CLEMSON — Back then, in the late 1990s, Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher were relative unknowns in college football, a couple of young coaches with minimal resumes and funny first names, both scraping the local high school scene for talent.
Swinney was an assistant at Alabama, Fisher at Auburn. They often ran into each other in Birmingham, Ala., against the backdrop of Friday night football. They got along, yes, but they were competitors, first and foremost.
In the years to come, each would ascend the coaching ladder, successful and powerful enough to dispatch recruiters on their behalf. As head coaches they won a combined three national titles, Swinney earning two at Clemson and Fisher one at Florida State.
They'll meet for the 10th time Saturday, when No. 1 Clemson hosts No. 12 Texas A&M. Here's four keys for Clemson as Swinney looks to push his record to 6-4 in games against Fisher.
Pressure Mond early, often
Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond carved Clemson up last season, throwing for 430 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another 33 yards on 10 carries in the Tigers' 28-26 road victory.
Mond is dangerous throwing in the pocket, but he's perhaps more of a weapon when he has room to roam around. He's a capable thrower on the run, and when there are no open receivers, he has the ability to rush for a big gain.
There was a lot of talk about Clemson's retooled defensive line in the offseason, and critiques of the inexperienced unit quieted some after last week's 52-14 win over Georgia Tech.
This week, however, is the line's first real test, and perhaps its biggest one of the regular season. The more unpleasant the line makes Mond, the better chance Clemson has of victory.
Treat Texas A&M like Alabama
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence turned in an uncharacteristic performance in Week One, finishing just 13 for 23 with two interceptions against one touchdown, though his shortcomings were overshadowed by the hit he made on Georgia Tech defensive back Tre Swilling after Swilling's interception.
It's great to hype up your teammates with touchdown-saving tackles, but Lawrence's job is to quarterback the No. 1 team in the nation. He'll need to treat Texas A&M the way he did Alabama on Jan. 7, when he threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns in Clemson's national title win.
The urgency for a big game for Lawrence is even greater when considering Mond will be looking to steal some of the spotlight on the other end.
Be prepared for close game
Last year's 2-point win over the Aggies was not the norm. The Tigers edged Syracuse, 27-23, a few weeks later, but otherwise Clemson's wins were blowouts.
It dropped 59 points on Florida State. Seventy-seven points on Louisville. In the ACC Championship, the Tigers beat Pittsburgh by 32, then defeated Notre Dame and Alabama by 27 and 28 points, respectively.
Saturday could turn into the closest game Clemson has played since the Syracuse matchup. The Tigers need to be mindful of that and not get nervous if the bout remains close in the fourth quarter.
Play up to the moment
Sure, last week's season opener had plenty of pomp. But Clemson might not play another regular-season game as hyped as this week. While the Georgia Tech contest was broadcast to a limited audience on the ACC Network, this week the Tigers play on ABC.
Players who perform well against the Aggies will increase their visibility. Heisman Trophy voters don't take weeks off, and they'll be paying attention to Death Valley on Saturday.
Clemson probably doesn't need to be reminded of this, but it's important — both for the team and individually — to play up to the moment.
Clemson 34, Texas A&M 27