Kelly CFP Coaches Football

Football coaches Nick Saban, of Alabama; Lincoln Riley, of Oklahoma; Dabo Swinney, of Clemson; and Brian Kelly, of Notre Dame, from left, pose with the college football championship trophy after a news conference Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in Atlanta. The four teams are in the College Football Playoff. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA — Christian Wilkins arrived in Atlanta in a classic black tuxedo Thursday night — he insists he can't pull off the flashy look quite like the smaller players in college football can — and started rattling off what life has been like these past several days with all of his travels.

On Monday, the outgoing Clemson defensive tackle was in Charlotte for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy banquet, an award given to the nation's top defensive player, for which he was a finalist.

On Tuesday, it was up to New York for the William V. Campbell Trophy awards ceremony, also known as 'The Academic Heisman,' a prestigious honor Wilkins took home that he complemented with a moving acceptance speech.

And on Thursday, it was back down south to Atlanta for The Home Depot College Football Awards, where Wilkins was a finalist for two more honors.

"Oh man, I just had a nice steak for lunch," he laughed, ahead of the Thursday night ceremony. "I've been eating three-course meals for lunch.

"I ain't ever really ever did that. A three-course meal for lunch is pretty cool and I've been getting full. So I'm happy for that. Oh yeah."

But now it's time to legitimately get back to work — not just in hotel gyms.

And this Wilkins knows.

Thursday marked the end of a busy week of an awards circuit for Clemson football players and coaches, as Wilkins was all over the place with his awards, assistant coach Jeff Scott was in Arkansas as a finalist for the Broyles Award, wide receiver Hunter Renfrow was also in Arkansas as the winner of the Burlsworth Trophy given to the nation's top former walk-on and running back Travis Etienne was in Atlanta for the Home Depot festivities, too at the College Football Hall of Fame. Additionally, Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell was awarded the Ted Hendricks Award out of Chicago, given to the nation's best defensive end.

But as they walked the red carpet two hours away from home, Wilkins, Etienne and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney were all reminded of what is ahead of them and what is coming next once all of this hoopla calms down, starting Friday. All they had to do was look to their left. Or right.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was also in attendance Thursday in Atlanta. So was Fighting Irish cornerback Julian Love.

Clemson will see both of them again in three weeks when the two teams meet for the Cotton Bowl of the College Football Playoff and once that point comes, it will be all business.

The grind is coming.

"Notre Dame is a good team. They've got a lot of talent all over the field: offense and defense and special teams," Wilkins said. "We're just definitely going to have to have good (practices), stay focused through all of this time and prepare the right way."

The Tigers officially begin bowl practice Wednesday, once coaches return from a long stretch on the recruiting trail through this weekend, and in Notre Dame, Clemson's preparation will have to be close to immaculate if the Tigers are going to play for another national championship.

As Kelly reminded the college football world, his Fighting Irish played a tough regular season schedule specifically so they could stay relevant in the College Football Playoff picture despite not having a conference championship to play in. And they won all 12 of those regular-season games.

"That's why we play the schedule that we do," he said. "We play a pretty robust schedule and it's going to have to stand up to some teams that play 13 (games)."

As it stands now, Clemson is an 11 ½-point favorite to beat the Fighting Irish, but don't tell Swinney that. The Clemson coach doesn't keep up with odds and he certainly knows he can't look past a team as formidable as Kelly's.

Crunch time is here.

"I've never been to the Cotton Bowl, and I think it was Clemson's first bowl ever in 1939, so it's been a long time since Clemson has been there," Swinney said. "And obviously to have the opportunity to compete against one of the most historic programs in all of college football with Notre Dame and Coach Kelly — we just look forward to a great match-up."

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor

Grace is the Post and Courier's Clemson reporter. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism.