CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers are in the trophy business.
Clemson this season has already taken home the O'Rourke-McFadden Trophy, which is given annually to the winner of the Tigers' regular-season game against Boston College. And in the weeks and months to come, Clemson hopes to hoist ACC Atlantic Division, ACC championship and national championship hardware.
For now coach Dabo Swinney's team has its sights set on Saturday, when the Textile Bowl trophy is on the line at N.C. State.
"We forget about that," Swinney said. "There's a trophy getting handed out after this game."
The trophy, which is given annually to the winner of the Clemson-N.C. State game, has found a steady home inside Clemson's football facility for much of this decade. The Tigers have won the matchup every year since 2012, including last season's 41-7 romp in Death Valley.
"It's somewhere around here," Swinney said of the trophy. "I guess we'll load it up and take it up there."
The Wolfpack (4-4, 1-3 ACC) will be waiting — to take back the trophy and to play spoiler. Clemson, ranked No. 5 in the first College Football Playoff rankings (No. 4 in the AP poll), can keep itself in position for the playoff with a win Saturday.
The Tigers (9-0, 6-0) will be be entering a charged environment. The Clemson-N.C. State rivalry, stretching back to 1899 and borne as a nod to both universities' large-scale textile schools, has gotten heated in recent years.
In 2017, as Clemson fought from behind to earn a 38-31 win on the road, Wolfpack defensive end Bradley Chubb made a habit of ripping away Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant's white towel. N.C. State coach Dave Doeren also erroneously accused Clemson's coaching staff of violating NCAA rules by using a laptop on the sideline; the computer was being used by a member of the Tigers' communications/social media staff.
Clemson poked fun at the laptop fiasco late season, when the Tigers on the sideline threw up a play card featuring a laptop baring a friendly smile.
"That was the ultimate troll, wasn't it?" Swinney said afterwards. "Isn't that what y'all call that?"
It's unlikely any trolling happens in Saturday's affair. The Tigers can clinch the ACC Atlantic Division with a win and if Virginia Tech upsets Wake Forest. Here are four keys for Clemson to avoid an upset.
Use CFP ranking as fuel
Clemson has a clear path to the College Football Playoff, assuming it can avoid any major upsets. But the rankings revealed Tuesday certainly opened a wound for Tigers fans who believe their team still doesn't get the national respect it deserves, despite winning two national titles in three years.
Clemson should lean into that scorned attitude and make a statement Saturday. The Tigers' 21-20 scare at North Carolina on Sept. 28 played a part in the CFP committee's decision-making, and though Clemson has been dominant since then, it still has some doubters who need convincing.
Let Trevor Lawrence sling it
Despite some questionable throws that resulted in interceptions earlier in the season, quarterback Trevor Lawrence is Clemson's unquestioned offensive leader. And if the Tigers are looking to put up big points, Lawrence is a good place to start.
Lawrence, after throwing two first-quarter interceptions at Louisville, has prioritized short- and mid-range passes. Now it's time for Lawrence to air the ball out.
Clemson has the weapons. Wide receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins are proven long-ball threats. Lawrence should look to get them the ball for big, impactful gains.
Follow Venables' lead
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has drawn praise this season for the Tigers' defense, and for good reason: Clemson has held all nine of its opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense.
Venables is known for watching a lot of film and a gameplanning with a relentless work ethic. In response to a question earlier this week about how he's handling the noise stemming from his name being floated as a possible candidate for Florida State's head coaching vacancy, Venables had little to say.
"Just getting ready for N.C. State," he said. "So there's nothing to handle, to be honest."
Clemson defensive players have stated their desire for recording a shutout. Saturday would be a good time for the team's first of the season against a Wolfpack team that ranks sixth in the ACC in total offense (393.8 yards per game).
Remember the bigger picture
As exciting as November football can be, Clemson needs to pace itself. A successful November opens the door for a successful December, which opens the door for a successful January.
There needs to be a balance Saturday. It'd be great to shut the Wolfpack out and score 60 points. But a major injury suffered in a game like this would be unfortunate. Physical setbacks, of course, aren't avoidable in football. But there's nothing wrong with an offensive player opting for the safety of the sideline instead of risking a big hit.
Clemson needs to play aggressive Saturday. It also needs to play smart.
Clemson 63, N.C. State 0