Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said that last season the Tigers probably played their “worst game of the year” against rival South Carolina.
And then turned around and played their best game against LSU.
Last year, Clemson had a tough road loss to Florida State.
And then came back to beat Boston College.
The program has shown its resiliency, and it’s going to have to do it again on Saturday at Maryland if it wants to stay in the top 10 of the BCS standings. With all four of the ACC’s ranked teams playing on Saturday, this weekend is about maintaining the status quo and avoiding upsets. No. 14 Virginia Tech can expect Duke’s best shot, as the Blue Devils are one win away from bowl eligibility and have never been to back-to-back bowls. No. 7 Miami will be without one of its top receivers in Phillip Dorsett and facing a Wake Forest team that has won back-to-back Atlantic Division games. No. 2 Florida State will host NC State, which is thrilled about the return of starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell in time for the biggest game of the season. And No. 9 Clemson? Well, the Tigers’ margin for error disappeared last week, and they’re on the road for the first time in three weeks.
“You really come together from a leadership standpoint,” Swinney said. “Everybody takes accountability and then you go back to practice. That's what we've done, and that's what this team has done really for the last couple of years. That's why we've had the success that we've had and the consistency that we've had, because they've responded, whether we've had a big win or we've had a really, really tough loss. We're 17-3 in the last 20 games, and those three losses were all painful. But they responded.”
As FSU prepares to host NC State, it’s impossible not to recall last year’s shocking 17-16 loss to the Pack in Raleigh, but both teams have gone in different directions since then. NC State fired former coach Tom O’Brien, and the Pack has a new coach in Dave Doeren and a new quarterback. It has also been plagued by injuries and will face a tough environment that will be welcoming back former coach Bobby Bowden as well as almost 400 former players.
"They're having Bobby Bowden Day where he is spiking the spear at midfield with all his former players," Doeren said. "I think they've done a good job of eliminating the trap game with their marketing."
Still, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said “all games are trap games if you don’t prepare for them.”
“I mean, if you say it's a trap game -- because what the kids hear, it's this game and this game you worry about,” Fisher said. “Well, if you're a mature team, you don't allow those things to happen. But yes, there's things that you have to look at, but it has nothing to do with NC State's ability, it just has the national media's focus that the other two teams are more highly ranked, but hopefully we'll be mature enough to look past that and be able to prepare because we know NC State will definitely be ready to play and bringing their A game.”
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said Miami already played its trap game last week at North Carolina. The Canes needed a touchdown from backup running back Dallas Crawford with 16 seconds remaining to beat UNC in spite of four turnovers.
“I think North Carolina has got a really, really talented group of kids, and I really thought that was going to be a tough game for Miami, and it turned out to be that way, unfortunately for the Deacs,” Grobe said. “I think they're wide awake right now, so I've got a feeling we'll be taking their best shot.”
Don’t think the Deacs won’t be prepared, though, to give it back.
Everyone is playing for something, and for Duke, a win over the Hokies would be so big that coach David Cutcliffe conceded his team would probably need the bye week next Saturday to celebrate it. It has been 19 years since the program has beaten a ranked opponent.
“We do have an open date after beating them because we'd probably all be on Cloud 9,” Cutcliffe said. “That's just as honest as I can be. You don't want to be that way. You don't want to be giddy, if you will, about any win. But I'm certain the squad and the program itself would feel that way.”
So would Maryland, Wake Forest and NC State.