CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney strives to live his life, and lead his team, from the inside out.
"As a man thinketh, so is he," Swinney said Tuesday, referencing the bible.
The buzz that surrounds the college football machine, produced by talking heads and social media mavens, amounts to white noise around Clemson's facility.
For the most part.
The Tigers are mindful of the narrative that's emerged in the nearly two weeks since their 21-20 win at North Carolina; their standing in the national consciousness was elucidated when the AP Top 25 voters moved them from No. 1 to No. 2, in favor of Alabama.
Swinney normally ignores rankings chatter, but he leaned into it during the open week and pulled out an old metaphor: "The Rest of Y'all bus," which the coach coined last season when referencing the rest of the nation's competitors' standing in comparison to Alabama.
"I went back out to the shed this week and I took the tarp off the ROY bus," Swinney said.
Swinney smiled as he spoke of the metaphorical bus. Perhaps it's more fun to be the driver of "little ol' Clemson," and pushing uphill toward something greater. It's a mindset the Tigers are ready to embrace over the final seven games of the regular season, starting with Florida State at home this Saturday.
"I thought we were off the ROY bus for awhile," Swinney said. "Pumped the tires back up, gave it a bath. Little oil change. Ran down there to the $5 oil change. Fluffed up the seats a little bit."
To be clear, Clemson is still a national power. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and linebacker Isaiah Simmons are widely considered among the elite players at their respective positions. And before the UNC game, Clemson hadn't really been tested this season.
But the team's performance in Chapel Hill failed to meet expectations, and if the season were to end with the current rankings, the Tigers could be at a disadvantage come College Football Playoff time; the top-ranked team chooses its national semifinal location, and both Clemson and Alabama have a geographical preference for the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Ga., as compared to the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
Clemson players understand the situation and are intent on rectifying the mistakes committed against North Carolina. Linebacker James Skalski said the Tigers didn't have a "great week" of practice leading into the game.
"And it showed," he said. "Not making the plays you should make, not making the layups, you could say. And that's something we pride ourselves on, is doing your job and making the layups."
Linebacker Isaiah Simmons pointed out that Clemson, which started the season with 80 underclassmen, is a younger team with little experience at losing; sophomores and freshmen have never lost a college football game. But that's not an excuse, he said.
"Last year, that's done," Simmons said. "That's in the books. That has nothing to do with us now.
"All the other stuff is in the past, the touchdowns don't carry over, the tackles, none of that carries over."
What Simmons is preaching is not a new phenomenon in sports; it's cliche. But it's a sentiment perhaps more difficult to embrace now in a digital world in which fans have never had greater access to heap praise on their favorite players.
And Clemson doesn't try to hide its past achievements. A giant banner memorializing last season's team as the "Best Ever" hangs in the team's practice facility.
But last season's team was energized in part by the perception that it wasn't on the same level as Alabama — hence the ROY bus.
Another lackluster performance this weekend, against Florida State, would embolden the naysayers further. Swinney understands this, and he's ready to steel his team against listening too closely. But he can't help but gush over Clemson's new ride.
"Back on the ROY bus, man," Swinney said. "Here we go!"