ACC: Dabo Swinney

Another season, another 10 wins for Clemson.

Another season, another big victory against a Power 5 opponent in a bowl game.

Another season, another Top-25 finish.

Seems about time to give Clemson its proper due. But there remains a disconnect between what people think about Clemson and what the facts show. How else to explain this rather interesting note:

The 2014 season marked the fourth straight year and fifth time in the six full seasons Dabo Swinney has been head coach that the Tigers had a higher final AP ranking than their preseason ranking.

The question, then, is why?

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesClemson again won 10 games, even with QB Deshaun Watson missing much of the season.
Perhaps it is because outsiders want to cling to the antiquated term used to describe the program when it loses games, often in head-scratching fashion. But people, we are not living in the past. Clemson has not lost to an unranked team since 2011.

Look at the actual results: Clemson’s only losses in 2014 were to teams that finished in the final top 10 of the AP and coaches polls (Florida State, Georgia and Georgia Tech). Go back the past three seasons, and Clemson’s only losses were to teams that finished in the final top 10 (Florida State and South Carolina in 2012 and 2013). It just so happens Clemson, Florida State and South Carolina have all been really good all at once. Failing to beat both consistently seems to be a harsh way of judging a team.

Here are a few more illuminating notes, for good measure.

  • Clemson joined Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon as the only schools to finish in the top 15 for the third straight year.
  • Clemson joined Alabama, Florida State and Oregon as the only schools to finish in the top 25 for the fourth straight year.
  • Clemson, Alabama, Northern Illinois and Oregon are the only schools to post four straight 10-win seasons.
  • Clemson’s 42 wins over the past four seasons are a school record for a four-year period.

But Clemson is in a similar spot to the ACC as a whole: narratives die hard. Because they often win out as a lazy fallback. Let’s use the final 2014 AP poll as a case study. Eight Power 5 teams finished with three losses. Clemson was ranked last in the group, at No. 15.

Georgia Tech and Georgia won head-to-head meetings, so there is no quibbling with their rank. But let’s look at two other SEC schools ranked ahead -- Mississippi State and Missouri. Mississippi State ended the season with losses in three of its final four games. Its best wins -- against Texas A&M, Auburn, and LSU -- all lost their luster after a horrible bowl showing from the SEC West.

Yet the Bulldogs finished No. 11, getting penalized far less than a team from the ACC would if it ended in a similar manner. If Florida State lost three of its final four, you think the Seminoles would finish the season at No. 11? No.

Clemson and Mississippi State each beat one team ranked in the final AP Top 25. All three losses for both teams were to ranked opponents. But Clemson finished the season on a three-game winning streak; Clemson had the No. 1 defense in America; and Clemson managed to win 10 games without quarterback Deshaun Watson as its full-time starter for most of the season.

How does any of this put Mississippi State ahead?

Now on to Missouri, a team with a much worse loss on its resume (Indiana). Its best win was probably against Minnesota in its bowl game. It finished the season with zero wins against teams ranked in the final Top 25. Yet, Missouri was one spot ahead of Clemson in the AP ranking, and a peculiar four spots ahead in the coaches’ poll.

We could also look at Wisconsin’s resume. The Badgers also had one win against a final Top 25 team, but a much worse loss (Northwestern) and was blown out in the Big Ten title game. Ohio State might have won the national championship, but 59-0 is hard to ignore.

So essentially, Clemson is trailed by misperceptions about its own program and its own conference. Is becoming a playoff contender the only way to start changing the narrative? Because clearly, winning does not seem to be doing the job.

ACC morning links

December, 30, 2014
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Clemson routed Oklahoma, 40-6, on Monday night to win the Russell Athletic Bowl and lift the ACC to a 3-4 mark so far in the postseason. Depending on one's view of Notre Dame, or the ACC, or the program and league's arrangement, one or two more opportunities await the league Tuesday, against high-profile SEC opponents.

These are the games -- outside of the obvious New Year's Six games -- that the ACC needs to win to help turn around its national perception. The Tigers did their part in resounding fashion in Orlando, Florida, and it was a win that could go a long way toward reshaping the league's image.

Think about it: Everyone knows reigning national champion and current Playoff team Florida State, but the ACC needs to establish more national players. Clemson re-asserted this season, and specifically on Monday night, that it is darn close to that conversation, if not already there. Four straight 10-win seasons? A 34-point rout of a brand-name opponent, with much-maligned back-up quarterback Cole Stoudt leading the charge, no less? It certainly helps that the Tigers have scheduled aggressively as well, with South Carolina, Auburn and Texas A&M all on-deck in the next four years.

