CLEMSON — It was five years ago Sunday. Tommy Bowden out. Dabo Swinney up.
Who: No. 5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0 ACC) at No. 3 Clemson (6-0, 4-0)
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
Line: Florida State by 2.5
Whether he just had a good memory, or somebody reminded him, Swinney happily reflected on the five-year anniversary of being asked to lead Clemson’s football program, which at first was on a temporary basis and soon after became his full-time job.
“Five years ago today, I was on the practice field, I had just been named interim head coach on Oct. 13, 2008. We had a 6 o’clock practice that Monday night, and it’s just awesome to be where we are,” Swinney said on his Sunday teleconference. “Very humbled by what God’s done in my life and the opportunities that I’ve had to be here at Clemson. It’s really neat five years later to be where we are and to have an opportunity to be relevant again.”
These debates are purely subjective, but it could be argued Clemson’s never been this relevant. Not since winning the 1981 national championship, at least, and the national media microscope has grown just a tad in three decades’ time.
Yet if you’re looking for some fun quotes out of Swinney to preview No. 5 Florida State’s impending visit to Death Valley facing off with No. 3 Clemson, he’s not biting. “Obviously we know it’s a big game, and it’s got a lot of national relevance. But at the end of the day, it’s going to count as one win or one loss,” Swinney said. “If you change what you normally do, you send the wrong message. Every game to us is the biggest game of the year. That’s not coach-speak; that really is our mentality. I know it’s not that way for fans, but that’s how it has to be for us if we’re going to be consistent.
“We really try to focus on Clemson and being the best we can be. If we continue to play to a standard, then the results take care of themselves, and I can live with whatever they are.”
A day after Clemson needed a gritty defensive effort through four quarters to shake off Boston College, 24-14, Swinney was just happy to get to this highlight week without a loss thus far. Stanford, Oklahoma and Georgia were the biggest names falling Saturday as upset victims.
“Just look around college football on a day like yesterday and all the craziness that went on in college football, it’s very difficult to win games,” Swinney said. “You just can’t ever take that for granted, and I think there’s something to be said for a group of guys that finds ways to win games.”
Swinney called the offense “a comedy of errors” for how it failed to finish drives. Swinney used the same term to describe the unit after a similarly-sloppy 26-14 win at North Carolina State on Sept. 19.
“We made a lot of nice plays, but points are the name of the game, and we had a lot of miscues,” Swinney said. “Just very inconsistent, really doing some of the little things the right way.”
The Tigers gained 280 first-half yards, but scored just three points while failing two field-goal attempts and fumbling twice in BC territory.
“We had four balls on the ground, three of them on the quarterback exchange,” Swinney said. “That can’t happen. Those are routine things.”
And as for his next opponent, Swinney did lavish praise on FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. The nation’s second-most efficient passer grew up and attended high school in Hueytown, Ala., just 40 minutes northwest of Swinney’s hometown of Pelham. Both cities are just outside Birmingham.
“I know they list him as a redshirt freshman, but he doesn’t look like any freshman I’ve seen. He’s a special player,” Swinney said. “I’ve watched him since probably ninth grade or so. He’s been a great player his whole life.
“He’s playing like a savvy veteran, and heck, he’s playing like a Heisman guy. He’s a huge challenge. Big arm, very confident, very poised, and a great runner. Great feel for the game.”