Florida State has ruled the ACC roost for the last couple of seasons, but Clemson might have something to say about that in 2015.
One of the most underrated programs in the country, Clemson has won 10+ games in four straight seasons and has won three consecutive bowl games – against LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma.
The Tigers’ success this season will hinge on the health of sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is returning from a partially torn ACL. If his performance this summer is any indication, Clemson has a lot to look forward to this fall.
“He’s been great,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “It looks like he never missed a practice. (He looks) stronger. He’s moving around fast, throwing the ball extremely well but more importantly just incredibly dialed in mentally. So I’m really pleased with his first couple days.”
Watson led Clemson to a win over South Carolina last November despite his injury.
“It was a strange decision (to let him play),” Swinney said. “I’ve never really been around anything like that, although it’s happened many, many times. Tajh Boyd played his whole senior year in high school with a torn ACL with a brace, including the U.S. Army Game and won MVP of that game with a torn ACL coming out of high school. So it’s certainly been done. I had never personally been around it and I didn’t even think about it. I thought (Watson) was definitely out (against South Carolina). I had already kind of moved on, and he shows up in my office . . . trying to convince me that he can play and that he can move and he doesn’t have any pain. I’m looking at my trainer like, ‘What are y’all talking about here?’ So anyway, the trainer said, ‘Well, we do have a brace that he can wear.’”
Swinney wasn’t convinced.
“My whole thing was, ‘You’re not going to go into the game expecting to play. Let’s see what you do in practice. You take the second-team reps,’” Swinney explained. “Heck, by Tuesday . . . you couldn’t tell anything about him as far as the way he was moving and throwing the ball. I needed to make sure that he could protect himself and execute our offense so we could have a chance to win, and the rest is history.”
Watson threw for 269 yards and accounted for four touchdowns (two pass, two rush) in Clemson’s 35-17 win over the Gamecocks.
“He just was unbelievable,” Swinney said. “Just a great, unbelievable moment for that young man.”
With nine months to recover, Watson should be ready to roll against a tough schedule that includes games against Louisville, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Florida State.
Speaking of Notre Dame, Swinney unintentionally caused a bit of controversy the other week, saying that the Irish should either join a conference or be forced to play 13 games.
Brian Jones asked Swinney to expound on his stance Thursday.
“It’s so funny how the media works,” an amused Swinney said. “I don’t really have a stance. I didn’t spend 30 seconds of my life thinking about Notre Dame. But I’m at the media days, I have a reporter – he just asked me a question. He said, ‘Do you think Notre Dame should be in a conference?’ And I said, ‘I really could give a rip. I just focus on Clemson, but I’m going to answer your question.’ And so I answer the question and it headlines across the country I’ve made some great stand.
“Listen, Notre Dame, do whatever the heck they want,” Swinney continued. “But yeah, I definitely think they should be in a conference. They should have to play all those teams. Teams should have to play an equal amount of games. It’s like the NFL, in my opinion. When the NFL comes out and they hand a schedule, y’all got 16 games, right? Well, how would you like it if 25 of the teams had 16 games and the other seven had 15? That doesn’t seem right. I understand you get what you earn, so you have a great year and maybe you get a bye in the playoffs. But everybody should have the same type of schedule.”
Swinney, however, is not on a personal crusade against the Irish. They can remain independent as long as they want. He’s not going to lose sleep over it.
“The only mission I’m on is to make Clemson the best it can be,” Swinney said. “But if you ask me a question, I’m going to answer it.”