The fact that Clemson lost its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a season ago and still managed to reach double-digit win totals speaks volumes about the operation that Dabo Swinney is running. Throw in the fact that they had to work around the injuries that their stud freshman quarterback endured, and that they had to overcome the loss of their offensive coordinator — Chad Morris, who took the SMU head job — and Clemson's 2014 looks all the more impressive.

The decision by Swinney to bring aboard defensive coordinator Brent Venables from Oklahoma never looked more brilliant than it did against the Sooners, when the Tigers' top-ranked defense dominated from start to finish. The program has come a long way from its 70-33 meltdown against West Virginia in the Orange Bowl three seasons ago, as it has now won its last three bowl games, all against programs that have won national titles since the turn of the century (LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma).

Clemson will now say goodbye to the winningest senior class in school history (42), a group heavy on defensive star power, one that joins just three other programs in winning 10-plus games in the past four years (Alabama, Oregon, Northern Illinois). But the Tigers should return a Heisman Trophy candidate under center in 2015 — provided that Deshaun Watson is healthy — along with a number of standout offensive weapons (Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott and Mike Williams among them).

We probably learned more about the direction of Clemson through its ups-and-downs of this season than we had in recent years, and the possibilities that still await Swinney and the Tigers have to be enticing to the fan base.

Here are your ACC links:

Recruit and return: Clemson Tigers 

December, 29, 2014
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In most years, Clemson’s class would be head-and-shoulders above everybody else in the ACC. But this year, Florida State has been cleaning up on the recruiting trail and has a real shot at finishing No. 1. That shouldn’t take away from what Clemson has done with this group. The Tigers are currently in the top five, and if they can add a few more pieces before signing day, there’s a shot this class is the best ever signed by Dabo Swinney.

It has become a yearly ritual across the ACC -- waiting on the coaching turnover that is bound to happen.

No job is ever too safe, it seems.

Just remember back to when the regular season ended a few weeks ago. Nobody appeared in imminent danger of getting fired or leaving. But alas, dominoes across the landscape brought the inevitable.

Paul Chryst exited Pitt and the ACC last week for Wisconsin and just like that, the ACC coaching fraternity will have a new member. It has gone on this way since the 2009 season ended, every single year bringing a first-year head coach to the league.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsPaul Johnson joined the ACC coaching ranks in 2008, along with David Cutcliffe and Dabo Swinney.
For three years in a row, coaches have left for bigger jobs. But on the whole, coaches are not leaving en masse to take bigger opportunities. In this respect, it is clear the ACC is not the old Big East, the ultimate in steppingstone conference jobs.

Still, the league has had to deal with more yearly turnover than most. There is no one explanation that ties them all together. Most of the coaches who are no longer around were fired, some after finding early success in their careers.

But sometimes yearly coaching turnover leads to longevity. After Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, the next longest-tenured coaches in the ACC are David Cutcliffe, Paul Johnson and Dabo Swinney.

All started coaching in the ACC in 2008.

So in this respect, coaching turnover ended up bringing a strong group of coaches together all at once. Why did it all come together in 2008? Maybe the stars aligned just so. Swinney laughs at the mention, because he actually became Clemson interim coach in October 2008 before earning the full-time job at the end of the season.

Still, Swinney, Johnson and Cutcliffe all have led their respective teams to ACC championship games and provided their programs a level of stability that has begun to change perceptions. Johnson and Cutcliffe have won ACC Coach of the Year honors a combined five times in the last seven years; Swinney has an ACC championship and an opportunity to post four straight 10-win seasons.

They each believe they have found their destination jobs. Cutcliffe has turned down various overtures to leave Duke; Johnson and Swinney just earned contract extensions over the last year.

“I guess the ADs did a good job, they picked good people that fit the situation at each school,” Swinney said when asked for a way to explain their collective success.

There is no one explanation that links all three. Johnson and Cutcliffe had been head coaches at successful programs before. Swinney was the outlier in the group. He remembers walking into his first ACC coaches meeting and seeing Bobby Bowden, along with a slew of other veteran coaches just looking at him.

“Paul recognized I was a fish out of water,” Swinney says with a laugh. “I’m sitting in there with all these people thinking, ‘What am I going to do here? Paul just said, ‘Hey sit here,’ and showed me the ropes. We were both new, but he was an old veteran guy who’d been around the block a couple times.”

It was not long before Swinney and Johnson were winning. It took Cutcliffe much longer, only because he inherited the worst situation of the three. Duke athletic director Kevin White did not hire Cutcliffe, but he knew exactly the coach he was getting when he arrived in Durham.

White first heard about Cutcliffe while working as Tulane athletic director, when he became close with the Manning family. The Mannings did nothing but sing Cutcliffe’s praises. Later, White’s son played basketball at Ole Miss when Cutcliffe was coaching there, so the two got to know each other. They briefly worked together at Notre Dame.

