That doesn’t mean the Tigers don’t have anything to play for – and coach Dabo Swinney is pounding that message home.
Second-ranked Florida State wrapped up the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division and a spot in the league championship game, which took care of two of the five goals listed in the team meeting room.
Still, Swinney says the Tigers must stay locked onto what’s ahead and not the lost opportunities.
They have already accomplished the first goal on the list, winning the season opener (a 38-35 victory over Georgia) and have two left: win the state championship over rival South Carolina and win a bowl game.
“We have to stay zoom focused on having the best possible finish and creating the best postseason opportunity,” the coach said.
That starts Thursday night when Clemson (8-1, 6-1 ACC) closes the league season at home against Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2).
The Yellow Jackets come to Death Valley atop the Coastal Division, one of four two-loss teams in that half of the league. A month ago, Clemson fans were hopeful of a national TV, division-clinching party at Georgia Tech’s expense.
Those dreams were blown apart in the Tigers’ last home game as the Seminoles registered the most points ever scored by the visitors in a 51-14 Death Valley dismantling of Clemson.
It’s the second consecutive season that a loss to Florida State will keep Clemson out of the ACC Championship Game.
Swinney said the Tigers have rebounded well since the Oct. 19 defeat – “Heck, we’ve won two ball games since Florida State,” he said – and won’t be concerned with not getting a shot at the ACC title when they return home.
Defensive tackle DeShawn Williams expects a better effort out of the Tigers this week than last time at home.
“We’re going to give the fans more than we did against Florida State,” he promised.
The Tigers had held out faint hopes of a Florida State stumble to open up a back door shot at the division title.
But the Seminoles didn’t slip, defeating North Carolina State, top-10 Miami and Wake Forest by a combined score of 149-34 top stay perfect in the ACC.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd said there’s indeed disappointment at falling short at any of the five goals, but there’s much left to accomplish . Winning the state championship over rival South Carolina and a bowl game. could be daunting challenges.
The 11th-ranked Gamecocks hold a four-game win streak in a series Clemson had owned for several decades. Some bowl projections have Clemson as a BCS team in the Orange Bowl matched against high-speed Oregon.
Boyd said that’s too much to worry about right now.
When Clemson coaches talk about playing to a standard, Boyd said it’s really about what’s the best you can do at the moment.
“Our best now is we can potentially be 11-1, or 12-1 with a bowl,” Boyd said. “We just need to play to what we’re capable of doing.”
Should Clemson win out the regular season, it would make the first back-to-back 11-win seasons in program history.
“We all know what’s at stake,” Swinney said.
Clemson has had its struggles through the years with Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have won four of the past six games and ruined some of the Tigers biggest chances at taking significant steps forward in football.
Georgia Tech topped the Tigers 21-17 in 2008, Swinney’s first game at the team’s coach. The next season, the Yellow Jackets defeated Clemson twice, including a 39-34 win in that season’s ACC championship game.
In 2011, Georgia Tech ended Clemson’s 8-0 start with a 31-17 victory. A win by the Yellow Jackets this season would also dampen much of the enthusiasm built up through the early part of the season.
“Y’all won’t even remember that Georgia game,” Swinney said, smiling.
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson joked he might call on rival Georgia for a run-down of the Tigers. He believes his team has stood strong through the season to put itself in a position to challenge for the Coastal Division.
“We run the ball pretty good and defend the run pretty good. We’ve been in every game we’ve played. I think if we don’t turn the ball over and don’t commit a lot of penalties, we’re a tough out,” he said. “Will we win every game? I don’t know. That’s why you play.”