Nobody within Clemson’s program needed to point out this week what happened to Wisconsin and Oklahoma, two programs that dropped like bricks out of the top six in the BCS standings with upset losses this past weekend.
There was an unspoken realization for the No. 5-ranked Tigers of just how easy it is to go from something to nothing in the BCS standings.
“It’s very hard to ignore,” said tight end Dwayne Allen. “Some guys may say they ignore it or whatnot. That’s cool -- they don’t ignore it. But listening to it and being able to tune it out is totally different than trying to ignore it. I hear it, I understand what they’re saying, but it doesn’t matter to me. And that’s the way myself and a lot of my teammates think.”
If you believe the lines that have been preached within Clemson’s program this season, there is an unwavering focus on the task at hand, despite the program’s highest-ever ranking in the BCS standings. As far as the remaining games go on Clemson’s schedule, none is bigger than this Saturday at Georgia Tech because of the history between the two teams. The last time Clemson started out 8-0, in 2000, the Tigers also beat North Carolina to reach that mark before losing to Georgia Tech the following week. This is a series in which 14 of the past 16 games have been decided by an average of only 4.6 points.
While Georgia Tech is the one coming off of back-to-back losses, Clemson is the team with something to prove on Saturday -- that it can avoid a trap it has fallen into in the past, and that the defense can play disciplined enough to be considered championship caliber. A win for Clemson and the comparisons between this team and the 1981 national champions will grow louder, as the program has not been 9-0 since that undefeated season. A loss and Clemson would look more like the 2009 team that lost to Georgia Tech twice, including in the ACC championship game.
“I don’t think you have to be very talented to beat them -- I think Coach [Paul] Johnson would admit that -- but you have to be very disciplined and very fundamentally sound,” said Clemson center Dalton Freeman. “If you’re not, they’re going to kill you. Doesn’t matter how talented you are.”
And there’s no question Clemson is one of the most talented teams in the country. The Tigers have scored at least 56 points in each of their past two games, a first in school history. They’ve got a Heisman hopeful quarterback in Tajh Boyd and a record-setting receiver in freshman Sammy Watkins. (Fitting for this game, John Heisman coached at both Clemson and Georgia Tech.) The defense, which has been average, is coming off a performance in which it snagged six turnovers from North Carolina. As good as Clemson has been, though, it knows it has to be better to stay in the hunt for the national title.
Plus, it IS Georgia Tech.
“There is a little bit more umph in our preparation going down there because we know that rivalry within the series and we haven’t been successful down in Atlanta,” Allen said. “That’s what we want to change, go down there and have a complete game in every aspect, from offense, defense and special teams.”
Georgia Tech has gone back to the basics this week after scoring just seven points and being held to numerous offensive season lows in a loss at Miami last week. The Yellow Jackets know they have a chance to play spoiler on Saturday.
After all, it IS Clemson.
“Obviously we’ve had some success since I’ve been here against Clemson, and there have been some great games,” said Georgia Tech A-back Roddy Jones. “… It’s one of those, 'they don’t like us and we don’t like them' kind of things. But there’s always a respect factor, and the fact that they’re coming in here highly ranked makes this an even bigger game for us.”
And even bigger for the BCS standings.