When the selections were announced for the four spots in this year’s College Football Playoff, there was no doubt that the Clemson Tigers would be in.
And for the most part, there was no doubt that they would be spending New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in New Orleans at the Sugar Bowl as the No. 1 seed.
The thought of spending the New Year’s holiday in a city like New Orleans would be a dream come true — especially if you were an 18 to 22-year-old college student — unless you had the opportunity to spend New Year’s in California at the Rose Bowl.
"Personally, 95 perent of the team wanted to go to California. Who doesn't? It's California,” Clemson linebacker Kendall Joseph said. "It's Cali. It's Cali. I don't know, when you hear California and we're on the East Coast -- South Carolina. I grew up in Anderson all my life. Man, I wanted to go to California and see California. California just has this little aura about it, so we wanted to go out there."
Defensive back Ryan Carter echoed the feelings of his teammate but admitted that head coach Dabo Swinney told the team they were going to New Orleans to play in the College Football Playoff.
"I would love to be going to Cali, but I'll take New Orleans. I think that most of us were trying to go to Cali, but Coach Swinney was the one that wanted to go to New Orleans,” Carter said. “He said even before the season started that we were going to be in the Sugar Bowl. He called it.”
Not only did Swinney “call it,” he took photos of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on what he called a “reconnaissance trip.”
Earlier this spring, while attending the Manning Award presentation in New Orleans with former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Swinney was surprised to find out that the presentation was actually being held at the Superdome — the site of Swinney’s lone national championship as a player on Alabama’s 1992 national championship team.
It was only a little later that Swinney learned that the site of his national championship victory 25 years ago would be the host for the College Football Playoff semifinal.
“I thought that was pretty cool. And not only was that the event, we pulled right out onto the field. The turf was up, but we pulled right out on to the field,” Swinney said. “I didn't even know. That's when I realized that that was one of the playoff sites. So I took a couple pictures and turned it into a reconnaissance trip.
“So I had a little fun when we were in spring practice and kind of told the guys, ‘Hey, I checked it out. And, you know, if we do what I think we can do, this is where we have a chance to get to.’ So, it's pretty cool to see it come to fruition and just excited to be there and obviously excited to play Alabama again. I mean just doesn't get any better than that.”
While 95 percent of the Tigers wanted Swinney to be wrong and make the cross-country trip to California, they understand how big of an honor it is to be named the No.1 team in the country and have the opportunity to play in the nation’s second oldest bowl game, alongside the Orange Bowl and Sun Bowl (1935).
"That's one that I have never been a part of. I know how special it is to Coach Swinney,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “When he was a player, that's where he won his national championship, and I know that (true freshman running back) Travis (Etienne) is going to be excited. He's not acting like it, but I know Travis is going to be very excited. I think the whole town of Jennings is going to be in the Super Dome.”
For the majority of the Tigers, this will be their first trip to “The Big Easy.” But for those who have been before, there is an understanding that while there is a lot to do, there is a lot of fun to be had and trouble to get in to as well.
"There's a lot going on and just to be careful because there is so much going on,” defensive back Ryan Carter said. “With the magnitude of this game, we've got to make sure that we're locked in to what we have to do. It's going to be a great time just being there for a week and enjoying the scenery and everything that comes with New Orleans.”