Clemson was in unfamiliar territory last season after beating Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to advance to the national championship game. Instead of finishing its season with a bowl victory, the Tigers had to earn one more win to end on a positive note.
The experience was new for the Tigers and coach Dabo Swinney, who had the task of getting his team ready to play again in a short amount of time after putting so much into one game.
“That was a lot of added thought for myself in trying to map out a good plan as far as how we get ready, how we transition, the logistics, all the stuff that goes with – most time you go to a bowl game you win the game, you feel good about your season and you move on,” Swinney said Thursday in Atlanta. “Now you’re loading up and coming back and getting ready for the national championship, and we were starting school. So there was just a lot to manage, and we had not been through those waters.”
Clemson handled the situation well as the Tigers came out ready to play before falling to Alabama 45-40 in the national title game.
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Still, Swinney believes his program will benefit from playing two games in the playoff last year, should the situation arise again this season.
“We learned a lot, and we had great preparation. We lost to a great football team, and I thought once we got to the national championship site, it was really just like a little bit of a longer away game, and it was very businesslike and very well structured. I think a great experience for our guys, and I’m glad that we’re getting an opportunity to go compete again.”
When to vote
When asked, Swinney said voting for the Heisman Trophy should take place after the bowl games and national title game are played.
“To me, you would wait until the games are played. That’s how we do a national champion,” Swinney said. “But I don’t really have any control over that and don’t have any input in it and don’t expect to have any input.”
Vote of confidence
Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn’t have a Heisman vote, but if he did, he said he would have voted for Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
“I think he’s a fantastic competitor and a great player and played a fantastic game against us,” Saban said. “I don’t get to see him all that much during the season, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guy. He did a fabulous job.”
Swinney said the talent gap between Power 5 schools and smaller FBS teams is shrinking. The Tigers played one smaller FBS team this season, Troy, and held on for a 30-24 victory.
“You’d better show up ready to play every week,” Swinney said. “Watch college football, you see I-AA teams beating Division I teams. I think the way recruiting is now, so many guys committed so early, we all miss out on a lot of great seniors. Guys still develop. I can’t tell you how many great seniors that I’ve seen over the years because of where recruiting is now, they end up at some of these other schools that were certainly good enough for Clemson or Alabama or whoever.”