No. 6 Clemson not worried about rankings
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn't focused on his team's rise up the rankings, even if it has others planning for the playoffs.
Clemson held off a fourth-quarter rally by Notre Dame, Tigers defensive tackle Carlos Watkins stopping quarterback DeShone Kizer on what would've been a tying 2-point conversion with 7 seconds left in a 24-22 victory at waterlogged Death Valley.
The victory lifted Clemson (4-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) six spots to sixth Sunday in the Top 25. Pump the breaks, Swinney said, because there's a long way to go.
''That's the thing with this stuff,'' Swinney said Sunday by phone from Clemson, South Carolina. ''Everybody wants to try and end the season after three games or four games. It's so funny to see the rhetoric, `OK, these teams are in.'
''Look around college football. Who was No. 6 last week? You've got to go play the games.''
For Clemson, that starts next week against sliding Georgia Tech (2-3, 0-2), which has lost its last three.
Clemson players talked much of last week about earning national respect. After defeating the Irish, Swinney hopes the Tigers can keep the finely honed edge they showed in the win over the final two months of the regular season.
''It's great to know we're in the mix, in the conversation,'' Swinney said. ''But we've only played four games, not even half our season.''
Still, things lay out quite nicely for Clemson. It's next four opponents in the Yellow Jackets, Boston College, Miami and North Carolina State, all lost this past Saturday. The biggest hurdle, a Nov. 7 matchup against three-time defending ACC champion Florida State, is at home.
Clemson tailback Wayne Gallman, who rushed for 98 yards, said the team's challenge against Notre Dame was showing outsiders the Tigers belonged among the game's very best.
''All the critics said we can't do this, we can't do that,'' Gallman said. ''We proved it and we have more to prove, so we aren't done.''
They also aren't a finished product.
Swinney said the biggest disappointment against the Irish was an awful fourth quarter where Clemson surrendered most of its 21-3 lead. A Tiger defense that had limited the Irish to 212 yards the first three quarters gave up 225 yards in the final period.
Notre Dame (4-1), which fell from sixth to No. 15 on Sunday, overcame two turnovers in the final seven minutes to come up just short. Clemson could've locked things up on offense with a first-down or two, yet went three-and-out on its final three series with the game on the line. Swinney said the problems are easily fixable.
''The best thing is we're 4-0 and haven't come close to playing our best football and our best game,'' he said.
Clemson has crumbled in the face of national expectations at times the past decade. In 2006, the Tigers leaped into the top 10 after a nationally televised beat down of highly ranked Georgia Tech that left them 7-1 and filled with hope for bigger things.
Clemson, lost, lost three of its next four games, to miss out on an ACC title.
In 2011, Clemson opened 8-0 and stood No. 8 in the country and fluttered the hearts of supporters for the school's first national crown since 1981. Again, the Tigers dropped three of the next four and, after rebounding for the ACC championship, became a college football punchline with its 70-33 blowout loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Swinney wants his players concentrating on the next step, not the ultimate prize.
''I'd be very surprised if it wasn't,'' Swinney said.