CLEMSON, SC — After six straight ACC titles and College Football Playoff berths and two national championships, Clemson’s team stumbled out of the gate last season and finished 10-3.
It was supposed to be a down year for the Tigers.
After several seasons of winning ACC games by decisively wide margins, the Tigers have struggled in nearly every game in 2021, losing their grip on the Atlantic Division crown and winning four of their league games by six points or less.
If nothing else, it’s a cool dose of reality for players accustomed to romps where everyone seems to have fun.
Given that, a big-picture perspective suggests the Tigers need such a wake-up call as the program heads into its 14th season under coach Dabo Swinney.
“They’ve got a healthy attitude, really, honestly, a unique attitude that I haven’t had on any team that I’ve had in a long time,” Swinney said. “It’s not their fault, but these guys don’t have any football woes, if you will.
“There’s a big difference between disappointment and negativity. If you lose a game or a national championship or a playoff game, it’s disappointing, but I wouldn’t call it a football negativity.
He sells that belief throughout the preseason.
So far so good, says Sweeney, who is passionate about looking for silver linings.
“I was able to coach last year in a way that I haven’t been able to coach in a long time because I didn’t really have a chance,” Swinney said Friday before his team’s first practice of the preseason. “There are some things you can’t teach on a mountaintop, if you will.
“None of us likes negativity, none of us likes disappointment, but it’s good for us. It depends on how you react.
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The Tigers responded in a way that gave Swinney hope. His team went 4-3 on Oct. 24, then went on a six-game winning streak, the longest among the Power Five, heading into the Tigers’ 2022 opener at Georgia Tech on Labor Day night.
The defensive prowess of this year’s team is unquestionable; Consistent quarterback play is the biggest potential obstacle.
But Swinney likes what he’s seen and heard since spring.
“We weren’t very good (last season), but we kept finding ways to win,” Swinney said. “It gave them a good perspective. I love their mentality.”