Clemson strikes a familiar pose - Dabo Swinney celebrating with his team after winning another ACC Championship Game. ()
Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This chasing Clemson is just getting exhausting

Take all those in the ACC chasing Clemson. There are different approaches to dealing with this particular orange overlord, now that it has won three consecutive conference titles. And it’s the overwhelming favorite to win a fourth outright, which no one in the history of the conference has done.

You can be defiant. That’s a Paul Johnson specialty.

“We’ve had our success with Clemson,” the Georgia Tech coach said. “I think we’re 5-6 against them. We probably have a better record against them than anybody else that they play.”

Over the same span, among Clemson’s regular opponents, only FSU at 5-5 has a better winning percentage against the Tigers. But nobody in the conference is handling them much lately. 

“It’s always a challenge,” Johnson continued. “They’ve got great players. Dabo (Swinney) does a good job, and they’re tough to play. But they’re not invincible.”

You can be realistic. Just a short walk from where he was speaking at the ACC Football Kickoff on Wednesday, Miami’s Mark Richt experienced the Clemson crush firsthand. The Tigers overwhelmed the Hurricanes 38-3 In last season’s ACC Championship game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

“They were better than us that day for sure and probably most days we would have played them last year,” Richt said.

“We know they’re the class of the league right now, and they’re the benchmark of who you got to beat to win the championship and go to the college football playoffs. We understand that, and we know it’s going to take work to get there.

“Hopefully we’ll get back to that game and do a better job.”

You can be hopeful. Willie Taggart is the new coach at FSU, the one-time king of the ACC. Whatever the gap is between these two accomplished programs, the new guy has to think it can be quickly narrowed.    

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a far separation. It’s just a matter of playing them and beating them. There won’t be a separation if you beat them,” Taggart said Thursday.

As for dealing with dominance when you are the one in charge, that comes with its own set of challenges.

Such are the problems of the rich. In Clemson’s case, that includes deciding what to do with one of the most highly acclaimed quarterback recruits of forever.

Already, Cartersville’s Trevor Lawrence has Swinney’s undivided respect.

“I know he looks like Fabio,” joked Swinney of his long-locked freshman. “I know he looks like a lot of drama. But he’s no drama. He’s one of the easiest kids you’ll ever be around.

“This kid’s had a lot of attention on him for a long time. I think he’s well prepared for all the drama that comes with playing quarterback at Clemson, as is Kelly.”

Kelly is incumbent Kelly Bryant, who Swinney lists as his No. 1 guy as of the moment – but the moment happens to be six weeks before the first game. The coach also includes redshirt freshman Chase Brice, out of Grayson, in the mix.

Some more problems of the rich: “We have three guys I believe without a doubt if you did like on a golf course and threw a tee up (to decide) who’s your partner going to be, whoever it pointed to, I could say let’s go win,” Swinney said. “I really believe we could win with all three of them. Haven’t always had a situation like that.

“Kelly will go into camp (No. 1) because he’s earned that. He earned it this spring. But the gap going into spring closed and you give credit to Chase and Trevor for that.”

It’s Lawrence who will command every rumor when camp begins. There is, after all, something of a connection between Georgia-made quarterbacks and Clemson glory (Deshaun Watson ring a bell?).

Oh, and on defense, Clemson has a group photo of first-round NFL draft picks that also serves as its line. So pleased with its defense is Clemson that it just awarded coordinator Brent Venables the richest package ever for a college assistant (five years, $11.6 million). That kind of money goes far in Clemson, S.C.

This remains a team being measured for big things on a scale grander than the ACC. Check out all those preseason national polls that coaches so love – you’ll see the Tigers at the top in many of them.

Once more on a preseason media gathering Swinney was in position to handle the ultimate softball question: Just how do you stay so good?

“We’re just very consistent on how we run our program, how we start over every year. We don’t assume anything,” he said. “You get what you earn. It’s how we get ready, what we do in the summer, our daily focus. We have a very systematic approach as far as we game-plan every single week.

“It’s all about Clemson every time. We play Clemson 12 times.”

And woe be to those who just have to play it once.  

About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for the AJC, mainly for the Sunday section. He covers a range of sports and topics.» If you're not a subscriber, click...
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