CLEMSON — Presuming they were distracted, Dabo Swinney reminded his players this week there are no guarantees even if you pay a team to visit Death Valley with the expectation the opponent will be a sacrificial lamb.
Eight upstart schools cashed checks ranging from $225,000 to $450,000 as guests of college football royalty this past week, yet refused to roll over and play road kill. North Dakota State crashed Kansas State’s party including dedication of a stadium renovation and 7½-foot statue of coach Bill Snyder. Eastern Washington beat Oregon State, the third win by a Football Championship Subdivision team against a nationally ranked major-college program.
Newly minted as the Associated Press’ fourth-ranked team, Clemson has reasonable expectations of winning Saturday’s game. The Vegas line says Clemson is favored by 52 points against South Carolina State, which lost to Coastal Carolina in its opener.
“Consistency” is the Swinney mantra regardless the opponent, so he’ll punch the same buttons that propelled Clemson past Georgia. Instead of 84,000 in Death Valley with ESPN GameDay and national television audience, the crowd will likely be roughly 10,000 lighter (althought all the tickets have been sold) and TV will be limited, an appetizer before the South Carolina-Georgia game later Saturday.
“If you come out and turn it over and you’re not dialed in with your execution and you’re playing a team with the exact opposite — high energy, they are dialed in and playing with passion and toughness — you get beat,” Swinney said.
, Clemson has a 26-0 record against Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Div. 1-AA) teams since 1978, and has won by an average score of 37-7. Clemson’s one hiccup was a 35-27 win against Wofford in 2011.
“I remember walking off the field at halftime two years ago against Wofford, and we were getting booed,” Swinney said. “I was booing with them.”
Asked if it might be difficult to match the emotion in Death Valley last week, Swinney could only hope not. When he was a receivers coach on Tommy Bowden’s staff, Swinney would remind his guys of the inordinate time they invested for the opportunity to play 12 times a year.
“If we only play with emotion because we’re on GameDay or because we’re playing UGA, we’ll never be a consistently great program,” Swinney said. “To me, you ought to have great emotion to play the game.
“I don’t care who the name on a Saturday is. Think about all the time you’re out there paying a price, grinding, in meetings. You get an opportunity to go play. Get excited.”
Coaches claim a team’s improvement should be most evident from the first to the second game, and so, too, Swinney. Imperfect against Georgia, he wants to see several players to step up their game, others he just wants to see on the field as Clemson continues to cultivate its depth.
And he doesn’t want to do it at the expense of the opponent’s dignity.
“I’ve never been a guy that wants to beat a guy 70-0,” he said. “When you put in the backups, you want to do what you do. You want to teach your guys to have some class. I want to win, but win with class.”
Still, the reality is that schools such as these aren’t paid to win.
Florida A&M, which lost 70-17 last season to South Florida, will get $650,000 to play at Oklahoma this week. Appalachian State, which received $400,000 for the Michigan game in 2007, has an agreement for $850,000 to return next year.
S.C. State will receive $275,000 and 3,000 tickets to visit Death Valley on Saturday, money welcomed by an athletics department run on a shoestring. Five years ago, Clemson won by 54 points.
“I think it’s great when you can play a team from your state and keep that money in state,” Swinney. “I think that’s real positive.”