SUNSET - The script has flipped, the tables have turned, the other shoe has dropped - dust off whichever other clichés there are to open the preseason.
This time last July, head coach Dabo Swinney stood in his Clemson-colored golf shirt before hitting the links fielding questions about the great expectations for the Tigers' high-powered offense, and whether the defense could keep up.
Scratch that, reverse it in 2014. While there remain questions as to how the Tigers will replicate the Tajh Boyd-Sammy Watkins combo, Clemson's front seven has been hyped as among the best in college football.
"I know this: when the season is over, I'll be highly disappointed if we're not a great defense, and have not had great performance from these guys," Swinney said before his annual media golf outing at The Reserve at Lake Keowee. "That's the challenge.
"We have a chance to be the most complete group that we've had since I've been the head coach. Just depth, experience, talent, much, much improved in the secondary."
Experience is most obvious among the pass-rushers and run-stuffers: defensive end Vic Beasley, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Stephone Anthony, each seniors, have been named on three different summer watch lists honoring defensive players.
Yet defensive coordinator Brent Venables won't be one to tell his unit how great it is, and Swinney's fine with that.
"There's a swagger there that has come from performance. Now we've got all these guys on all these lists, and that's all great," Swinney said. "But I think our guys still have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They're very hungry to make sure people know that Clemson has got a great defense."
Since senior quarterback Cole Stoudt is unproven - he's bound to field as many questions about keeping his starting job away from freshman Deshaun Watson as he is about the actual job itself - so is the high-powered attack under the nation's highest-paid offensive coordinator, Chad Morris.
"That's a motivating factor for our guys," Morris said. "Look, everybody thought it was the Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant Show. They ain't giving you guys much credit. I think that's a big deal. We're going to take that us-against-the-world mentality."
With back-to-back 11-win seasons, and coming off the program's first BCS victory, Swinney knows there are bigger and better things in store for the Tigers - as long as the players want it badly enough.
"Nobody's going to say, they're a top-ranked whatever coming in here. Nobody's going to underestimate Clemson," Swinney said. "It doesn't matter, OK, we led the nation in tackles for loss, we did all these great things. What are we going to do now? Everybody's got to get better.
"If our guys will continue to stay committed like they have in the past, I think we have a chance to be outstanding. But we've got to go do it. All it is right now is a bunch of talk and projections and what looks good on paper."
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