Post and Courier
August 20, 2014

Quest for consistency: Clemson looks to measure up against powerhouse Ohio State

Posted: 12/29/2013 07:00 a.m.
Updated: 12/29/2013 04:47 p.m.
By Aaron Brenner

Every chance he gets, Dabo Swinney lists off the accomplishments proudly, beaming at each feat like they're his own children.

Three straight 10-win seasons here, four SEC victories there. Fourteen straight spots in the top-10 rankings here, eighteen straight wins by double digits over unranked opponents there.

By most any measure, Clemson football has been as good as it gets over the past three years, save for the championship glory reserved for Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, and perhaps an argument for Oregon, Stanford or LSU.

"There's a lot of teams out there that would love to have the accomplishments that this team has had the last few years," Swinney said Friday, along with listing off some of those oft-repeated accomplishments. "As far as consistently being ranked, and records that we've set here at Clemson, that's what you've got to do."

It started with winning the 2011 ACC Championship, which was followed by beating LSU in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl and then qualifying for its second Orange Bowl in three years coming up Friday against Ohio State.

"A few years ago, everybody was excited about winning the league and winning 10 games," Swinney said.

"That was great, but my response was, we've got to do it again. We've got to go have another 10-win season, and another one, and another one. Until we do that, we're not going to get the type of national relevance that we all want to have. . I definitely think we've gotten beyond a lot of those hurdles."

Clemson hasn't burst through that glass ceiling and played for a national championship or won a BCS bowl, and has mixed some triumphs with disappointments in the big-time regular season and bowl matchups.

"We're not to the top of the mountain, but we can see it. We're not just circling it. We're climbing," Swinney said. "We've got to continue to grow as coaches, develop our players, recruit our tails off, have great discipline in what we do, graduate our guys, and we're going to get there."

Swinney wouldn't directly compare his own program to the one it'll play later this week in primetime. But Ohio State's one heck of a barometer for prolonged success building upon itself.

In this, the last of 16 seasons of the soon-to-be-defunct BCS era, the Buckeyes will play in their ninth BCS bowl game, carrying a 5-3 record into the Orange Bowl. The nine appearances and five victories are second to none, nationally.

Ohio State's all-time winning percentage (.720) is fourth, trailing Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma while barely edging Texas and Alabama. (Clemson's all-time winning percentage is .596, just inside the top 40.)

Ohio State also has claimed 14 national championships, to Clemson's one in 1981. That's the sustained glory the Tigers strive for.

"I feel like we're making steps toward that point, especially the last three years," quarterback Tajh Boyd said. "We've taken major strides to becoming that elite program. The Ohio States, the Michigans, the Southern Cals, regardless of the situation, those guys play on an elite level at all times.

"So when you match up against those teams, it kind of lets you know where you are as a program."

The word 'elite' gets tossed around in sports, dignifying the perpetual top dogs apart from the one-year wonders or second-tier contenders.

"We already feel that way," safety Robert Smith said. "We're at that level where we feel we can compete with everybody in the nation. We want to be known as among the elite in the nation. Ohio State's a great program, they have a lot of history and tradition. LSU does, too.

"But this is a completely different team, and they're going to have the mentality to go out and win."

As Swinney pointed out - another factoid to present Clemson's case of late - the Orange Bowl will be the Tigers' sixth game in their past 15 pitting two top-15 teams against each other.

"We've played good people. So it's not like we haven't had some challenges," Swinney said.

"We're a lot closer than some people may think from getting where we want to be. But I like where we are from a program standpoint, and I like what's coming."