White came to Duke several months after Cutcliffe was hired and knew his football program would be a winner. No matter how long it took to get there.

“Joe Alleva made a brilliant hire with David,” White recalled recently. “I remember writing him a note and saying, ‘You've hit the cover off the ball here. This guy's going to be brilliant at Duke. He'll be a great fit.’ And so I got a chance to come here and kind of jump in the foxhole with David. … And I've used a really bad kind of analogy that, oftentimes we talk about a whale on the beach. … For about 60 years, we had foreclosed on football.

“So the whale wasn't on the beach when David came. It was up in the parking lot. And so I knew it was going to take a couple years to get the whale down in the sand, and then a couple years to get the whale's belly wet, and here we are, now we're looking for the gulfstream. We've got a chance to have a darn good football program and we've got, I think, arguably the very best coach in college football.”

So coaching turnover does sometimes end up having benefits. Just look at 2008.

ACC reporter Matt Fortuna contributed to this report.
Clemson made the right decision to have quarterback Deshaun Watson have surgery to repair his torn ACL, forcing him to miss the bowl game.

That matchup against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Florida, this month is one Watson can afford to miss, even if it means handicapping the offense for one more game.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson's Deshaun Watson will have about eight months in recovery time following ACL surgery before fall practice begins.
Because the most important contests loom ahead, with a promising 2015 season awaiting.

As coach Dabo Swinney explained, the earlier surgery date means Watson gains nearly one month in recovery and rehab time.

"Those 3 1/2 weeks will be critical in the back end," Swinney said in a recent interview. "We want to get him back for our summer skills and drills. We really need him to lead the squad through the summer. We want to do everything we can to get him back, and we feel pretty good we can meet that timeline so he can be ready to go before we start camp in the fall."

Watson will have about eight months in recovery time before the heart of fall practice begins. Swinney noted that two players who tore ACLs last spring, tight end Sam Cooper and former quarterback Chad Kelly, had their recoveries fast-tracked. Cooper had recovered just four months after his knee injury. He would have played in the opener against Georgia, but he broke his leg during pregame warm-ups.

Though it is hard to avoid comparisons, Clemson cannot afford to rush Watson and risk having him come back too early, because he means so much to the offense. That was plain to see this past season, when the Tigers looked like a hyper-charged version of itself with Watson behind center.

But Watson could not find a way to stay healthy as a true freshman, leading some to wonder whether he is injury-prone so early in his career. In the spring, he broke his collarbone and missed the spring game. After waiting his turn, Watson finally got the starting nod against North Carolina. Two games later, he broke his finger against Louisville.

When he returned a month later against Georgia Tech, he injured his knee on what looked like a routine run. Watson was able to play the season finale against South Carolina and lead a victory on the partially torn ligament. Because he played in that game, Swinney initially said Watson would be able to play in the bowl game.

But the timing did not make much sense for that to happen.

In the end, this turned out to be the first time Swinney has had his starting quarterback miss time because of injury.

"Sometimes you have some crazy things like that," Swinney said. "It’s just the game. You can’t play this game worried about that kind of stuff. Sometimes, you have some freak things. Had he hurt his finger on the left hand he would have never missed a snap. Or had he not been a quarterback, he wouldn’t have missed a snap, but because he was a quarterback, he really needed to throw the ball. It really wasn’t a big injury, it was just something he couldn’t do his job with.

"He’s never really been hurt his whole career. Sometimes you have some spells like that, but adversity builds a little character and toughness and makes you appreciate the opportunities when you are healthy. He’ll bounce back and be better than ever."

Conner, Beasley win ACC POY honors

December, 3, 2014
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Pitt running back James Conner was honored as ACC Player of the Year on Wednesday, while Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley won Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Conner, also awarded ACC Offensive Player of the Year, edged Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston for overall honors in a vote among 55 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. The sophomore back ranks No. 4 in the nation with 1,675 yards rushing. His 24 rushing touchdowns set an ACC single-season record and a Pitt school record, breaking the old mark of 22 set by Tony Dorsett in 1976.

"We are tremendously proud of James and all that he achieved this season," Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. "In addition to his production on the field, James has been an excellent teammate and leader. I know our entire program takes pride in James receiving this prestigious honor.”

Beasley edged Louisville safety Gerod Holliman for defensive honors. The senior end leads the ACC in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (18.5), remaining a dominating force despite facing double- and triple-teams this season. He holds the Clemson school record and leads all active FBS players with 32 career sacks, and is a finalist for the Bednarik Award and Lombardi Trophy.

“He came back for his senior year to graduate, and to have a great season and improve as an all-around player,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement. "He has done that -- he is a complete player. He is a big reason we currently rank No. 1 in the nation in total defense and many other areas. He is the best defensive player in the ACC, and I really feel he is the best defensive player in the nation."

