CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson center Dalton Freeman says his focus is squarely on the 14th-ranked Tigers’ Orange Bowl matchup against No. 23 West Virginia in January.
That gets tested each day Freeman walks around a campus crazy about the team’s first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 20 years.
Freeman and his teammates can’t go anywhere these days without a fan, classmate, teacher or administrator smiling about Clemson’s 38-10 victory over Virginia Tech in the ACC title game nearly two weeks ago.
“It’s unbelievable,” Freeman said Thursday night. “This is what we came here for and to finally get the respect we worked for is a lot of fun.”
That’s evident throughout the small college town. Sign boards outside shops congratulate the team on its victory over Virginia Tech.
One sports apparel shop put up the words, “Orange Bowl Bound. Tweet That,” a reference to coach Dabo Swinney’s rant about Clemson’s place after losing to South Carolina.
It’s just as nuts for players such as Freeman getting congratulations.
“People come up and give me oranges,” Freeman said with a chuckle.
Swinney is glad his guys and the fans have a chance to celebrate. But he said this week it was time to get the players’ minds back on work and No. 23 West Virginia, the Tigers opponent in the BCS matchup.
Clemson will work out through the middle of next week before breaking for the holidays and reconvening in South Florida the week after Christmas.
Freeman said it wasn’t hard getting back to the practice field, no matter how good the Tigers still feel after the ACC championship.
“I can speak for myself and a lot of the guys, we were ready to get back to work,” Freeman said. “As well as we played (against Virginia Tech) there are still things we can correct.”
The Tigers were the surprise of college football the first two months as they defeated national champion Auburn, then last year’s ACC Atlantic Division champion and league winners in Florida State and Virginia Tech in successive weeks on the way to 8-0 start.
Clemson was pushed forward by its high-powered offense run by first-year coordinator Chad Morris, nearly mistake-free play by quarterback Tajh Boyd and the emergence of freshman receiver Sammy Watkins.
Things bogged down, though, in November as the Tigers lost three of four and were solid underdogs in the rematch against the Hokies before regrouping.
It’s Clemson’s first trip to the Orange Bowl since the 1981 team clinched its 12-0, national championship season with a 22-15 victory over Nebraska. A win over West Virginia will give the Tigers their most wins since that landmark squad 30 years ago.
“There’s so much excitement going into the Orange Bowl,” All-American tight end Dwayne Allen said. “This is what we worked for all year.”