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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football (copy)

CLEMSON — The second-ranked Clemson Tigers will be making their fourth straight appearance in the College Football Playoff Dec. 29 when they travel to Texas to take on the third-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl.

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One of the benefits of having already been a part of three previous playoff games is the experience that each player and coach can draw on to help manage the time off and the extra responsibilities that accompany playing on the biggest stage.

“It definitely helps,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We all draw on our own experiences, good and bad, as you go through whatever it is that you are doing. This is our fourth time in a row and we have been in a lot of big ball games and stuff, so I think we have learned a lot over the years.

“I think we have a good formula that we believe in as far as when we get ready and a good balance.”

The Tigers enter the game with the Fighting Irish sporting a bevy of veteran players who have been there and done that when it comes to the playoff experience.

The 2018 Tiger team is led by a senior class that has a 53-4 record, tied for the second most wins in a four-year period in the history of Division I college football. The class has been a part of four ACC championships, the first in league history to win the conference outright four consecutive years.

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And the group is making its fourth straight trip to the College Football Playoff. Seventeen of the wins have come against teams ranked in the AP, USA Today or College Football Playoff top 25 entering the game.

All of the aforementioned accomplishments mean this Tiger team is the most prepared they have ever been — which is a very good thing.

“I think they have a clear vision in their head,” Swinney said. “It helps when you can see something you can drop on your experience because you've done it. I think that really helps you a ton. And add then those guys in turn can help those guys who haven't been there.”

But there is still little that can prepare the Tigers for what they are going to see when they walk into AT&T Stadium in Arlington and look up above them and see their faces on the video board — that is an enormous 180 by 72 feet and spans from 20-yard line to 20-yard line.

They will be part of only the second College Football Playoff game to be played inside “Jerry World” and the Tigers face a historic team. And those are what the Tigers want — to compete on the biggest stage.

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“I've never been there so I'm pumped up about having the opportunity to play in Jerry’s World,” Swinney said. “Kind of see what that's all about, see the jumbotron and all that. So that's the biggest thing. And then having the chance to compete on the highest stage. …

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“It's awesome man. If you're comparing, you relish those opportunities.”

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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.


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