ACC Player of the Year (votes in parentheses)
1. James Conner, RB, Pitt (16)
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (13)
3. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson (8)
4. Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville (6)
5. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (5)
t6. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State (2)
t6. Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech (2)
t6. Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina (2)
9. Quayshawn Nealy, LB, Georgia Tech (1)

ACC Offensive Player of the Year
1. Conner (23)
2. Winston (16)
3. Johnson (7)
4. Greene (4)
5. Thomas (3)
6. Williams (2)

ACC Defensive Player of the Year
1. Beasley (24)
2. Holliman (20)
3. Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (7)
t4. David Helton, LB, Duke (2)
t4. Nealy (2)
Clemson did not have to look far for its new offensive coordinator.

Scratch that. For its co-offensive coordinators.

Coach Dabo Swinney decided to promote two assistants to fill the spot new SMU coach Chad Morris left behind: receivers coach Jeff Scott and running backs coach Tony Elliott will share the duties.

It is an interesting move, considering Morris was one of the highest paid coordinators in the entire country. Swinney could have paid big bucks to an assistant on the rise.

But Swinney believes he has two assistants on the rise on his own staff. Not only did Scott and Elliott learn under Morris, they helped recruit and develop the offensive talent that returns for 2015.

"These are two of the brightest young coaches in the business," Swinney said in a statement. "They have had a huge impact on our offense when it comes to the overall game plan, game day decisions, coaching their positions and have also been big reasons for our recruiting success.

"One of my overall philosophies is to promote from within when it is feasible. Both of these coaches are highly qualified and ready for this opportunity. We have been prepared to make this staff move for some time.

"Tony and Jeff were teammates at Clemson at the same position for three years and have worked together as coaches for four. They have a great relationship.”

Swinney obviously thought about this well before Morris left Monday. He had to, because Morris had been linked to other head coaching jobs over the last several years. It was only a matter of time before he left to become a head coach.

What he leaves behind is perhaps the most talented offensive team in the ACC next season. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a rising star, so long as he can stay healthy. So are Artavis Scott and Wayne Gallman, not to mention Tyshon Dye, Adam Choice and Mike Williams. Everybody except Watson has been coached by either Scott or Elliott.

Scott had a hand in bringing all those players in as recruiting coordintor. Since he took that job in 2009, Clemson has had Top 20 recruiting classes every single season. The 2015 class is currently ranked No. 4.

The only real question is how play-calling duties will be split. Neither one has been a coordinator before, so they will have to learn on the fly. The benefit is the two are close, having played together at Clemson. Perhaps that relationship will allow for a smooth transition.

Because after an up-and-down season, all eyes will be back on the Clemson offense in 2015, with the expectation that the aerial show will résumé.

Best Dabo Swinney/Steve Spurrier jabs

November, 28, 2014
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There are not many coaches in America who jab the way Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney do.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, Steve Spurrier
AP Photo/Richard ShiroDabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier will put their verbal sparring sessions aside as their teams do the talking on the field this week.
Nothing might epitomize that more than this Vine a South Carolina fan created. But while Spurrier has had the last laugh over Swinney and Clemson the past five years, there is one week when he keeps his darts squarely inside his pocket. That would be this week -- in the days leading up to the actual game. Both coaches have too much respect for the rivalry to let their own war of words get in the way.

Talkin' is for talkin' season, as Spurrier would say.

Now, that doesn't mean they fire shots at each other exclusively in the offseason. But if you look at the best barbs they have traded, none of them were spoken during game week. With the rivals meeting again Saturday, we thought it would be worth taking a look at the best trash talk between them.

1. October 2012: Spurrier says: "Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley. "That is the Death Valley, isn't it? Or is there another one around?"

Swinney responds: "I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California's a long way from here. … Got two Death Valleys and two USCs, but there's only one real one."

2. July 2014: At ACC Kickoff, Swinney is asked about his relationship with Spurrier. Swinney says: "He's from Pluto, and I'm from Mars."

Spurrier responds: "Dabo probably thinks there's only, what, nine planets out there? I think I read where Pluto may not be considered one now."

3. January 2014: After beating Wisconsin 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl, Spurrier said: "Hey, these two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain't bad, either."

After beating Ohio State a few days later in the Discover Orange Bowl, Swinney responds: "We're the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl."

Spurrier needed the last word on this one. In an interview with ESPN.com's Chris Low, Spurrier responds back: "I called [former Clemson coach] Danny Ford and said, 'Danny, does Dabo forget that Clemson in 1981 went down to the Orange Bowl, won the national championship and went undefeated?' They didn't call it a BCS bowl back then, but it was the same bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Orange Bowl has always been a major bowl."

