ACC feast is ready for Tigers

But before they can enjoy it, they must avoid a return to famine against Virginia

pstrelow@thestate.comNovember 18, 2009 

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Clemson tackle No. 72 Landon Walker lifts Clemson running back No. 28 C.J. Spiller in celebration of his rushing touchdown during the third quarter as Clemson defeats N.C. State 43-23 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2009.

RICH GLICKSTEIN/RGLICKSTEIN@THESTATE.COM

  • CAVALIERS AT TIGERS

    WHO: Virginia (3-7, 2-4 ACC) at Clemson (7-3, 5-2)

    WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

    WHERE: Memorial Stadium

    TV: ABC

    RADIO: ESPN Radio 93.1 FM

    LINE: Clemson by 21

    THESTATE.COM/TIGERS: Live chat with Paul Strelow, 3 p.m. Thursday

CLEMSON - At some time during his lengthy coaching career, Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele developed the habit of not eating on game days until the contest is over.

It explains why the 51-year-old Steele is typically the last person to leave the Tigers' locker room. Drained, he hunches over in his chair, grabs a bite to eat and recharges before departing - usually after the cleaning staff has finished its chores.

"I am spent," Steele said.

Steele said eating makes him feel lethargic, comparable to the cause and effect No. 18 Clemson (7-3, 5-2 ACC) hopes to avoid this week.

The Tigers can win the Atlantic Division by either defeating Virginia (3-7, 2-4) Saturday or if Boston College loses one of its last two games.

Clemson's five-game winning streak, juxtaposed with the Cavs' four-game losing skid, has made it easy for outsiders to automatically put the Tigers in the Dec. 5 ACC championship game.

It would mark the breakthrough they were unable to accomplish under former coach Tommy Bowden and send a high-profile group of seniors out in style.

But while it's the perfect script, coach Dabo Swinney is charged with ensuring Clemson isn't prematurely feasting on its glory and praise - potentially setting up the Tigers up for a return to ACC famine if they stumble against Virginia and fail to win the division.

"These kids have responded every single week," Swinney said. "We won't spend 30 seconds talking about Boston College this week, I assure you.

"Nobody ever wants to lose at home - ever. But you certainly don't want to lose your last game at Death Valley. We want to do what champions do, and that's take care of our business and not worry about everybody else."

That figures to be easier said than done.

With Clemson on the brink of the kind of success is has not experienced in two decades - not to mention its turnaround from a 2-3 start during which players' and coaches' credibility were called into question - Swinney's weekly news conference Tuesday quickly morphed into serenade to the senior class.

Career retrospectives for the numerous senior standouts - running back C.J. Spiller, lineman Thomas Austin, tight end Michael Palmer, receiver Jacoby Ford, among others - are destined to merit as much media attention this week as the program's apparent road to vindication.

Swinney reminded of how he forecasted the Tigers would be "special" after their close comeback loss to Georgia Tech in the second week - a judgment rendered from the fortitude the team showed during the game and the communication and work ethic displayed during halftime and after the defeat.

"I tell them all the time, don't get caught up in the hype," Swinney said. "Just like when we were 2-3 and everybody was talking about how bad we were and how bad the coaches were, don't believe that either. Be careful what you listen to.

"Now that everybody's patting you on the back. You just stay focused on what you've learned, which is how to prepare. Stay committed to the right things and keep your eyes on the prize."

Boston College's game with North Carolina begins at noon, so the Tigers could learn by kickoff that they have clinched the title. Or, as Steele pointed out, knowledge of a Boston College victory could put pressure on them.

Swinney strongly suggested there would be no scoreboard watching.

"There won't be any celebrating with this football team until we take care of business on the field," he said. "We have a job to do. We'd like to win it outright. You're not going to see any letdown."

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