Greensboro-NC – The ACC is finally ready to beat a SEC team for a National Championship this year, or are they? A lot of the talk at ACC Media Day centered on the Clemson Tigers and the high expectations surrounding the program this year, and why not? The Tigers are led by First Team All-American and Heisman hopeful candidate Tajh Boyd. The 2012 ACC Player of the Year lit up defenses with his powerful arm and soft touch last season throwing for over 3,800 yards. Boyd, who accounted for 46 total touchdowns (36 passing and ten rushing) not to mention a thrilling come from behind win against SEC powerhouse LSU in the 2012 Chick Fil-A Bowl, is a perennial top five NFL draft pick.
Although Coach Swinney wasn’t listed on our coaches itinerary for interviews he was gracious enough to spend a few minutes with me. Before getting into the 2013 season I asked him to reflect on how the 2012 season ended. I asked coach what it felt to get what I believed to be his first signature win against LSU last season. “Well I don’t look at it as a signature win, the first game I won as a head coach in my career was my first signature win, but it certainly was a big win. It was our 11th win of the season and that’s the first time we’ve won 11 games in 31 years at Clemson and doing it against LSU who has won more college football games than anyone in the last ten years was special. This year it’s a new team with new leadership and chemistry and we’re excited to get that going.”
The Clemson Tigers were the overwhelmingly unanimous pick receiving 95 of the 120 votes to win the ACC Championship this year. I asked coach how he keeps his team hungry and grounded heading into this season especially given the high expectations this season. “The one positive regard in that is Clemson fans expect us to win the National Championship every year regardless of what happened the previous year. The big thing for us is to not get caught up in that hype. We have to continue to have a humble blue collar work ethic week in and week out. The game comes down to execution and not what you did last year. We have to be very careful as a staff to keep the players focused on the right things and have great preparation.”
A big part of Tigers success this year will undoubtedly be the play of sensational junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins. After a tumultuous sophomore season in which Watkins was both hurt and suspended his numbers dipped considerably. Coach Sweeney shared these thoughts with me about his explosive playmaker,”All these guys go through a maturation process. Everything came so easy and went exactly right for Sammy his freshman year, I mean his first catch went for a touchdown. I think he lost a little bit of his focus last season. I mean Sammy only played in seven games for us. He’s grown tremendously for us and he’s had a great spring and summer. He’s in great shape physically and mentally. If he stays healthy Sammy is as good as a player that there is in college football. He’s a great young man and leader for us.”
With Sweeney at the helm the skies the limit for this experienced and talented team. The Tigers have four of their five offensive linemen returning including First Team All ACC offensive tackle Brandon Thomas to protect Boyd and open up holes in the running game. Clemson opens their season against a tough SEC opponent in Georgia, who finished the season ranked in the top ten last year. Talk about making a statement early, if Clemson can come out and dominate the Bulldogs they will propel themselves into everyone’s National Championship discussions.