4. November 2011: South Carolina play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis is quoted after South Carolina's 34-13 win over Clemson: "As Coach Spurrier says, we might not be LSU or Alabama, but we ain't Clemson, folks."

Told the remarks came from Spurrier, Swinney responds with lengthy commentary in a long rant before closing: "He is exactly right –- they ain't Alabama, they ain't LSU and they certainly are not Clemson. That is why [North] Carolina is in Chapel Hill, USC is in California and the university in this state always has been and always will be Clemson. It's right here in Clemson, South Carolina. You can print that. Tweet that."

Spurrier could not let this one go. In August 2013, he tells reporters: "At this time last year Dabo's favorite USC, Southern Cal, was preseason No. 1 in the country," Spurrier said. "I call them Dabo's favorite USC. But anyway, we are playing Dabo's favorite Carolina, too. He loves North Carolina and Southern Cal for some reason. I don't know."

Just a few weeks ago, Spurrier roiled Clemson fans when he asked for the score in the Tigers' game against Georgia Tech in his postgame interview following a win over Florida. "I guess the upstate team got beat today. Is that correct?" he asked reporters. When told the score and that quarterback Deshaun Watson got hurt again, Spurrier said, "Well, that game, looks like we're in better shape than we were two weeks ago, right?"

After his comments caused an uproar, Spurrier said he would try not to say anything to upset Clemson fans "at least the next two weeks." Time is about to run out.

That's what talkin' season is for, anyway.
Florida State SeminolesTim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLosing to Florida would surely knock the Seminoles out of the College Football Playoff conversation.
The story line gets regurgitated the last weekend in November, every single season. At this point, does it really need to be said just how badly the ACC has to beat its SEC rivals come Saturday?

Well, yes. Because the results carry even more significance now that we are in in the College Football Playoff era. Just look at the way the ACC has been dismissed as a conference. Unbeaten Florida State is ranked behind two one-loss teams in the only rankings that matter -- as much an indictment about the Seminoles’ close wins as it is about the perception of the ACC as a whole.

While it has been convenient for many to dismiss what Florida State has accomplished, it has been just as convenient to dismiss the accomplishments of No. 18 Georgia Tech, No. 22 Louisville and No. 24 Clemson. But it may be less difficult to do so if all four teams come through and all win this weekend.

The last time Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson swept their SEC rivals was in 2000. The last time they posted a winning record against them was in 2008, when Georgia Tech and Clemson came out victorious. That also happens to be the last time both teams won their SEC rivalry game.

This might be their best shot at a sweep in years. With Kentucky-Louisville now added into the mix, the Cards, Florida State and Clemson are favored to win. All three are at home; all three are the only teams ranked in the matchup. Georgia Tech is the only underdog, though the Jackets go into their game off a bye, with a four-game winning streak under their belts.

To take it one step further, the FPI game projections show:

  • Florida State with a predicted 73 percent win percentage over Florida.
  • Louisville with a predicted 77 percent win percentage over Kentucky.
  • Clemson with a predicted 62.5 percent win percentage over South Carolina.
  • Georgia with a predicted 80 percent win percentage over Georgia Tech.

“Winning would help the league a lot but it’s going to be how does the media portray it?” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “When I was here in ’08, my first year, we beat Georgia and Clemson beat South Carolina … but nobody said much about it. It was like, ‘Oh.’ Now the next year when they beat us, it was a big deal so would it help the league? Sure. Anytime we can go head to head with the SEC and win a game it helps the league.”

Johnson brings up an excellent point. Will a potential sweep be diminished in value because they are all against SEC East teams? Georgia is the only ranked SEC squad in the group. Florida and South Carolina have been disappointments; Kentucky is not bowl eligible. Georgia is the only school among the four with a winning record in SEC play.

So the East is not even close to its counterparts in the West, creating a no-win situation. If the ACC does well in these games, people may not dish out as much credit as they should. If the ACC winds up with a losing record, get ready for more finger pointing and laughter.

If we are looking a little closer at the matchups, there are two teams that cannot afford to lose: Florida State and Clemson. If Florida pulls the upset, Florida State will be out of the College Football Playoff, the worst result imaginable for a league that only has the Noles in the mix.

The stakes are high for Dabo Swinney and Clemson, too. After beating South Carolina as interim coach in 2008, he has gone 0-5. For the first time since 2009, Clemson will be the only ranked team in the matchup. Clemson has the No. 1 defense in the nation; South Carolina has the No. 87 defense in the nation. While Deshaun Watson’s status remains up in the air, the feeling is that Clemson simply cannot afford to lose this game again, not when it has so many obvious advantages.

