CLEMSON, S.C. — After six consecutive ACC titles and College Football Playoff berths and two national championships, last season’s Clemson team stumbled out of the gate and finished 10-3.
It was perceived as a down year for the Tigers.
After several seasons of winning ACC games by decidedly wide margins, the Tigers struggled in almost every game in 2021, losing their grip on the Atlantic Division crown and winning four of their league games by six points or less.
If nothing else it was a cold dose of reality for players who had grown accustomed to romps that saw everyone get in on the fun.
Given that, a big-picture perspective hints that such a wake-up call may have been just what the Tigers needed as the program heads into its 14th season with coach Dabo Swinney at the helm.
“They’ve got a healthy perspective, a unique perspective that really, honestly, no team I’ve had in a long time has had,” Swinney said. “It’s not their fault, but these guys haven’t had any football adversity, if you will.
“There’s a big difference between disappointment and adversity. If you lose a game or a national championship or a playoff game, it’s disappointing, but I wouldn’t call it football adversity.”
He’ll be selling that belief throughout the preseason.
So far, so good, says Swinney, who has a penchant for finding silver linings.
“I was able to coach last year in a way I hadn’t been able to coach in a long time because I hadn’t really had the opportunity,” Swinney said Friday, prior to his team’s first practice of the preseason. “There are certain things that you can’t teach on the mountaintop, if you will.
“None of us like adversity, none of us like disappointment, but it’s all good for us. It’s all about how you respond.”
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The Tigers responded in a way that continues to give Swinney optimism. His team stood 4-3 on Oct. 24, then finished with a six-game winning streak, which is the longest in the Power Five heading into the Tigers’ 2022 opener at Georgia Tech on Labor Day night.
The defensive prowess of this year’s team is unquestioned; consistent quarterback play looms as the biggest potential obstacle.
But Swinney likes what he’s seen and heard since spring.
“We weren’t very good (last season), but we just kept finding ways to win,” Swinney said. “That has given them a good perspective. I love their mentality.”