The Tigers are the hunted, which means it's business as usual in Clemson
Swinney's Tigers are once again the hunted in the ACC (Photo by Sara Davis, ACC)

The Tigers are the hunted, which means it's business as usual in Clemson

by - Senior Writer -

CHARLOTTE, NC – The media days are over and the Clemson coaching staff and players now look forward to the start of fall camp. The Tigers begin the season as the reigning national champs and are the prohibitive favorite to win a fifth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title. That means a big old target sits squarely on their backs.

That means business as usual.

Head coach Dabo Swinney was asked about that target at the ACC Kickoff last week in Charlotte, and he said his program has been successful because they go into each season with something new to prove.

“Yeah, it's kind of business as usual for us, to be honest with you. It's just what we do every year. We've had eight 10-plus winning seasons in a row, been very consistent,” Swinney said. “The reason for that is we start over. You heard these guys talk about it. Truly, we don't carry anything over. It's a new team, there are new challenges. You got to redevelop the leadership, reinstall the core values.

“I start my meetings tomorrow with the coaches. We have five days. Even though we've all been together for a long time, when we meet tomorrow, it's as if we just showed up and met each other for the first time. We're going to install the program, what we do, how we do it, why we do it that way. Then we just go execute the plan. That's just the mindset that's woven into the culture. It's always about what's next. You got to show up every year with something to prove.”

Two national titles in three years? Doesn’t mean anything in 2019.

“That sense of urgency, we create that all the time. It's in our off-season, our strength and conditioning program, the way we practice, the way we meet and message with our team,” Swinney said. “For us, that's what we do. Then you got to continue to recruit the right people, develop your players. We've been able to consistently do that.”

The Tigers are 34-2 in the ACC over the last four season and have conference titles. Swinney was asked about the dominance of league foes and he was quick to point out that Syracuse has been a thorn in the Tigers’ side. The Orange defeated Clemson 27-24 in the Carrier Dome in 2017 and took the Tigers to the wire last season.

Swinney doesn’t let his team or anyone else forget.

“We've had a lot of teams give us fits. We've had some good wins and some games we've been able to get control of. I mean, shoot, we had three games with Louisville go down to the last play. Epic battles with NC State. I know Florida State this year was a different type of game, as they're transitioning. Unbelievable battles with Florida State, on and on and on,” Swinney said.

“Syracuse, Dino (Babers) has just done an unbelievable job. It's a great place. It starts with him. I mean, he's put a good staff together. They have a good philosophy in place. They're well-coached. They recruit well. They develop well. You can tell that it's a relationship-driven program. He does a great job in connecting with his players. They play hard. He's created the belief in his team that they can win, regardless of who they play. That's what it takes. He's done an awesome job of instilling that mindset into their team. He's had good players, some really good players.”

For senior offensive lineman John Simpson, the Syracuse games and championships are a distant memory, just like Swinney wants.

“Well, Coach Swinney instills in us that we got to just rebuild. Starting from a foundation, we are going to live in the house that we build,” Simpson said. “So, like, at the beginning of the year, he tries to tell us that we have a windshield mentality. He tells us that throughout the whole year.

“That's how a lot of guys view how we play, just windshield mentality. All that stuff we did last year can't carry over. That helps a lot.”

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