|by David Hood|
Two years can be the longest of times and the shortest of times, depending on your perspective. If you’re watching your newborn child grow up, two years can flash by in the blink of an eye. If you’re a college football fan waiting on football season to start, even a few months can seem like an eternity.
Two years and two months ago, we stood outside of the locker room underneath Bank of American Stadium following Clemson’s loss to South Florida in the nondescript Meineke Car Care Bowl, and listened to Clemson’s players and coaches talk not only about the loss, but the aftermath of a disquieting 6-7 season that had many wondering if the program was headed in the right direction.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was terse in his remarks following the game, and he promised that he would make the changes necessary to turn the program around, while quarterback Tajh Boyd – who showed flashes of his potential in leading the Tigers in a second half comeback – wiped tears from his eyes and promised Clemson fans that there would be a brighter day.
“This is a hard-working program, and we have a solid fan base,” Boyd said that day. “We want to go out there and do it for us and for our fans. It is hard to come out of here with a losing record. I want to make some guarantees that it won’t happen again. We will be a championship program.”
The months that followed were dark days indeed. Swinney hired Chad Morris away from Tulsa, and many Clemson fans wondered if Morris’ “Mickey Mouse” offense would work at a BCS school. Others wondered about the wisdom of hiring a coach just one year removed from the high school ranks. A less-than-stellar effort by Boyd that spring led to even more grumbling about whether Clemson would be able to turn the corner.
Indeed, it has been two years since that dark day in Charlotte and the months before the 2011 season began, and in many respects the time has flown by. There have been bright days – the bowl win over LSU and winning the ACC – and there have been dark days in losses to South Carolina and the Orange Bowl debacle.
However, Swinney and Boyd have kept their promises, at least to the point that things have turned around and the program appears poised to take another step this season. The next season saw the ACC Championship and a 10-4 record, while last season saw the Tigers vault to 11-2 and cap the season with an impressive bowl win.
This off-season, expectations are through the roof. The Tigers return Boyd for a third season at the helm, and he has made good on his promise to work hard and prove himself worthy to lead the Tigers. He has fashioned a 21-6 record as a starter, including a 13-1 mark in Death Valley, and early-season success in 2013 will have him on many Heisman Trophy watch lists.
On a team level, the Tigers are a certain Top 15 team heading into next season, some outlets will have them on the edge of the Top 10, and a season-opening win over Georgia would almost certainly vault the Tigers into talk about making a run at a possible national title.
In talking with other media types over the past few weeks, you have to wonder if Clemson won’t be favored in each of its first 11 games next season – should the Tigers keep winning – and might even be favored in double digits in many of those games. But in order for those dreams to come true and for the wait of two long years to seem worth it, the Tigers will have to win in Columbia, beating their arch-rivals in the process. A win over South Carolina has been something that Clemson fans have been waiting on for four-plus years, an eternity in college football. Two eternities almost.
Next season just might be the kind of season Clemson fans have been waiting on, and it’s been two years in the making. Can another four-year wait be broken as well? We don’t know the answers to that, but we begin to find out some of those answers this week when the Tigers begin spring practice.
Once the spring game is ended, it will be four-and-a-half months until we can really find out those answers. We all will have to wait just a little longer, a wait made easier this off-season because of the success of last season.
Two years indeed.
David Hood can be reached at email@example.com