Clemson has a chance to win back-to-back ACC titles for the first time in 28 years with a victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday night, and Tigers coach Dabo Swinney couldn’t be more pleased with the way his team is playing heading into the showdown.
The Tigers dismantled South Carolina 56-7 this past Saturday, a week after jumping to a 28-0 lead at Wake Forest before cruising to a 35-13 victory.
“For us, it's all about trying to win our conference, and that's what we work toward all year long, and to finally have that opportunity and to have a chance to be a part of this game is special,” Swinney said during a teleconference on Sunday. “We want to be playing our best ball right now, not in September, not in October. We want to be playing our best ball right now, and I'm really happy where we are.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for Clemson’s impressive play down the stretch is quarterback Deshaun Watson playing so well.
The junior has nine total touchdowns with only one interception over the past two games. In the first 10 games, he had 29 total touchdowns, but threw 13 interceptions.
“This guy has been amazing,” Swinney said. “South Carolina was 17th in the country in pass defense coming into that game. … He goes out and completes 81 percent of his passes, six touchdowns, and should have had eight, and his ability to impact the game with his mind, his legs, there's just nobody else out there.”
Watson, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, is closing strong in an effort to make a return trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
In Swinney’s mind, Watson has had a better season than last year and should win the award.
“He's the best player in the country. I mean, just that simple,” Swinney said. “He has done a fantastic job leading this football team this year. ... We wanted to be in the hunt for the National Championship and the playoffs and all that stuff, and that's where we are. … And it starts with No. 4.”
Watson has a chance to make a Heisman statement against Virginia Tech, but Swinney said doing so against the Hokies won’t be easy.
Justin Fuente has led Virginia Tech to a 9-3 record in his first season as coach, and the Hokies have won five of six games entering the ACC title game.
“I've always had great respect for Virginia Tech and the type of program they have, their fan base. I'm certainly really happy for Justin and the job that he's done in the first year,” Swinney said. “For them to be back in the championship game, I think, is just an incredible accomplishment, and I knew when they hired him that it wouldn't take long for him to get them back to this point.”
ACC title game
Who: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
When: 8 p.m., Saturday
Where: Orlando, Fla.
Line: Clemson by 9