Dabo Swinney has part of his Friday night speech to his team mapped out.
When Clemson's coach asks players which of them have won a state championship in high school to stand up, he has a rough count for the number expected to rise. (Based on media-guide bios, 12 in football, sixin other sports).
Senior tight end Michael Palmer had to think back to eighth-grade basketball to recall the last title he won.
"Man, that was a fun year," he said.
The 25th-ranked Tigers aspire to have such memories from this season. And the scarcity of even prep-level champions should engrain Swinney's point.
Regardless of how its spirit might have been dampened by Saturday's 34-17 defeat to USC, that outcome had no bearing on the bigger carrot dangling in front of Clemson - the program's first ACC title since 1991. It can be earned by defeating No. 12 Georgia Tech in Saturday's 8 p.m. championship game in Tampa, Fla.
Win that, and not only has 18 years of futility been exorcised, but the Tigers advance to the Jan. 5 Orange Bowl with a chance to win a BCS bowl for the first time since the system's inception in 1998.
"If a team went 17-0 in the regular season but loses in the playoffs, people aren't going to remember what they did in the regular season," senior running back C.J. Spiller said. "They're going to pinpoint what they did in the postseason. And that's where we're at."
The flip side, of course, is that if Clemson loses, it appears likely to drop to the third bowl among the ACC's non-BCS tie-ins, the Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., where a potential matchup with Northwestern - which tied for fourth in the Big Ten - hardly stands as a satisfying finish to the season.
That would have been easier for Clemson fans to deal with had the Tigers not lost to their rival to stain what was tabbed as their breakthrough campaign.
The bowl extremes might not be fair to the conference title-game losers, but the risk-reward element is a factor Swinney wouldn't trade. He has experienced numerous years in which former coach Tommy Bowden was judged by Clemson's shortfalls in the Atlantic Division.
The period during which college coaches can visit recruits began Sunday, but Clemson's staff will stay off the road until the day after the Georgia Tech game. While opposing programs might use that against Clemson with prospects, Swinney believes the Tigers will do better recruiting by focusing on and winning Saturday's game.
"So we talk to our recruits and we tell them, listen, the only reason them other coaches are there seeing you this week is because they're not in the championship game," Swinney said. "All the coaches for the other teams are out on the road today recruiting. But I promise you, they'd rather be right where we are, and that's getting ready to play a championship game.
"This is what you play for."
It was during halftime of their Sept. 10 defeat at Georgia Tech in the second game that Swinney contends the Tigers showed the potential to be a championship-caliber squad.
Clemson trailed 24-7, but, unlike a few first halves in recent years in which they were behind in big games, all parties suggest there was no finger-pointing in the locker room.
Despite a furious second-half rally, Clemson lost 30-27.
Afterward, Swinney said if the team continued to harness that effort, it could be "special" and see Georgia Tech again down the road.
"It's amazing, some of the things he says; it would be easy not to believe them," senior receiver Jacoby Ford said. "But he has a way of reading things and understanding the situation."
Countered Swinney: "If I was prophetic, we would be undefeated. So much for that."