Suggesting that the fruit on the high branches might soon be within reach, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, “I think we’ve got a good football team.”
“We don’t want to be one of the best,” Swinney said Friday during an hour-long review of 2012 and preview of 2013. “We want to be the best.”
Eleventh in the final Associated Press poll following its victory against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Clemson should be relatively experienced after losing 11 scholarship seniors.
“I think this team has earned the right to at least be respected as a very good football team,” Swinney said.
Clemson rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat LSU as time expired.
“I think that it does a lot for our football team in knowing that we don’t take a backseat to anybody.”
Returning to the fold are two key components, All-American quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris, but leading receiver DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins opted for the NFL draft a year early. Boyd, holder of 39 school records for offense, scoring and passing, will be one of 10 juniors.
“I like our team,” Swinney said. “I think our team understands that the margin of error is small when you’re trying to be elite. They aren’t hoping to win, they’re expecting to win.”
Clemson opens 2013 with Georgia, finishes with South Carolina and plays an ACC schedule that will include road games at N.C. State, Maryland, Syracuse and Virginia.
“It just gets tougher,” Swinney said. “(We will) probably play three top 10 teams.”
Along with Boyd and an experienced group of receivers, Swinney said, “I think we’re going to be as good in the trenches as we’ve been in a long time” on both sides of the ball.
“I think it’s a great situation, obviously, for us but I think it’s a great opportunity for Tajh to enhance his dreams of playing on the next level,” he said.
Hopkins, he said, “needed another year.
“I know this. He’s going to be a great pro.”
The most extensive work might be in the secondary, where former N.C. State assistant Mike Reed was hired to pull together a group decimated by injury. His experience in the NFL and recruiting the Carolinas and Georgia were all factors that made him “a great fit for us.”
Swinney also noted that:
• As many as 24 players could be signed in this year’s freshman class. Ebenezer Ogundeko, Jadar Johnson and Jordan Leggett are on campus. Swinney said securing Ogundeko was like winning the lottery.
• Former All-American and All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins would be honored at the team banquet tonight as the first recipient of the Brian Dawkins Lifetime Achievement Award. Nominees must be 10 years removed from Clemson.
• Backup quarterback Morgan Roberts decided to transfer to Yale.
Swinney noted that success of 2012 “was the culmination of steady progress,” adding, “this is going to be a fun team to coach.”