The Clemson Tigers began a journey 4 months ago that had one goal—well, actually five goals that could ultimately end in a final, unspoken goal being reached—winning the National Championship.
On a board in the team room of the WestZone facility in Clemson, SC sits those five goals in plain view for all who enter the room to see. The Tigers purpose behind those goals is to ultimately be the best team in the country and thus far this season they have methodically checked off those goals one-at-a-time.
For Dabo Swinney those goals represent what he believes it will take to place the Tigers in the College Football Playoffs and ultimately in the National Championship game.
"For us, our goals are laid out in such a way that if we achieve them all in a single season we will have a shot," Swinney told the media earlier this season and for his Tigers, they have spent the last four months checking off goal after goal.
The first one, "Win the Opener," was done in convincing fashion over a Wofford team that the Tigers proved to be to much for.
Second on the list, "Win the Division" was handled on a rainy night against Florida State. After that game Swinney, sensing that this might finally be the year the Tigers could check off all boxes on their list told the team, "Tonight, you guys took a bite out of the elephant—a big old bite. But, boys there is more to do."
With the elephant analogy—that the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time--still in the teams mind they wound their way through the end of their schedule, making sure to never lose sight of the next box on the list, "Win the State Championship"--which is exactly what they did last Saturday in Columbia.
While last Saturday's game saw the Tigers vanquish the demons of Williams-Brice Stadium—a place that they had not tasted victory since 2007-- it also meant there was still work to do.
"This win meant a lot, but we have a lot of things ahead of us," Tiger defensive lineman Kevin Dodd said. "It's special. Now we can look back on it and we won 12 games, but we've still got a lot of work to do. We're trying to get that 15, so we're trying to punch ourselves a ticket to the playoffs. Hopefully we can get that done next week."
For the Tigers only two more goals are left on the board: Win the ACC Championship and Win the Bowl Game. One of those goals can be accomplished this week when the Tigers take on the North Carolina Tar Heels for the ACC crown Saturday night—the other might be a while.
But for these Tigers doing something that hasn't been done in 34 years (a National Championship) will require doing something that hasn't been done in the tenure of Dabo Swinney: Accomplish all your goals—in the same year.
"We've hit all five goals before just not in the same season," Swinney said. "I tell our guys all the time, 'Boy's, when we hit them all it's gonna be a helluva a year."