Clemson was last season’s national championship runner-up, but one gets the sense the Tigers are not savoring the accomplishment.
They’re focused on going one step further, completing the journey which ended just short of the finish line last January in Arizona.
As the dynamic underdog that took the Alabama to the limit last winter, Clemson is once again a favorite to get back to the College Football playoff. The ACC is getting much better (and deeper), but most believe that Dabo Swinney and the Tigers will be right there with Florida State when all is said and done. Some may rightfully say that FSU will have to keep up with Clemson this year, not the other way around.
That race will be an interesting one to watch, but football unfolds one precious Saturday at a time. National titles aren’t won in September, but they sure can be lost.
Again, one gets the sense that Clemson understands that concept.
The Tigers may be a favorite to make the four-team playoff at the end of the year, but in order to do so, they’ll have to beat a very tough opponent in Week 1.
Cupcakes are becoming a thing of the past in a college football culture that’s more focused on quality of resume, and the Auburn Tigers — even after a 7-6 season — are the furthest thing away from a cupcake for Clemson.
Gus Malzahn’s squad is traditionally tough. He took Auburn to the BCS National Championship Game in his first year on the job.
What that should tell Clemson is that neither Malzahn nor his team need much time to get things rolling, or in this case bounce back. It also means that no matter who’s at quarterback for Auburn, Clemson and defensive coordinator Brent Venables have no choice but to take them seriously.
Auburn is currently in the middle of a quarterback battle between senior Jeremy Johnson, sophomore Sean White and JUCO transfer John Franklin III (junior).
For some defenses, who lines up at quarterback is just as important in preparation as what offense the opponent runs. Venables doesn’t seem to take that approach, though. He’s focused on simply just preparing his defense, no matter the quarterback.
“I could (not) care less. Doesn’t matter one bit to us,” he told Aaron Brenner of postandcourier.com regarding Auburn’s quarterback situation. “It’s not coachspeak. We’re going to do what we do and adjust as it goes. That’s up to them, whether or not they have confidence in their guy.”
One way to interpret Venables’ thoughts would be to say that he’s confident in his group. This writer subscribes to a different theory, though.
This writer believes Venables, and as a result, Clemson, is focused.
The Tigers know how good they can be this season. A lot of that has to do with all-world quarterback Deshaun Watson leading the offense, but Venables is one of the best defensive coordinators in college football, and his defense will again reflect that.
With Swinney steering the ship, there’s no reason Clemson shouldn’t be a national title contender once again in 2016.
For some, that designation comes with pressure, headaches and ultimately distractions. For teams that act like they’ve been there before, though, that kind of hoopla doesn’t faze them.
It doesn’t matter if it’s an overzealous press, undue pressure from administration, or Xs and Os related to the Week 1 opponent’s starting quarterback. National championship teams almost always display a focus from the top down, and that exists in Venables’ comments above.
Going to practice becomes ‘going to work.’
The home stadium becomes ‘the office.’
Playing a game on the road becomes ‘going on a business trip.”
Most national championship teams have a business-like mentality which allows them to win games no matter the outside stimuli, internal changes, or larger distractions.
It’s a culture of focus, and that’s bad news for opponents on Clemson’s schedule this season.
The Tigers are focused, and a focused Clemson team is a scary one.