FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has been asked about the debacle that was the 2011 Orange Bowl ever since the Tigers found out they would be making a return trip to South Florida this season.
While much has changed since that 70-33 loss to West Virginia, history never allows one to forget. That includes Swinney, who reflected on the defeat one final time during the coaches press conference on Thursday, one day before facing Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl.
"One thing I told our team after the game is you grow and learn from everything," Swinney said. "It doesn't always go according to plan for any of us in here, in life or certainly in football. It's how you respond to those things. We spent eight months after that year, I mean, we were the worst team in America. We just played in a BCS bowl, won the ACC for the first time in 20 years, won 10 games for the first time in 20-something years, but we were this bad football team.
"We're 21-4 since that game, and those four losses have been to top-10 teams. We've had our fair share of those top-10 wins along the way as well. So this team has more than responded to a bad night. That's really what you want to see with people, see them pick themselves up."
Players have had to answer for that loss throughout the course of the week, too. Receiver Sammy Watkins admitted the last time around, "From a players' perspective, we didn't take it that serious, we didn't know what it was worth. A lot of guys, myself, were burnt out. We had fun, but we didn't come down here to win."
Watkins and his teammates say the preparations have been different this year. Running back Roderick McDowell said, "I feel our preparation is totally different. I feel like everybody’s on the same page as far as the coaching staff. It’s all about how we handle the trip, the atmosphere. We’re practicing smart, we’re really honing in on what’s more important."
Clemson also is a much more experienced team. Back in the 2012, the Tigers had 42 freshmen and redshirt freshmen on the roster, a first-year starting quarterback and "a lot of puppies in the trenches," Swinney said.
On Friday night, Clemson will say good bye to a senior class that has won 37 games, tied for the fourth-most in Clemson history. There were some serious emotions for the entire team after the final full practice with the seniors on Wednesday. Afterward, Swinney said, "When we left the Orange Bowl two years ago after a tough night against West Virginia, I told that group it had been 30 years since Clemson had played in the Orange Bowl. I told them it would not take another 30 years. This class has been the nucleus that has brought us back just two years later."
Now comes the next step: Winning the actual game.