The thought comes to him at least once a week, even now, five years after he stopped playing for Clemson.
"What could we have done differently to change the outcome of that season?" former quarterback Cullen Harper wonders.
Harper was the preseason choice to win ACC Player of the Year honors that season. Clemson was the preseason choice to win the entire league that season. The Tigers started the preseason ranked in the top 10 that season. They opened the season against a ranked SEC opponent that season.
Sounds awfully familiar doesn't it?
That season was 2008, a year Clemson should have been a contender. But rather than meet the high expectations set for them, the Tigers imploded. They lost to No. 24 Alabama 34-10 in the opener, and later dropped games against Maryland and Wake Forest. Midway through the season, Clemson stood at 3-3.
Coach Tommy Bowden was fired. Dabo Swinney took the interim job. Players were dumbstruck with what had happened.
But out of the disappointment rose a new leader, a man determined to get Clemson to a place where it would no longer falter under the heavy weight of expectations.
Former Tigers starting linebacker Brandon Maye recalls Swinney telling the team, "'I know everybody's frustrated. You have the opportunity to walk out right now. But this is something I've been waiting on my whole life. If you hang in there with me, we're going to do great things.' I looked at him, and that attitude from the first day, I knew right there a star was born.'"
Swinney now has his chance to get Clemson to a place where it can change the perception that all it does is fall flat on its face. "Pulling a Clemson" has become such a part of the college football lexicon, the term "Clemsoning" has a spot in the Urban Dictionary.