the team with eight sacks last season.
Defensive ends coach Marion Hobby said the staff has more familiarity Venables and are better prepped on his system. “You could see that as the year went on last year,” Hobby said. “We got better.”
Especially against LSU when the Tigers defense had eight three-and-outs to give Clemson a chance in a contest where they trailed much of the way.
It was certainly a great way to finish a season, offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell said, because it put Clemson’s name out there as a strong team. “But as coaches, we’ve got to play whoever they put in front of us,” he said.
To start this year, that’ll be Georgia at Death Valley on Aug. 31 in a return of a rivalry that should tell a lot about both programs’ direction.
Swinney likes the single-mindedness his players have shown this offseason in not getting caught up in the sky-high expectations. Clemson, he says, won’t win a game simply based on what they did last year.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Swinney said. “You have to grind and have that blue-collar work ethic every single day.”