CLEMSON — While the nation was focused on televisions, cell phones, computers and radios Tuesday night awaiting the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings — which saw Clemson ranked fourth -- the Tigers were busy preparing for an Atlantic Division showdown with N.C. State.
“It just doesn’t matter,” the team said in echoing the words of their head coach Dabo Swinney.
“Honestly, I didn't think about that. I didn't remember that until you just mentioned it,” defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “Obviously, I forgot all about that, but I mean there's no way around it. You are going to be exposed to it. You're going to be forced to see, watch, whatever.
“But regardless of what the committee decides or whatever, it's only the first one. Second of all, none of that matters right now, really. Regardless of what they say - -how they feel about us - -it's all about what we do going forward. We control our own destiny going forward, so we've just got to make the most of every day as a team and the rest will figure itself out for itself."
The Tigers can further solidify their spot in the playoff with a victory Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC) over the N.C. State Wolfpack, as well as with a victory over Florida State Nov. 11. That would secure their spot in the ACC Championship game.
Even with this week’s game clearly carrying the title of “the biggest game of the year” for the Tigers, they are focusing on making the game smaller — not bigger.
"It's the same thing, the same mentality. This is, quote, a bigger game because there's a little bit more at stake. But we've just got to make it smaller,” Wilkins said. “You've got to make it smaller really. Don't think too much about that, because if we do our job, then we'll get the result that we want. You can't put too much pressure on yourself, too much stress or anything like that -- just make your life as simple as it can be, both on and off the field.
“I try to bring the same juice every game no matter who we're playing. I try to stress that to my other teammates -- you have to be up for every game. You can't just choose when you want to play and things like that. So you really have to bring that juice every week."
The Tigers will need all of the “juice” they can muster this week, as they face a Wolfpack offense that averages 441.9 yards per game and 32.8 points per game.
Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley has been nearly perfect since transferring from BYU in 2015. Finley had his nation-leading streak of consecutive throws without an interception broken last week in the Wolfpack’s loss to Notre Dame when he threw a pick-six in the third quarter.
The streak ended at 339 passes — dating back to last season -- the second-best mark in ACC and N.C. State history.
"He's a very talented player. Just watching him on film and playing him last year, he's an older guy and he's got a lot of experience and everything like that too,” Wilkins said. “He just makes the game harder and doesn't make a lot of mistakes. I think he just threw his first interception in like almost a year. So that just shows that he's making good decisions and doing things right and we've just got to try to make it tough on him as a defense. It starts up front -- making his job as hard as possible."
With the Wolfpack looking to avenge last season’s overtime loss to the Tigers and with N.C. State selecting the Tigers as their homecoming game, there is no shortage of motivation for Clemson this week.
But the real motivation, and what will ultimately determine whether the Tigers leave Raleigh with a victory, comes down to the players bringing the energy every day between now and Saturday.
"(Homecoming) doesn't mean anything. We've still got to go out there and play,” Wilkins said. “Guys are still bringing it (the energy) and I'm sure that today (Tuesday) and the rest of the practices this week will be high-energy. Practices are more fun that way when we're competing and everyone's talking and the offense is going at the defense. It's a lot more fun that way. We'll try to have that spark each day."