- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Clemson will face LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl tonight in what should be the best matchup and game for the ACC. I spoke with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney recently about the matchup and what a win against the SEC could do for the program. Here are the highlights of our conversation.
Do you guys feel like you’re carrying the banner for the ACC in this game?
Dabo Swinney: We’re just trying to win an 11th game. We have a chance to finish in the top 10. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to do anything other than do something special at Clemson and be the best we can be. To win 11 games at Clemson, that’s only happened a handful of times in the history of our program so that’s really all we’re focused on, all the rest of that stuff is pretty irrelevant to be honest with you.
How do you feel you match up against them overall?
Dabo Swinney: We match up well. It’s going to be a huge challenge. There’s not much room for error when you play a team of this magnitude. You’ve got to remember, less than 12 months ago, they’re playing for the national championship and probably just a screen pass away from playing for it again this year. This is as good as it gets in college football, right here. It’s a big challenge for us. I don’t think we’re where LSU is as a program right now. We’ve made great strides in the last few years, back-to-back 10-win seasons and I think there are only six teams in the country that have been ranked 28 weeks in a row. We’re one of them, so is LSU. We feel like we are really becoming one of those consistent performing-type teams that can compete nationally. This presents an opportunity to play the best. You’re splitting hairs when you’re talking about LSU, Alabama and Oregon and Notre Dame. Pick your poison. We want to be one of those teams, so it represents an opportunity for us to measure up and find out just where we are. So we’re excited about it.
How far do you think you have left to go? What’s left to do?
Dabo Swinney: Win ‘em all. That’s the only thing we haven’t done in the last four years, win ‘em all and play for the national championship. The big thing for me this year was to try to just become a consistent winner. Last year, 10 wins, first time in 20 years won the ACC, third in the nation in wins versus ranked opponents, school record for wins versus ranked opponents. A lot of positive things happened. We come back this year, I just wanted us to be consistent, put another quality season together. We did that. We feel like we’ve made a ton of progress, but the next thing for us now is to, that margin for error, if you look at the two losses we had this year, against top-10 teams, chance to win both games in the fourth quarter and we don’t get it done, it’s a real small margin for error. We’ve got to make that up, do a better job coaching and put our guys in position to make more plays and our guys have to make them when they present themselves. We’re going to find out as we keep moving forward. Our team is young. Eleven juniors on the whole roster. It’s been fun the last two years watching this team grow up a little bit.
A lot of folks are saying the biggest key to the game is how your offensive line fares against their defensive line. Is that how you see it?
Dabo Swinney: Oh yeah, there’s no doubt. This is a game that’s won and lost in the trenches for sure. No doubt about it. This is a team that’s going to line up and just challenge you physically and come right at you. You can either match that or you can’t. Very few teams have been able to match that versus LSU. We’re going to have to play great up front. Our guys are going to have to play great and learn from the two games we’ve lost because we’ve had the lead in both our losses in the third quarter but we haven’t been able to quite finish in the fourth quarter. It’s a big challenge for us, as big of a challenge as we’ve had in a long time here at Clemson.
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney