CLEMSON -- Can Clemson be like Mike?
To improve his team's consistency, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told his players this week to compete like former North Carolina and NBA basketball great Michael Jordan.
Clemson enters todays game at N.C. State (3:30 p.m., WCIV-TV/ABC) with a huge edge in talent over the Wolfpack (5-5, 2-4 ACC). But No. 7 Clemson (9-1, 6-1) faces a major motivational test: Can the Tigers play to a high standard even when the carrot they have been chasing for two months -- a division title -- has been captured?
That's where Jordan enters the conversation.
"Michael Jordan to me was the epitome of a competitor," Swinney said. "He got the best effort he possibly could from an opponent, and he was the best player on the court. This guy was so mentally strong and focused. That's the mentality you should have as a team, especially when you're Clemson and a top 10 team. When Clemson comes to town you're going to get someone's best. You have to perform at the highest level every week."
Swinney could offer another cautionary tale from personal experience.
Two years ago, Clemson won its sixth straight game, a victory against Virginia, to clinch its first Atlantic Division title. The next week at South Carolina the Tigers were routed, 34-17, with the ACC title game looming the following week.
While Clemson can win its 10th game for the first time since 1990 and perhaps strengthen its resume for an outside chance at earning an at-large bid to a BCS bowl should the Tigers lose in the ACC title game, quarterback Tajh Boyd notes Clemson is meeting a desperate N.C. State team playing for bowl eligibility and a coach, Tom O'Brien, who might be coaching for job security.
Will Swinney have changed anything in preparation to avoid another letdown after the experience of 2009?
"Maybe the players could do something differently, mentally," Swinney said. "But from a coaching standpoint (in 2009), we put in everything we had from a preparation standpoint."
The last time Clemson faced a team with a losing mark in ACC play on the road this season -- at Maryland -- Clemson trailed by 18 points before coming back. Clemson has been a notoriously slow-starting team this year, having come back from deficits of at least 14 points in three victories this season.
Clemson has had only 12 such comeback wins in program history.
"That's a great quality," Swinney said, "but we've got to stop getting in tough situations."