Swinney: Team will not look ahead to ACC title game

pstrelow@thestate.comNovember 25, 2009 

  • SOUTH CAROLINA VS. CLEMSON

    107th meeting: Tigers (8-3) at Gamecocks (6-5)

    WHEN: Noon Saturday

    WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium

    LINE: Clemson by 3

    TV: ESPN (TWC 26/DTV 206/DISH 140)

    RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5, ESPN 93.1 FM

    ONLINE: Seth Emerson blogs live from the game Saturday at gogamecocks.com

  • Special Section: USC vs. Clemson

    Coming Thursday

    Look inside The State for a special, 20-page section previewing the USC-Clemson game. The spotlight for Saturday's game will be on quarterbacks Stephen Garcia and Kyle Parker, just like it has been in the first 106 meetings. A look at the quarterbacks in the rivalry --present and past.

CLEMSON - As a player and assistant coach at Alabama, Dabo Swinney was involved in five SEC championship games.

The Crimson Tide won the Iron Bowl against Auburn four of those five years.

So Swinney doesn't understand why there is such debate about whether Clemson can or will treat Saturday's game at USC with the usual reverence considering next week's long-awaited trip to the ACC title game.

"Why go play a game if you don't want to go play to win?" Swinney said. "It's always fun to play the rival game. It's important to this state and both programs.

"But for us, it's really about (the) next game, next goal. That's how we approach it. Same routine."

The next and third goal on Clemson's five-item list is winning the state championship, which hinges on beating the Gamecocks for the 10th time in the past 11 meetings at Williams-Brice Stadium.

That might qualify as routine, but having a more alluring carrot dangling in front of the Tigers during rivalry week has been anything but custom.

Next week's showdown with No. 7 Georgia Tech in Tampa, Fla., presents Clemson the chance to win its first ACC title since 1991 and advance to a BCS bowl - the Jan. 5 Orange Bowl - for the first time since the system was put in place 11 years ago.

To avoid the fear-of-failure pratfall that seemingly imploded previous teams, Clemson coaches constantly have harped on the concept of the preparation process - sticking to a weekly routine to ensure each opponent is treated equally while keeping the focus on the Tigers' execution.

The approach has worked during their six-game winning streak, making it the popular party line for why Clemson doesn't figure to incur an emotional letdown or look beyond USC.

"It's just another game," Swinney said. "It's a big rivalry game. But if it wasn't South Carolina, it would be somebody else. It wouldn't be any less intense. It could be Wake Forest, and we'd want to win that one just as bad."

Still, it is worth noting that both ACC championship game participants that have had an instate rivalry game against an SEC opponent the week before lost to that rival (Florida State to Florida in 2005, and Georgia Tech to Georgia in 2006).

Otherwise, ACC championship game participants have gone 6-0 the week before, including two Virginia Tech victories against rival Virginia.

The figures for the SEC seem to support Swinney's theory.

The SEC began its championship in 1992. The five participants with an instate rival game the week before - Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Mississippi State - have posted a 15-6-1 record against the rival.

Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, an assistant on Alabama's SEC runner-up squad last year, said the Crimson Tide's title-game appearance had no impact on its triumph over Auburn.

"You don't even think about that because you've played the whole season where you've had another game the next week," Steele said. "It's just another game on the schedule

"You could make it (a big deal), if you wanted to. But if you don't let it be, it won't be.

"Obviously the game means a lot to a lot of people in this state. It's a huge, huge deal to the fans. But it's just another game in terms of 11 guys on the field lining up in different ways, trying to out-execute people. That's really what it boils down to."

To that end, Steele said there is not even a benefit to tangling with a formidable opponent the week before the ACC championship because there's no carryover from USC's schemes to Georgia Tech's.

Strangely enough, Clemson's last ACC title occurred the same year it last played a game the week after facing USC - although the Tigers already had secured the '91 conference crown by defeating Maryland the week before. The Tigers beat Duke in Tokyo after downing the Gamecocks that season.

Swinney admitted that, ideally, a coach probably would prefer having an open date before a league title game. But given Clemson's momentum, Swinney would "just as soon keep on playing."

"We don't have any control of the schedule, so it's just another game on the schedule I get to go play in," senior tight end Michael Palmer said. "It happens to be South Carolina, so we have to get up and get ready to go play them."

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