CLEMSON — With every major news agency having already penciled in the Clemson Tigers for a return trip to the playoff and a subsequent matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide in the national championship game, one might think the noise from the outside could become a distraction.
But not for head coach Dabo Swinney, who says that making the playoff and winning a national championship are never the goals.
“We don't talk about the playoff. That's never a goal,” Swinney said. “It's nowhere in our building. It doesn't say anywhere in our building it's a goal to win the national championship. It doesn't say it anywhere in our building.
“We literally are on a quest for best every single year, and that's to be the best that we can be. I measure that by the daily commitment, the focus, how the guys work, the chemistry, the leadership, the issues off the field, commitment to what we require of them academically, from their study halls and tutor appointments, just every little thing like that, that's how I measure the success of a team.”
Even though there is not a specific reference anywhere in the Tigers’ facilities to becoming the national champions, there are five goals that Swinney believes will position the Tigers to have a chance to compete for a championship if they achieve them all.
“We have our team goals (win the opener, win the division, win the state championship and win the closer), and they don't change,” Swinney said. “And again, they're set up to allow us to compete at the highest level.
“We just put everything we've got into each and every game and really, truly have a windshield mentality of, 'OK, what's next,' and whether you had a big loss or a big win, we just move on to the next one and try to -- we get 12 opportunities, and we try to maximize them and have fun doing it.”
Coming off a national championship — the Tigers’ second in three seasons — the tendency of players is to think that they have arrived, that they have reached the pinnacle of the sport and so they can relax.
That has not been the case for the Tigers.
In fact, the Tigers of 2019 have been focused from day one on not defending their national title from last season, but chasing another one this season.
“I mean, they've been a very focused group, easy group to coach,” Swinney said. “You know, they've been pretty consistent, and just their chemistry. This is a group that I think really cares, and you know, there's good crossover leadership between offense and defense, and they're just taking one day at a time approach. It's really something that I think they're taking a lot of pride in.”