CLEMSON — The superlatives are impressive but the perception of success at Clemson this season hinges largely on the outcome of the final four games.
Eighth in the BCS and 10 consecutive weeks in the AP top 10 should be enough to mute the criticism, Dabo Swinney said, yet as he tried watching the replay of ESPN’s telecast from Maryland he became displeased with the tone of the commentary.
“One of my favorite sayings is, don’t let anyone walk through your mind with their dirty feet,” Swinney said Tuesday. “I just turned that down. It was negative.”
Admittedly not a virtuoso performance, Clemson pulled away in the fourth quarter for its seventh win in eight games. Favored by 17 points this week at Virginia, Clemson should further cement its place on the national landscape, which Swinney was compelled to trumpet during his weekly media briefing.
Highlighting his points are the 39 consecutive weeks in the polls, the seven-game road win streak — the longest since 1978-79, the 15 consecutive victories by at least 10 points against unranked teams and a win against a top-10 team for the third year in a row, marks that puts Clemson in company with only Alabama.
“This is a good football team doing a lot of good things,” Swinney said. “People always just want to talk about the negative.
“We’ve got the longest road streak in 35 years. If that was easy to do, how come it’s been 35 years?” he said. “For 39 weeks, this team has been ranked and there are only six other teams in the country that can say that. It’s hard to maintain that type of consistency, but that is what we have to do as a program.”
Clemson opened the season in the top 10, and, after the loss to Florida State, dropped six spots from No. 3. This week, the Tigers recovered a spot.
“It’s hard to maintain that,” Swinney said. “There’s a lot of pressure that comes with that, the expectations, but that’s what we want. We want to be a team that people expect to be the best. That’s how we want our fans to think, our players to think, and that’s how we want to perform.
“If we can maintain a consistent level of performance, then we’re going to have a program that’s going to be one of the best year-in and year-out.”
Consistency of performance has not been a hallmark of this year’s team, which was why Swinney says that turnovers have been troubling. Last season, Clemson committed 13 over the final five games. The first eight games this season produced 13 more — eight fumbles and five interceptions.
“Right now, that’s the biggest issue that I have,” Swinney said. “It’s like a virus. It’s kind of got to run its course. Hopefully it’s through us.”
A week ago, Swinney insisted a return to basics would salve the wounds, yet Clemson fumbled three times, lost two and threw an interception. With a roster stripped by injury, Maryland tried to control the pace and keep Clemson from unleashing its big-play potential. It seemed relatively effective until three Clemson touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
“I think our best football is in front of us,” he said. “If you can play some really good football in November, you’ve got chance to separate and have a special season.”