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NEW ORLEANS — The 2019 college football season began the way that many people expected it to, with the Clemson Tigers entering as the No. 1 team in the nation en route to a perfect 14-0 record.

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However the first game of the year 2020, and the final game of the 2019 season, did not go the way many people, especially those wearing orange-colored glasses, expected.

The Tigers were thoroughly and soundly beaten in the College Football Playoff National Championship, 42-25, by the No. 1-ranked LSU Tigers.

But even though their 29-game winning streak was snapped and the orange-and-white Tigers are no longer the kings of college football, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is not letting anyone take away from what this group of players accomplished.

"Let me just first say I'm incredibly thankful for our team. I'm thankful for our team," Swinney said. "I'm thankful for God's grace, for allowing me to be part of such a special group of people, coaches, staff and players, and just an unreal year. I mean, incredible. It's just an incredible year, two years. Won 29 games in a row. It's been a long time since I've stood in front of a team with a loss."

The encouraging thought for Swinney is that this team was one of the youngest in the nation, featuring 80 freshmen and sophomores. But the discouraging thought is that next year's squad will have to replace some crucial pieces.

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Gone will be three offensive linemen, linebacker Isaiah Simmons, safeties Tanner Muse, Denzel Johnson and K'Von Wallace, along with - most likely entering the NFL Draft - running back Travis Etienne and wide receiver Tee Higgins.

"Coming into this year, 80 freshmen and sophomores out of 120, to get back to this point, I'm just super proud of them," Swinney said. "It's incredibly difficult to even get here and super hard to win it. That's for sure.

"But I'm proud of our guys. Incredible leadership and focus all year long, and a lot of history made by this group. I'm forever grateful for these seniors. What an amazing group of young people. Just dynamic young people that are unbelievably committed, and just Tanner Muse and Pollard and (Gage) Cervenka and (Tremayne) Anchrum, Denzel and K'Von and Patrick (Phibbs). So many guys. Just tremendous, tremendous leadership. So I'm thankful, and just blessed to have been a part of it with these guys."

The good news for the Tigers is they will not have long to stew or dwell on this loss, as they return to the practice fields in six weeks for the start of spring practice. That is where the makings of a new team and, hopefully, a new streak will be born.

"It wasn't our night, but man, what an unbelievable year," Swinney said. "What an unbelievable decade, to be honest with you. Just an unbelievable decade. Excited about starting this new one.

"We'll learn from it. We'll get better. Certainly there were some things that were there where we had our chances, but just didn't do enough tonight. Give them credit."

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io

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