Swinney: Virginia ‘Building Something Special’

Jeremy Styron

While the Virginia Cavaliers football program had some stellar seasons under former coaches George Welsh and Al Groh, including two Atlantic Coast Conference co-championships (1989 and 1995), the team struggled more times than not between 2010-15 under Mike London.

In 2016 with the signing of Bronco Mendenhall, players and fans were infused with hope that the new leadership and direction could right the ship and return to the team to its prior greatness. Mendenhall and his hungry group of players and coaches could go a long way to achieving that end if they were to upend the Clemson Tigers on Saturday in Charlotte.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and the rest of the Tigers, of course, aren’t going to make that task easy. Swinney said during a press conference this past week that Virginia is preparing a strategy in order to win the game, and indeed, the Cavaliers are capable of winning.

“It’s a massive moment for what Bronco has done with the program,” Swinney said. “For them building their program, it’s a huge moment. I mean, they just won the (ACC) Coastal (division). They're playing in a championship game. There's a progression that you go through when you're really building something special. I think that's what they've been able to do to this point.

“Regardless of what the score is, their focus is to try to go win the game. They're good enough to win the game. We got to play championship football. Simple as that. As I tell our guys, ‘We're not entitled to win. We have to earn it every week. Have great respect and humility for the process to get ready for every opponent. We do that. It won't be any different this week.’”

Swinney said the ACC championship game was an important moment for both teams, and whatever happens on the scoreboard shouldn’t diminish how hard each team has worked to get a chance to play for the ACC title.

“Heck, we played for our first championship my very first year in '09, then we got beat,” Swinney said. “We got back two years later in '11, and we won. Then we got our first bid to the Orange Bowl (and) gave up 70 points. Other people tried to let that overshadow what we had accomplished that year in winning 10 games, winning the ACC for the first time in 20 years. I refused to let that happen, and so did our team. We came back in '11 and beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A (Peach) Bowl. It's just all part of the journey.

“Regardless of who wins the game or what the score is or any of that stuff, this is a huge moment for both teams. You're in a championship game. You've competed on the field for our division. It's the culmination of an excellent conference season.”