“The last five years, we’ve had 15 turnovers and they’ve had three,” Swinney said. “That affects everything. That affects your plays per game, it affects your time of possession, it affects the way things are called, field position, on and on and on and on. That’s definitely something we have to get changed for us to have a chance to win the game. There’s no doubt about it.”

Georgia Tech also has lost five straight to Georgia, and 12 of the last 13. Last season, the Jackets blew an early 20-0 lead and lost 41-34 in double overtime. Todd Gurley scored both overtime touchdowns for the Bulldogs. He won't play Saturday.

While Georgia Tech has a Top 25 ranking and spot in the ACC championship game, a win over Georgia would only add to an already stellar season.

“The atmosphere is different about this week because it’s a must-win game,” Georgia Tech safety Jamal Golden said. “You don’t want to give them bragging rights for the next 365 days. You just have to hear it over and over again that you can’t beat them. It’s one of those games you look forward to playing.”

It’s one of those games that has to fall in the ACC win column this year.

ACC morning links

November, 21, 2014
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Dabo Swinney turned 45 on Thursday. And while he has had obvious success during his run at Clemson, his early body of work might surprise you, especially when compared to other big-name coaches.

The (Charleston) Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner broke down the numbers Thursday, illustrating just how well Swinney has fared before his 45th birthday.

Swinney has a career record of 58-26 during his tenure with the Tigers.

How did Nick Saban fare by the time he turned 45? 20-10-1.

Steve Spurrier? 20-13-1.

Frank Beamer? 19-30-1.

Jimbo Fisher? 5-1.

On and on it goes, a who's who of coaching legends current and past that Swinney is currently out-pacing. It really puts into perspective what he has accomplished since taking over in 2008.

Of course, he still has a ways to go when looking at a pair of his predecessors in Death Valley: Danny Ford had 96 wins before leaving Clemson at the age of 42, while Frank Howard had 72 wins by 45.

ACC morning links

November, 20, 2014
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If Clemson coach Dabo Swinney goes to Florida, it might force Steve Spurrier to retire. How would the Ol' Ball Coach handle Swinney, the preferred target of Spurrier's snipes, becoming the coach at the school where Spurrier won a Heisman and national title?

All joking aside, The Clemson Insider is reporting Swinney is on the short list of Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, although Swinney said he has not spoken to anyone at Florida.

At the very least, it certainly makes sense Swinney's name would at least be brought up, whether in the media or behind closed doors in Gainesville, Florida. He's eliminated much of the underachieving stigma at Clemson, where the fan base expects conference championships and New Year's Day bowl games. He cut his teeth as an offensive assistant and had some of the country's top offenses at Clemson. Defensively, Swinney has coached some poor units but credit him for making a great hire in Brent Venables and turning it around. Clemson ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense.

From a recruiting standpoint, there are not many better recruiters than Swinney, who is only 45. Clemson's 2015 class is ranked No. 3, and Swinney told reporters he's putting together "the best recruiting class we have ever had." That is saying something, too, considering he pulled Deshaun Watson out of the SEC's backyard last cycle and has signed a top-15 class the last four years.

Despite Clemson's campus being six hours from the Florida border, Swinney has been wildly successful recruiting the state. Four Floridians ranked in the ESPN 300 are committed to Clemson, and since 2011 he has received 15 four-star commitments from Florida prospects. Sammy Watkins was one of them.

Of course, with two games left and an Orange Bowl berth still a possibility -- the program's third in four seasons -- Swinney is not entertaining any questions about his name being linked to Florida.

"We are not even going to acknowledge that kind of stuff," he told reporters. "Ya'll know I love Clemson.

"We will see how it all pans out, but that is where our focus is -- great finish, great bowl game, great recruiting class and build Clemson into a College Football Playoff team so we can get to where we want to be."

Breathe easy, Spurrier.
There is only one thing that will make Clemson fans happy these days: News that Deshaun Watson will be able to play on Nov. 29 against South Carolina.

But that type of news is something coach Dabo Swinney cannot deliver. Not yet. Maybe not even be until game time Nov. 29. That is how much is unknown about the way Watson will fare during rehab on his sprained knee.

[+] EnlargeCole Stoudt
Daniel Shirey/Getty ImagesClemson hopes Cole Stoudt can deliver against Georgia State on Saturday.
 While coaches remain hopeful Watson will play, there is no point in raising expectations when there is a chance he will be sidelined. So calling Watson day-to-day is the appropriate course of action, at least for now.

While Clemson waits, the Tigers have turned once again to Cole Stoudt, hoping the senior can brush off what happened at Georgia Tech last week and get himself ready not just for Georgia State, but more importantly, for the Gamecocks, too.

Swinney explained that Stoudt had a ‘bad day’ against the Jackets. Anybody who saw the game knows Stoudt had more than a bad day.

