There’s a thin line between motivation and focus – and Clemson’s toeing it to spark a meaningful 2014 campaign.
Although it is said the season is won in a game-by-game focus, there’s a countdown clock in every WestZone meeting room that reads “0-5” regarding the Tigers’ recent run against South Carolina.
Reigning national champ Florida State was the overwhelming pick not only to win the division for a third consecutive season, but also to win the ACC as a potential playoff contender.
Clemson was slated for second with two first-place votes, where the national publication consensus has it finishing outside the top 15 for the first time in three seasons.
Rest assured, the Tigers are aware of that on either side of the ball, .
“They’re saying, ‘Oh well, you lost Martavis Bryant. Oh, you lost Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd, and all these guys,'” senior starting quarterback Cole Stoudt said. “I’m sitting here going, ‘What about Mike Williams? What about Adam Humphries, Charone Peake, (Germone Hopper), Jordan Leggett, Sam Cooper – what about those guys?' We have weapons that we’re going to use – they’re all veterans, too.
“All of these guys have been in this offense two to three years. They’re excited because they’re all going to be used.”
Going into his sixth full season, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says the turnover at this level is something he embraces.
“That’s one of the things that makes college football so exciting,” Swinney said Monday in his ACC Kickoff media rounds. “Players have to leave. If you’re a Patriots fan, you know if Tom Brady has breath in him he’s your quarterback. Same with Peyton Manning. They can ride into the sunset.
“In college football, about the time a guy gets really good, he has to go. I think that’s exciting because there’s that constant challenge of developing new guys.”
Biding his time as a three-year backup, Stoudt says he’s excited to work with guys he’s grown with.
“There were 20-some other commits that came in with me and we’ve all been playing with the same squad the entire time,” said Stoudt, “and our chemistry has been constantly building. I feel like some people are going to be shocked about what we do.”
As you might expect, Swinney shares his quarterback’s outlook.
“I’m confident in Cole,” Swinney said. “He'll have the opportunity to lead the Tigers, and we signed the top quarterback in the country behind him. There’s a lot of new names that I think, by season’s end, people will be saying, ‘Man, they’ve got Artavis Scott back for three more years, they’ve got this guy – that’s why we have to go play the games.
“I like the personnel that we have. Our staff – I like the culture that we have. We have 21 scholarship seniors – the most I’ve ever had. ... These seniors have won a bunch of games in their careers, and with that comes a mentality that I like.”
Echoing the charge of his defensive coordinator Brent Venables last week, Vic Beasley understands the hype around FSU, but believes folks are too easily forgetting the Tigers.
“They won the national championship, so you know they’re going to talk about them,” Beasley said. “You’re going to talk about the team that just won the whole thing. I don’t see disrespect (in that).”
“They forgot who we are. We’re still Clemson. We have the same guys back on defense from last year. It’s up for anybody. We have a chip on our shoulder because they beat us last year.”
But can they be beat? Beasley says the turnover margin played a big factor in losses to FSU and South Carolina last year.
“Every team has a flaw,” Beasley said. “Florida State’s not perfect. There’s definitely flaws in every team.”
There is solace for the Tigers and the rest of the best in the ACC, as the media favorite has reached the ACC Championship game three times in nine years and won it all once.