Dabo Swinney: ‘Last Year In The Rearview Mirror’

Clemson’s 2013 season started and ended about as well as any season can: with a three-point home win over Georgia and a five-point Orange Bowl win over Ohio State.

While the Tigers lost to Florida State and South Carolina during the season, they also finished with 11 wins in back-to-back years for the first time in program history. As for that BCS win, it was Clemson’s first.

So yeah, not too shabby.

“It was an excellent year,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Going down and winning the Orange Bowl . . . and (beating) Ohio State – a team that was 24-1 coming into it – it was an excellent season. You set out every year to be the best you can be. We finished seventh in the country, and the two losses (were to) No. 4 South Carolina and No. 1 Florida State. So I think we had a great year. (We) came up a little short as far as getting to the big show, but (it was) nonetheless a very good year.”

And now they get to start over.

“Last year was great, but it’s in the rearview mirror,” Swinney said. “It’s a whole new team. You got to repay that price all over again. (There’s) new leadership, new chemistry, new freshmen that have joined your program. It’s always the fun part, I think, of college football – having to start over every year with a lot of unknowns. But again, (it’s) another tough challenge for us right out of the gate that we’re looking forward to next weekend.”

Clemson, ranked No. 16 in the preseason poll, takes on No. 12 Georgia in Athens at 5:30 p.m. ET.

The Tigers, of course, will be without Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, who now play for the Bills and Jets, respectively.

“I’d like to have (Watkins) for 10 or 12 years, like the NFL guys,” Swinney said. “You just keep them as long as they can play. That’d be great. But that’s not how college football works. By the time a guy’s really becoming a very good player, he has to move on. But that’s also what makes it exciting because here comes there new guys that nobody knows anything about.”

Take Jameis Winston, for example. Last year at this time, Florida State was tasked with replacing E.J. Manuel, a first-round draft pick. Winston, who had never played a down in college, went on to win the Heisman trophy and a national championship.

“I think that’s the exciting part of college football because there’s so many unknowns,” Swinney said. “These guys coming out of high school – unless you really follow recruiting – you don’t know much about them until you see them line up to play on game day.”

Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of those players. Senior Cole Stoudt has been named the starter, but make no mistake: Watson will see playing time.

“It’s a great dynamic for us that’s going to produce very good quarterback play,” Swinney said. “You got Cole Stoudt, who’s really played well. He’s got this really high sense of urgency to be the guy because he’s got four months left in his career – and you love that. You love that sense of urgency every day.”

Stoudt has attempted just 119 passes in his career, but he has eight touchdowns and only one interception.

“And then you have this really, really talented young player that has a high sense of urgency to try to get on that field,” Swinney said of Watson. “I think the two of those things working together is a real positive for us. They’re both great young men. They get along well. (There’s) good chemistry in that room.

“Deshaun Watson, I think, will definitely by the season’s end be a guy that everybody’s going to know about” Swinney continued. “Hopefully Cole’s going to play at a high level all year long and we can just bring Deshaun along. But I don’t have any doubt when he plays he’s going to turn some heads. He really is a special young talent.”


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