He had the worst game of his career, throwing three interceptions -- including two returned for touchdowns. The stat line showed three total completions to his own team; and three completions to the other team, before Nick Schuessler came on in relief late in the third quarter.

Stoudt has struggled all season long. Last Saturday just happened to be the culmination of the way he has seemingly regressed since Week 1. Maybe some of that has to do with the left shoulder injury that is not completely healed. Maybe some of that has to do with lost confidence after he was benched in favor of Watson following the Florida State game.

Whatever has happened, it is hard to believe Stoudt won the job outright in the fall given what we have seen from him in the last month, and what we have seen from Watson in the moments he has actually been healthy.

The Clemson offense has been a shell of itself with Stoudt under center, its inability to run the ball exacerbated. Injuries to the offensive line have not helped, either, but Stoudt has not made as many explosive plays as Watson despite taking 115 more snaps.

Of the 47 plays Clemson has this season that have gone 20 or more yards, 17 are on pass plays from Stoudt. Five game against FCS South Carolina State in Week 2. Counting that game, nine of those 17 pass plays came in his first three starts of the season.

In games against Louisville, Boston College Syracuse and Wake Forest, Stoudt had two completions in each game that went 20-plus yards.

Swinney reiterated Tuesday that Stoudt gives Clemson the best chance to win. Certainly, he has more experience than Schuessler, a sophomore who has had limited reps since he arrived in 2012. Starting Stoudt against Georgia State at least makes some logical sense. Clemson is a heavy favorite to win and should be able to make some plays on offense that can help Stoudt regain his confidence.

Because if he has to play against South Carolina, Stoudt will need not only confidence, but support from his teammates, coaching staff and fan base to avoid another Georgia Tech-like implosion in a game that set up perfectly for Clemson to finally win.

That is, until, Watson got hurt again.
Clemson has had so many depth issues and injuries on its offensive line, it has had to take an unconventional route: playing its starters every single snap.

It happened twice earlier this season, the first time on record that Clemson played the same five offensive linemen the entire game in consecutive games. Ideally, most programs like to go at least eight deep on the offensive line.

[+] EnlargeKalon Davis
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsKalon Davis (No. 67) has his work cut out for him, as he's started every game for Clemson this season.
So imagine only having five.

"We're all tired, we're all stressed out, we're all overworked, but there's no complaining, no crying," left guard David Beasley. "It's not like it's happening to one person. It's happening to all of us. It's been a great feeling to be out there with my brothers and have a great time with them. After playing so many snaps, it's second nature now. You know you can do it."

With Joe Gore and Jay Guillermo sidelined for a few games, the versatility from its reliable linemen was crucial. Reid Webster and Kalon Davis have started every game, but not at the same position. In fact, Webster has played all five positions on the line; Davis has played four.

They lead the team in total snaps: Davis with 577, Webster with 543. Isaiah Battle, who has played in seven games, has 504. Both Webster and Davis are on pace to average more snaps than the two linemen who led the team in snaps a season ago.

Davis is averaging 72.1 snaps per game; Webster is averaging 67.9 snaps per game. Last year, Brandon Thomas averaged the highest number of snaps, with 66.5 per game.

"They're not always perfect maybe from an execution standpoint, but I just have a great appreciation for their effort that they've put forth," coach Dabo Swinney said. "The fact that Kalon Davis has played every position except center, sometimes in one game. Reid Webster has played every position, including center.

"But it's been a challenge because we've been pretty limited there all year. There's been some personnel changes, injuries, a lot of different things that we've had to deal with. Those guys just continue to show up and work their tails off. They're taking a lot of pride. We're getting a lot out of them is the bottom line."

Clemson was able to play seven against Syracuse, though starter Isaiah Battle was benched for disciplinary reasons. Eric Mac Lain made his first career start, and freshman Tyrone Crowder played, giving the Tigers an opportunity to help build their depth.

But mostly, they have had to survive. In the offseason, Clemson worked hard on conditioning, knowing depth would be a concern and it needed its linemen in great shape to play in a high-tempo offense. Turns out, Clemson has started the same five in four games this season, and its play on the line overall has been uneven.

Still, Webster has been quite a revelation after serving as a backup for most of his career. He went into the season with 217 total snaps in three years. He has more than doubled that through eight games.

"The past few years, I didn't play as much as I'd have liked to, but the guys in front of me earned their role," Webster said. "Patience is how I got through that. I've been moved around a lot and I've learned to be patient because I figured my time would come. Now that my time has come, I'm just trying to take advantage of it."

Beasley, who was in and out of the starting lineup a year ago after a breakout sophomore season, was suspended for the season opener against Georgia.

But since then, he says he has a renewed focus. He only missed one snap against Florida State, played every snap over the next four games and only left the Syracuse game in the fourth quarter after injuring his ribs.

