CLEMSON — Is there enough energy to make Clemson’s game Saturday with The Citadel more than a routine stroll?
Have Senior Day, military appreciation and Jim Barker’s final game as university president provided sufficient kindling for a barnburning sellout in Death Valley against a team with a losing record?
What’s the appeal against a 40-point underdog and a program that last beat Clemson during the Hoover administration?
In the long shadow of next week’s game, what makes this relevant?
“This is a pretty focused team,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said, facing the persistent questions Tuesday. “We’re always dialed in, always engaged with what we’re trying to do.
“We’re still looking for that game where we can break every record we can in this offense. We’ve still got opportunities this season, so we’re trying to make the most out of every game.”
Not looking ahead to South Carolina?
“Not at all,” Boyd said, twice during his weekly Q&A with the media, knowing his comportment is under scrutiny by his coaches, fans and teammates.
“We’re solely focused on being the best team we can be, and, right now, that’s 11-1,” he said. “People are good at reading body language, reading demeanors.
“How I am, how I act, how I talk — it all reflects on me and translates to those guys, and we don’t need that right now.”
After that disheartening loss to Florida State, Clemson picked itself up and averaged 51 points and 563 yards in wins against Maryland, Virginia and Georgia Tech, climbing back to No. 6 in the coaches’ poll, seventh by the media and in the BCS rankings. Entering the week, Clemson was one of seven teams ranked in 42 consecutive polls, and top 10 13 in a row. Only Alabama, Oregon and Ohio State have longer runs.
“You’re never going to be a great program if you lose a game and your season’s over, like the world’s come to the end and none of the other games matter,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “I know the work ethic of our team, the commitment of our team.
“As long as we have those things in place the way they need to be, at the end of the year I can live with whatever result we get.”
For the second time, Clemson stands to win a 10th game for the third consecutive season. Clemson has won 17 consecutive games against unranked teams by double digits, second to Alabama’s 26. Of the nine games lost by top 25 SEC teams the past three years, Clemson has won four.
“We want to be a nationally relevant team every single year, and I think we have accomplished that,” Swinney said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t take care of your business through the season, you’re not relevant at the end.
“Not trying to act like The Citadel’s a team we shouldn’t beat,” Swinney said. “Anything can happen.”
After being ranked seventh by the BCS on Nov. 25, 2007, LSU won the national championship.
Name recognition means little, too. As a senior at Alabama, Swinney was anticipating a game with Arkansas early in the season when The Citadel beat the Razorbacks and set in motion the events that led to former Clemson coach Danny Ford’s return to football.
“That was probably, literally, the first time I heard of The Citadel because they beat Arkansas,” Swinney said. “You better be ready every single week.”
Even with a 27-0 record against NCAA FCS opponents such as The Citadel, games in which Clemson has a 31-point average margin of victory.
“This is college football. Crazy things happen,” he said. “That’s why we’ve got to be ready to play The Citadel this week.
“We don’t have time to peek ahead. The objective is to win the football game.”