Clemson University

The early Cotton Bowl date is affecting Clemson’s schedule. Here’s how

Dabo Swinney has a method that he believes in when it comes to getting his team ready for the College Football Playoff.

Clemson will play in its fourth consecutive College Football Playoff semifinal when the Tigers face Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29, and the Tigers have been successful under Swinney in playoff semifinals and in bowl games.

Clemson is 5-1 in its past six bowl games (not counting national title games) with the only loss coming last year in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama.

The Tigers got back to work for this year’s bowl game Wednesday afternoon when they held their first practice for the Cotton Bowl, and Swinney explained afterward why his team has been so good in bowls.

“You’ve got to play well, so you’ve got to prepare well. For us it’s having the right balance and getting our opponent prep, but also really sharpening ourselves up from a fundamental, technique standpoint,” Swinney said. “And then it’s a long time from a physicality standpoint, so you’ve got to make sure you get a good mixture of good on good, because you can’t just show up on December 29th and start tackling somebody. You’ve gotta have a good balance. And I think our experience really helps us as far as striking the balance that we need from a preparation standpoint and how we manage the schedule.”

The schedule is a bit different for the Tigers this year as the Cotton Bowl is being played on Dec. 29. The previous four years the playoff semifinals have either been played on Dec. 31 or Jan. 1.

With the date moving up Clemson will leave for Dallas on Dec. 23 and be gone for Christmas for the first time in a long time.

The Tigers will practice in Clemson through Wednesday, Dec. 19, then will be off Dec. 20-22 before meeting up, holding a quick practice and leaving for Texas on the 23rd.

“Our players will be off Thursday, Friday, Saturday and so it’s not a very long break because we’re going to meet at 11:30 Sunday morning (Dec. 23), have a quick meeting, a little light practice inside here and then we’ll load up and leave here,” Swinney said. “We’ll have a staff meeting when we get out to Dallas, I think an 8:15 (p.m.) team meeting, get all the logistical stuff out of the way and then we’ll have a true game prep week. And it’s all the right days this year. It worked out. So Monday is actually Monday. We’ll have a good Monday practice and then Tuesday, we’ll wake up, have a nice Christmas celebration and kind of a program for that and then ‘ho ho’ throw on the pads and go have a full-padded Tuesday practice that afternoon. That’s what we do. It’ll be fun.”

Clemson last played a bowl game as early as Dec. 29 in 2014 when the Tigers dominated Oklahoma 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Even with the date change Swinney is confident the Tigers will be ready to play.

Swinney gave his players 10 days off from the end of the ACC championship game until the team hit the practice field for the bowl game on Wednesday since the Tigers will not get to spend Christmas Day at home with their families.

“This is the earliest that this game has been. So that’s very different. We haven’t played this early since the Russell Athletic Bowl. So we’re gonna be there for Christmas. We’re usually home for Christmas,” Swinney said. “So that part’s a little different. A little more time on the front end. A little less time on the back end before we head that way.”

College Football Playoff schedule

Orange Bowl

The No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (12-1) will face No. 1 Alabama (13-0) in the Orange Bowl at 8 p.m. Dec. 29 (ESPN) in Miami in a matchup of Heisman Trophy front-runner quarterbacks — Kyler Murray of Oklahoma and the Tide’s Tua Tagovailoa.

Cotton Bowl

The No. 2 ACC champion Clemson Tigers (13-0) will play No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) in the Cotton Bowl at 4 p.m. Dec. 29 (ESPN) at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

Matt Connolly is the Clemson beat writer and covers recruiting and college sports for The State newspaper and The