Clemson University

Clemson’s Swinney comfortable with high expectations

Dabo Swinney previews Clemson season at media golf tourney

'This is the best time of year,' Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says.
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'This is the best time of year,' Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says.

The encore to Clemson’s greatest season in more than a generation began unofficially Tuesday with coach Dabo Swinney’s annual golf outing for media with a snapchat of the months since the national championship game.

Along with the growing entourage of local media, the group this year at The Reserve included several scribes from national outlets, including ESPN and Sports Illustrated, anticipating with a potential Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Deshaun Watson, this could be Clemson’s year.

Swinney doesn’t discourage the talk. For three years, he insisted his teams were capable to be in the conversation, and after going toe-to-toe with the Alabama juggernaut in January, his confidence was rewarded.

“The past several years I think we’ve been good enough, and I think we’re good enough this year. But every year is a grind to get there,” he said. “There’s no free passes. You don’t skip here and end up over there.

“Every year is different, but we’ve had a nice run of consistency, and that’s what I want to see from this team,” he said. “If we can do that, we can be in the conversation.”

Last season, Clemson won 14 straight games before losing to Alabama by less than a touchdown, beating a string of nationally ranked teams.

Watson was a Heisman finalist, and Clemson silenced preseason questions about a retooled offensive line with a freshman at left tackle, the kicking game with a walk-on and a secondary

Swinney predicted could be a sleeping giant.

This time around, he’s even more comfortable with the depth of talent, the team’s dedication and determination and the fact that the players have responded to his message.

“This bunch, they’ve been real easy,” he said. “They have had a sense of urgency since day one, an eagerness to get back at it.”

Surrounding Watson are a talented group of backs and receivers, and Swinney predicts the tight ends could emerge as this season’s surprise. Defensively they’re a bit thin at end, but with tackles Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, there’s more than enough size and muscle. Wilkins, who caught a pass off a punt fake in the win over Oklahoma in the national semifinals, could be the prototype for an end in an odd-front alignment and might never come off the field.

In linebacker Ben Boulware beats the heart of the defense. Clemson lost three-fourths of that secondary in the NFL Draft, but expects to cash in on that monster recruiting class of a few years ago.

Never short on confidence, Swinney seems more grounded than ever with what he’s been able to achieve by assembling a top staff and recruiting some of the most celebrated talent in the game. Getting every opponent’s best has been the norm for at least five seasons, so Swinney would welcome the notion of playing a season as the frontrunner.

“We haven’t been the underdog a whole bunch, but until we go win a couple of national championships we’ll probably be little old Clemson,” he said. “That ain’t going to go away until we stick a flag in the top of the mountain.

“In our mindset, we expect to win. It doesn’t matter what other people think or what other people’s expectations are. We’re good enough. That’s a fact. It’s a matter of whether we’re going to perform to our standard.”

His time since spring practice included several business trips and his 22nd wedding anniversary, but during trips to New York and Chicago he met Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Cubs manager Joe Maddon. Swinney was surprised that both knew him, and that Maddon, “kept up with our team, follows us and knew a lot about our journey.”

“It’s pretty neat to meet a lot of people I might not have had a chance to meet.”

Just one of the perks of being an “overnight” sensation.

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