Despite the injury, Beasley says he will play Thursday at Wake Forest, a team that has offensive line issues of its own. Center Ryan Norton, who also left the Syracuse game with an injury, also is expected to play against the Deacs.

"Just counting the snaps up, you have to go one play at a time," Beasley said. "Everyone has to control their breathing and keep going because once you get in the game, you forget about it. I usually keep myself into the game by just having fun out there. Really, if you have fun you forget about pain."
Syracuse coach Scott Shafer has never been the type of guy to hold back. He says how he feels, and, sometimes emotions get the best of him.

We’ve all been there.

But our emotional outbursts are rarely, if ever, caught on camera.

Shafer is a head coach, so the cameras find their way to him -- in the best of times, and the worst of times. So it has come to be that the most famous moment of his head coaching career revolves around an emotional outburst that has not been easily forgotten.

After all, it is not often you see one coach curse another from across a football field. But that is what Shafer did last year when Clemson came to the Carrier Dome, hurling expletives when Dabo Swinney elected to go for it on fourth down, up 35-7.

The two teams play again Saturday in Death Valley, bringing the spotlight back to a moment Shafer would love to forget.

Shafer has apologized profusely, and even told reporters in Greensboro, North Carolina during media day in July that his daughter made him take a picture with the Swinneys as proof they were on good terms.

 

Swinney jokes about it now, telling reporters in Clemson on Tuesday, “People made a big deal out of that because it was caught on TV. There's a lot of people in the stands doing the same thing to me every week. They just don't get caught on TV. Just kind of a heat of the moment type of deal. We've had some good laughs about it.”

Indeed, Shafer said this week, “I didn't do a good job of controlling my emotions in that. I've got all the respect in the world for Dabo ... I just look forward to coming down to Death Valley and really experiencing that venue. ... All that's water over the dam, I guess you would say.”

What really gave the story broader reach was its nearly instantaneous appearance on social media. A video clip started circulating, and within minutes, details of the game became irrelevant. Some players missed what happened in real time, finding out later when they checked Twitter.

Linebacker Cam Lynch says his teammates missed the outburst. “After the game, I saw a Twitter meme, but I didn’t see it in the game.”

Shafer also took some heat last January on social media, when he responded to a snow-covered Atlanta jammed with gridlock as “soft-nosed.”

For those rare outbursts that have gotten him into trouble, there are also the more frequent moments when he speaks his mind and nobody notices -- when maybe they should. Go back to his introductory press conference in January 2013, and you get the first glimpse of who Shafer is, and who Shafer will forever be.

That sideline burst last year taught him a lesson, but it won't change Shafer. Nobody would want that, anyway.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
10/24/14
10:00
AM ET
Miami silenced Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium fairly early Thursday night. Will we find more drama in the rest of the Week 9 slate?

Noon

North Carolina at Virginia, ESPN3, #UNCvsUVA: Marquise Williams is coming off consecutive career outings. Virginia is looking to get back on the winning track after losing to reigning Coastal division champion Duke last week. Can its defense make another big stand and make life difficult for the red-hot UNC offense? Or have the Heels found their second-half groove after a poor start, much like they did last year?

3:30 p.m.

Boston College at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #BCvsWAKE: John Wolford is good to go for Wake after leaving last week's 30-7 home loss to Syracuse. He'll face a BC team that gave Clemson all it could handle last week before falling just short. Still, the 4-3 Eagles are on the brink of back-to-back bowl games under Steve Addazio in his first two years, and their rushing game (No. 9 nationally) should be a handful for a Demon Deacons defense that has been stout this season.

Georgia Tech at Pitt, ESPNU, #GTvsPITT: Is it panic time in Atlanta? A 5-0 start has been met with consecutive losses, including a 48-43 defeat last week at North Carolina in which the defense simply could not make a stop late. Pitt hopes it turned the corner last Thursday in its win over Virginia Tech, but it needs more diversity on the offensive side of the ball, which has been too reliant on James Conner and Tyler Boyd. Its defense does not have Aaron Donald and his dominant performance last year against the Yellow Jackets, but it has been playing well so far this season, ranking 14th nationally in scoring average (18.6).

7 p.m.

Syracuse at No. 21 Clemson, ESPNU, #CUSEvsCLEM: Scott Shafer and Dabo Swinney have made up after last year's Tigers rout in the Carrier Dome. Both teams are in their second straight week with their current signal-caller, as freshman AJ Long led the Orange past Wake Forest in their first career start and Cole Stoudt returned as Clemson's starter in its win at BC. Will the Orange's offensive line give Long a chance against the Tigers' stout front? This game ends a brutal stretch for the Orange, who faced Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State before Wake last week.

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