CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has played and coached in numerous openers and plans to treat Saturday night’s game against No. 5 Georgia as just the latest one, nothing more and nothing less.
But that’s difficult when top-10 teams meet to kick off the season.
Swinney said Tuesday that his eighth-ranked Tigers can’t get too caught up in what happens against the Bulldogs at Death Valley, win or lose. There’s a long season remaining and even a defeat won’t derail Clemson from its championship goals.
“So what?” Swinney said about a potential Tigers win. “You’ve got to be careful. It’s not a one-all, end-all deal. It’s a long season.”
Swinney said if you need proof, take a look at Alabama, which lost games in November each of the past two seasons, yet rallied to win the national championships. The coach said it’s much more important for Clemson to compete hard, even if the Tigers come up short on the scoreboard.
“We’ve got 12 games on the schedule. Every opponent is critical. We’ve got much bigger goals than an opening game,” he said.
Still, Swinney’s excited about the buzz around campus, the activity at Memorial Stadium or the prime spot this game carries in college football. ESPN’s College GameDay will be at Clemson for the first time in seven years.
Clemson is coming off an 11-2 season, its most victories in a year since the school’s lone, 12-0 national championship season in 1981. The school plans to honor the coach of that achievement, Tigers folk-hero Danny Ford, at a pregame ceremony.
The next step for Clemson in Swinney’s eyes is playing well consistently against strong opponents like Georgia. Should the Tigers fall short, they are still favorites to win the Atlantic Coast Conference and still in contention for the BCS crown.
“Both teams have very little room for error and from that standpoint, it’s a big challenge,” Swinney said. “But we’re going to grow over these first few weeks and we’ve got a lot to prove as a football team.”
Reigning ACC player of the year Tajh Boyd has tried to keep expecations in check leading up to Georgia. Boyd holds dozens of Clemson quarterback records and had strongly considered skipping his senior season for the NFL with his bravura showing in the LSU win.
Instead, he came back for one last championship try and has taken on his coach’s attitude about facing Georgia. He’s stuck to his standard preparations and believes that will help him keep calm and on track against the Bulldogs.
“In games like these, there are only a few plays that make a big difference,” Boyd said. “When those plays are there to be made, I want to make them.”
Boyd said he can’t help thinking about the last time he faced a Southeastern Conference power at Death Valley last November and how he and the Tigers came up short against South Carolina, 27-17. Boyd was sacked 4 1-2 times by Gamecocks terror Jadeveon Clowney.
The QB said he’s stayed away from most sports TV the past week or so, but did watch an ESPN feature on Clowney this past weekend where they depicted a sleeping Boyd, holding a Tiger teddy bear, having fits in his sleep worried about the Gamecocks defensive end.
“They had me in a gray” t-shirt, Boyd said. “I don’t even wear those. I thought it was funny.”
Boyd said he and the offense were flat in that game and does not want a repeat against Georgia. If things don’t go Clemson’s way, Boyd says the team won’t panic.
“This is not a make or break game, regardless of the outcome,” Boyd said. “It’s a long season. Win or lose, we’ll have to get ready for the next situation.”