CHARLOTTE - Clemson Tide.
A fire alarm sounded in the middle of ACC Kickoff media day this afternoon at the Westin Hotel. An evacuation command went out over the hotel’s sound system, and strobe lights flashed in all the rooms and hallways.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was dressed in a dark suit, with an orange tie, television cameras shining on him as chaos swirled all around. He didn’t even blink.
As people made their way to the exits, following orders, the interview continued. Swinney was in his own world.
We’re six weeks away from college football season, and the defending champions are chilling in Uptown, not a care in the world. While the rest of the schools in the ACC, in fact in the entire country, use these media opportunities to tout brands and superstar coaches and players, Clemson left its marquee quarterback at home and brought instead a safety from Belmont and an offensive tackle wearing a long blonde wig, trolling the media.
Tyler Lawrence, the superstar quarterback, is back in Clemson, probably on the lake, while the Tigers begin their national summer tour leading to their defense of a title that left no doubt in anyone’s mind. This is Clemson’s time, and no one else’s.
Summer is all about the heat, and fire drills are for losers.
The defending champions are loose and confident, and as odd as it sounds, so is the rest of the league. When you’re in the same conference as the best program in the country, there’s no pressure. All boats rise in the Clemson Tide.
“Listen,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said, “they're an elite program. Two national titles themselves. We've had three national titles from the ACC in the last five years, which goes to show you that this is, in my opinion, and I think I'm qualified to make the statement because I've coached in most of these conferences, this is the elite conference in college football.”
The ACC is the elite conference in college football? That’s how good Clemson is.
The Tigers return a slew of young players from last year’s 15-0 team, the first team in college football history to win 15 games in a season. From the quarterback to the players not yet listed on the depth chart, Clemson is loaded.
That the Tigers are favored to win the ACC title in a breeze is an understatement. Not since the days of Florida State’s national dominance has an ACC school been so clearly ahead of the rest of the league.
Clemson is more than an ACC school right now. It’s a national brand, and conference commissioner John Swofford said the rise of Tigers comes at a perfect time for the league. With the roll-out of the new ACC Network only a month away, Clemson football is poised to pull the league into a national exposure unlike anything in ACC history.
“I don't think you can even measure it,” Swofford said. “It has meant a great deal, there's no question about that. The fact that we've had, from a football perspective, a team every year of the College Football Playoff in its first few years, that says a lot. The fact that Clemson has won two of the last three national championships, timing couldn't be better from a business standpoint and from a network standpoint.”
If that puts pressure on the Tigers, you’d never know it.
Swinney’s spent the first past of summer touring the world. He went to the Bahamas and then to Europe, touring Rome and the great colosseum, which he said was a “life-changing experience” to see something still standing after so many years.
“It was built in 80,” he said. “The year.”
For most Clemson fans, that was the year before the Tigers won their first national title.
This year, the Tigers will stay close to home. Of the 12 games on the Clemson schedule, 10 will be played in the Carolinas. That should make for a wave of orange every week, driving into and out of little Clemson.
All eyes will be on the Tigers this year, not just locally but across the country. Clemson has earned its ascent to the top of the game and also the respect of its league. Despite all the accolades, the Tigers remain humble. Even if their down-home appeal wears thin on football fans not from around here.
“We’re just gittin’ goin’.” Swinney said in his Alabama drawl.
They live in a small world, and right now, the goin’ is good for the Tigers.
The Clemson Tide rolls on.