With a victory in the Chick-fil-A bowl squarely in the rearview mirror, attention now turns to getting prepared for spring football and squarely on recruiting (of both current Clemson players and high school recruits). Now is a critical time for Swinney and his staff. The past few months have been a whirlwind for this program which focused almost entirely on football with recruiting taking a backseat. That has all changed since January 1st, and it's now time for Dabo to use the momentum generated off of a huge bowl win (maybe the biggest win for this program since the Catch II) to close on a number of national prospects.
Significance of Clemson's victory: The Tigers wiped out the memory of last season's 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. The win gave Clemson a 2-1 record against the SEC this season. The Tigers were the only ACC team to defeat an SEC foe this year. Boyd made a case for 2013 Heisman consideration, should he stay for another season.
It is an exaggeration to think that the win against LSU was the biggest for Clemson since that 2000 win against South Carolina? Perhaps, but if you really look at what it could do for this program moving forward, it's hard to argue with how huge that late fourth quarter drive and field goal really were. These are not the type of games Clemson has seemed to win in the last decade or so, close hard fought slugfests that come down to a drive at the end, especially not against a juggernaut like LSU (who played for it all just one year ago). This game has and will go a long way towards erasing the general college football public perception that Clemson can't hang with the big boys. It did on December 31st, and this win could provide a wave of confidence for this squad as it spends the next 8 months preparing for their opener against Georgia, another quality SEC opponent.
If any program is allowed to read way too much into a bowl win, it's Clemson. After all, Clemson players spent their last offseason getting reminded that they got royally smoked by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. So it's interesting to compare the way Swinney opened his press conference after the Chick-fil-A Bowl with the way he opened his press conference after that 70-33 loss in the Orange Bowl. You've read the first two sentences from Swinney early Tuesday morning. Now compare that with the second and third sentences Swinney uttered in that Orange Bowl press conference. "The season is over," he said. "The biggest thing I said in there is that I love them, and we've got to live with this the whole offseason."
The win certainly does wonders for a large chunk of this fanbase. A 9-3 record with no huge wins would've have left a sour taste in many of our mouths. 400+ yards, 36 minutes of possession, 100+ plays, and a drive for the ages down the stretch, is exactly what this program and this fanbase needed. These are the games you build off of. These are the games you talk about when you're a head coach or a recruiting coordinator and you're sitting in the homes of high school athletes and you're trying to sell them on Clemson and where this program is headed. Does it mean this team can get complacent and assume they can just show up against UGA and have the same result? Not in the slightest, but it can certainly provide the hunger and the foundation for this team moving forward.
Clemson finished ninth in the final USA Today poll and 11th in the final Associated Press poll according to the polls released on Tuesday morning. It is the first time since the 1990 season that Clemson has finished in the top 10 in either of the two polls.
The big news today is certainly Tajh Boyd's announcement that he will be returning for his senior year. While the recruitment of high school players is critical in the next month, Dabo's recruitment of Tajh to return for his senior year was arguably his most important. When you have a guy that could very well go down as the top quarterback ever to wear a Clemson uniform when it's all said and done, you do everything you can to sell him on returning for a final year.
How much selling did Dabo have to do on this one? Hard to tell, though likely not as much as he did with Spiller who was projected higher after his junior season than Boyd has been. Despite this, the magnitude of Boyd's return cannot be stressed enough. If Clemson has national championship aspirations in 2013, it will be largely on the shoulders of #10 to mirror what he was able to do on the field this year, especially due to the losses of Ellington, Ford, Brown, and likely Hopkins.
Already a Clemson and ACC record-holder in many passing and total offense categories, Boyd will try to put a championship touch on a career that, after two years as a starter, includes first-team All-America and ACC player of the year honors. "I'm not ready to give all this up yet," said Boyd, "so I'm here to announce that I'm returning to Clemson for my senior season. If somebody could tweet that to my fans, that would be great right now."
Peaking ahead for a minute, it's hard not to think about that opening slate with the Bulldogs coming to down to kick off the college football season. Clemson hasn't had an opponent this good come to Clemson for the season opener, since well UGA was here in 2003. Tiger fans don't have fond memories of that game as the Bulldogs put a 30-0 drubbing on Clemson. This year Mark Richt will bring a veteran offense (led by Senior Aaron Murray who announced he will be returning for his final year) and most likely a ton ten ranking into Death Valley (although they will have big questions marks on defense). Not a bad way to start off 2013 is it? There are certainly pro's and con's of opening with such a tough opponent, but I'm all in favor of it. What better opportunity to provide a litmus test for your program that by opening the season with a top 10 SEC team in your own backyard. If Clemson wants continued praise and respect from the college football world, these wil be the type of games they will have to win, especially with the luxury of playing at home, a place this program has thrived at over the last two seasons.
He may not have every career record yet (namely the passing attempts, completions, and yardage), but I think it is safe to say that Aaron Murray is the best QB in UGA history. This season was easily the best season for a UGA QB ever. It's absurd that Murray wasn't named to one of the All-SEC teams this season. It's also absurd that he may end his career (depending on when it ends and what happens next year) without ever being named All-SEC 1st team despite likely owning every SEC passing record of note. Here's hoping he comes back; I would love for a UGA QB to own all these records. Also, I would just love to see Murray in red and black and silver britches for one more season.