FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - In his final pre-Orange Bowl press conference, Dabo Swinney addressed his ultimate vision for where Clemson is trending and what he wants the football program to become.
"This brand right here, when people see that Paw, we want them to know what it means," Swinney said Thursday. "I think that's one of the best areas that we've grown in over the last several years. We're not the national champion yet, but we've built our brand back nationally."
The victory against LSU last year helped. But uncompetitive losses to Florida State and South Carolina hinder.
"You win those games, you continue to develop the mentality, the toughness, the will to prepare that you need in your program," Swinney said. "And the attitude of belief that, hey, you know what, we can do it. We're as good as anybody out there.
"Unfortunately, you lose a few of them along the way as well, but you learn and grow from all of that."
Where Clemson aspires to go, its Orange Bowl opponent on Friday has already arrived.
"The alumni base at a place like Ohio State, it is a national brand," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "We certainly can't take credit for that. That's been going on for over 100 years."
Ohio State has about double the enrollment of Clemson, but schools like Auburn, Nebraska and Oklahoma State with similar alumni bases to Clemson have a tradition of churning out Heisman winners, national titles and generally sustained decades of success.
"This is another opportunity," Swinney said, "to continue our journey to the top of the mountain."
Clemson is about to play its sixth top-10 opponent in its past 15 games.
Some of that is dictated elsewhere, like ACC games against Florida State and bowl games against LSU and Ohio State. Some of it is voluntarily, as in non-conference contracts against Georgia and South Carolina.
Swinney is well aware of the trend, and he would have it no other way.
"It's the only way that we can thicken our skin, if you will, and develop the calluses that we need to be the type of program that we want to be," Swinney said. "We've challenged ourselves schedule-wise in a big way because we want to be nationally relevant."
Porter-Gaud product Stanton Seckinger, who leads the Tigers' tight ends in all three receiving categories, did not practice Wednesday with a sprained ankle, but he is expected to suit up Friday.
"We're fortunate, we're in pretty good shape," Swinney said. "Stanton, I think he's going to be fine, we'll see where he is game time. But I expect him to be okay."
Ohio State's sack leader Noah Spence was officially suspended Wednesday by the Big Ten Conference for three games for breaking an unspecified league rule. He'll be replaced at OSU's "viper" position by Jamal Marcus, with three sacks on the year (five fewer than Spence.)
"Jamal Marcus is going to be a disruptive guy. He's one of the more talented guys on our defense," Meyer said. "I'm anxious to watch him play. (Assistant coach) Mike Vrabel made that comment to me, he's a quick twitch guy. This is his kind of game."
Also, top cornerback Bradley Roby is unable to suit up due to a bone bruise in his knee, a crucial absence in OSU's No. 105-rated pass defense.
"Our pass defense has been a major issue at Ohio State, not near the standard we expect," Meyer said. "(Safety) Tyvis Powell and (nickel corner) Vonn Bell will be starting at positions they've never started before at."
Meyer is Florida Heisman winner and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow's mentor, and was asked if he thought Tebow's professional career was over upon Tebow agreeing to become an SEC Network analyst this fall.
"I hope not. I hope his playing days aren't over," Meyer said. "I think Tim will excel at anything he does because of his work ethic, his passion for what he does. Tim and I talk frequently. He's like a family member.
"I don't think we're there yet that he's in his mindset that he's done."