Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn’t hesitate this week when he said his team wasn’t a national championship team – yet. But he said there’s no reason the Tigers can’t be the Atlantic Division champs, or even win the ACC this year.
He’s right, especially considering how the rest of the division has played (inconsistently or consistently bad), with the exception of NC State.
“As I look at this team, I believe in what we’re doing,” Swinney said. “We’re better, we’re tougher, we’re more physical, we’re a closer team. We can’t lose confidence in what we’re doing because I really believe we’re doing the right things.”
It is a different team under Swinney, in that the Tigers would have relented against Georgia Tech as they did against Alabama under Tommy Bowden last year. This team is more confident, and it’s more physical. Despite two early losses, Swinney said this team isn’t fragile right now. Instead, it’s tougher. Those are all positives, but Swinney and his staff quickly need to translate those qualities into wins, and the schedule works out favorably for that to happen.
Clemson’s losses to TCU and Georgia Tech won’t hurt their chances at winning the Atlantic Division, especially after starting the season with a division win over Boston College. And Maryland has played so poorly in September there’s no reason to think Clemson shouldn’t earn its first road win of the season on Saturday in College Park. A bye week will help the Tigers prepare for Wake Forest, and Coastal Carolina will give them a chance to work out any remaining kinks before back-to-back games against Florida State and NC State. Those are the two games likely to determine the division race. But if the Tigers improve each week, a 3-0 start against division opponents is reasonable for Clemson fans to expect heading into that Nov. 7 home game against the Noles.
It’s too early to judge this new coaching staff, but so far, the problems – particularly on offense – can be attributed to lack of execution, not a lack of preparation.
Swinney said the staff had been playing conservatively, but became more aggressive against TCU. The plays were there. Wide open receivers have to make the play. There have been too many drops, too many errant throws. Kyle Parker hasn’t completed 50 percent of his passes in a game yet, but on Saturday, the Tigers had five drops. Problems in the red zone still persist.
Problems within the locker room, though, don’t.
“We’re in position to win,” Swinney said. “Now we have to learn how to win. I really think this is a team that believes they can win. I think they expect to win. Now they have to learn how to win, and we’ve got to teach them how to win.”