Building a championship-level defense

Clemson goes into the season in the national championship conversation, but if there is one overriding question about this team it is whether it has a championship-level defense.

How do the Tigers get there? Defensive coordinator Brent Venables should know, considering he coached a national-title-winning defense at Oklahoma in 2000 and won seven Big 12 championships during his time with the Sooners. When asked what it takes to reach a championship-caliber level, Venables said:

"It comes down to leadership, toughness, attitude, guys continuing to develop. Will our guys hold each other accountable? The best teams I’ve been associated with are player-driven. They have a special chemistry about them, a special focus, a willingness to be worked, a willingness to be coached. There’s a lot of time between now and next January. We’ve got as good a chance as anybody that’s out there. Do we have enough talent and ability? Yeah, but there are a lot of other intangibles. They have to come together, and there’s a lot of work to be done between now and when we kick off. I don’t really like to talk about all those things at the end. You have to earn it and earn it one game at a time and one day at a time. I’m a firm believer in that. That’s how I’m wired, that’s the family I’ve been brought up in this profession. It’s about the work you put in every day. If you do, you’ll have a chance. If you don’t, you won’t."

Venables is not the only coach on staff who has won a national championship. Dabo Swinney won one in 1992 as an Alabama player -- and current Clemson assistant Danny Pearman was on that Crimson Tide staff. Assistant Dan Brooks won one with Tennessee in 1998, too. Coaches on this staff have been through the drama, and the pressure, of trying to make a run at a national championship.

But it's not something any of them has even discussed with his players.

"To me, you don’t sit and promote that," Venables said. "You try to be as good as you can be today. Having an opportunity to compete for a national championship, you’ve got to win your division. You’ve got to win the opener. There are so many things that have to take place, and the good fortune you have to have to get to that point. When you start focusing on the wrong things instead of controlling the things you can control today, you’re setting yourself up for failure."