Even without championship implications, these are the “money games” for Clemson. The school, the athletics department, the coaching staff and individual players stand to benefit from a strong finish in these final three games starting Thursday night with Georgia Tech.
A prime time, national television audience gets a look at a school in transition with Dr. Jim Clements named this week to succeed Jim Barker as Clemson president. Three more wins by a team that’s put down roots in the top 10 this season could secure Clemson an at-large invitation to a plum bowl and provide an estimated $1 million bump in conference revenue.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stands to earn bonuses of from $30,000 to $175,000 with 10 or more wins and a bowl appearance. And players such asquarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins could enhance their reputations with pro scouts.
It gives them all something to ponder.
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“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t,” Boyd said Tuesday. “Like coach always says, the more you win, the warmer it gets.”
Within reach for Boyd are more records. He has 50 school standards for offense and scoring and needs seven pass completions for 51, and with three more touchdown passes he would become the ACC career leader.
All of it would be hollow without a sweep.
“You want to go out here and finish as strong as you possibly can,” Boyd said. “We just want to do something special as a program.”
In the early conversations for Heisman Trophy, he has been named semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award, semifinalist for the Maxwell Award and finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. A strong finish could advance his campaign for postseason consideration.
“I want to be remembered as a finisher,” Boyd said. “That’s all we can do as a program is to finish.”
His 397 passing yards and two touchdowns helped put the finishing touches on a 47-31 win against Tech last year. And while it would require Virginia Tech and Miami to stumble the final three weeks, Georgia Tech needs the win to remain in contention for the ACC Coastal Division title.
“This is when it matters,” Swinney said. “It matters big time how we play, how we finish because this is when people really separate in November.
“Not many teams that started in the top 10 stayed in the top 10. Our team has kind of hung in there and had a really good season to this point, but we’re going to be judged on how we finish.
“Everybody knows the opportunity,” he said. “Anything can happen. Who knows?”
Playing at home Thursday night is preferable to a road date, but it’s not ideal. Ticket sales have lagged because much of the Clemson fan base travels hundreds of miles. The game lags as a showcase for recruits because it’s on a school night.
“If I had a preference, I’d love to play on Saturday,” Swinney said.
Public schools in Pickens County will close early to help minimize traffic congestion, but parking at Clemson won’t be available until 2 p.m.
“You don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it,” he said. “There are always negatives people can point out, but my job is to win the game.”
Temperatures at kickoff may dip below 50 degrees.
“As long as I can feel my fingers, I’m fine,” said Boyd, recalling a particularly chilly high school game where it was a challenge.
“One of my last games at home,” he said, “I’m going to try to enjoy it.”