Even with seats on the bandwagon filling, Clemson players prefer rolling with the attitude that began to percolate before their game against Notre Dame four weeks ago.
“I believe we’re receiving some respect from some people,” safety Jayron Kearse said Tuesday. “But we can’t let that get into our head. We’re going to go attack every game like we’re that same ranked No. 12 team going up against Notre Dame when everybody was doubting us. We got to stay the course.”
Jumping to No. 3 in The Associated Press poll was indicative of the seismic shift in attitude about Clemson after the 58-0 win at Miami that helped pushed coach Al Golden out the door.
Suddenly every relevant sports outlet and major media personality liked Clemson’s chances of being one of four teams in the second College Football Playoff. Talk show host Collin Cowherd, ESPN analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Spielman changed their minds during the game. After a day to ruminate, CBS Sports and Bruce Feldman of FoxSports had Clemson at No. 1 in their power rankings.
And this week’s composite ratings, compiled by computer whiz Kenneth Massey, including calculations that weigh dozens of metrics, has Clemson at No. 1 overall. Of the 35 sources, 16 placed Clemson at the top.
“It’s just a number to me,” quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “None of that matters until December when they have to decide who’s in that top four.”
Though Clemson was favored by 10 by Las Vegas bookmakers, Saturday’s game at N.C. State spices the conversation. Since losing at N.C. State in 2011, Clemson has defeated 35 straight unranked teams.
Vegas books haven’t fully bought the hype, slightly adjusting Clemson’s odds at winning the national championship to 12-1.
“We know what could happen to us going up to N.C. State, so that’s a reminder,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re prepared and we respect every opponent and we don’t expect games to be easy.
“The biggest thing is staying true in who we are.”
Clemson held six of its seven opponents under 300 yards and is ranked No. 4 nationally, allowing 262.3 yards per game, and was also seventh in scoring defense (14.3 points), second on third down defense (20.4 percent), third in efficiency and first against the pass (43.2 percent). Offensively, the Tigers average 38.6 points and 465.4 yards, in the same statistical neighborhood as Ohio State, LSU and Stanford.
“I guess it’s cool to be up there and be noticed and represent Clemson well,” Watson said. “We earned the position we’re in now. Everything else is going to take care of itself.”
Precisely what the Clemson coaches want to hear from all their players.
“Me, personally, I don’t read anything. I don’t look at anything,” Elliott said. “I just focus on what I can control. Because some people don’t like it, some people are not going to like it. All that stuff is for the media to talk about and speculate.”
Ideally, Kearse said, everybody plays with a chip on their shoulder – at 7-0, 8-0, 9-0.
“We have to attack the game like we’re going against ranked one Ohio State,” he said.
“If you’re not playing with that chip on your shoulder, you get caught off-guard.”
Tigers vs. Wolfpack
Who: No. 3 Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) at N.C. State (5-2, 1-2)
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
Line: Clemson by 10.5