Clemson coach Swinney not floored by ranking
The first-year head coach is much more interested in his Tigers continuing to show the mental and physical toughness that's gotten them four straight victories and the No. 24 spot among college football's best.
"It's good that these kids are getting some recognition," Swinney said. "Hopefully, we can finish this the way we want."
Swinney was proud Clemson (6-3, 4-2 ACC) overcame mistakes and Florida State's 11-point lead in a 40-24 win Saturday night that may have gone as far to show the 77,000 at Death Valley that these aren't the Tigers of old.
"We're just a football team that believes in each other, expects to win and is getting tougher," Swinney said. "That's what I worry about instead of that other stuff."
Despite five missed kicks, three trips inside Florida State's 20 without points and two turnovers, Clemson took control when it counted most, outscoring the Seminoles 19-0 in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers also took charge of the Atlantic Division, where they own the tiebreaker over Boston College, the only other division opponent with two losses. Beat North Carolina State and Virginia - a combined 3-7 in the ACC - and Clemson heads to its first league championship game.
Swinney and his staff doesn't expect Clemson to zone out now.
"It's a new group of coaches, it's a new message," offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. "We recognize the fact that the way we practice is going to impact how we play on Saturdays."
That's been as well as anyone in the ACC the past month.
It was easy to slot the 39-year-old Swinney, former receivers coach for ex-Clemson coach Tommy Bowden, as a holdover from a failed era when ther Tigers opened 2-3 - including a mistake-filled loss at Maryland.
Since then, Clemson's beaten then-ACC leader Wake Forest, Miami and what looked like the conference's most unstoppable offense in the Seminoles.
No one may be more responsible for the rise than star tailback C.J. Spiller.
His choice to pass up the NFL draft last winter looked regrettable when the Tigers were losing to Georgia Tech, TCU and Maryland by a combined 10 points five games in.
But Spiller's taken charge - and upped his Heisman Trophy profile - the past month. He had touchdown runs of 66 and 14 yards to beat the Demon Deacons, then set a school record with 310 all-purpose yards in the overtime win at Miami. After largely resting the turf toe injury he's dealt with all season in Clemson's 49-3 victory over FCS opponent Coastal Carolina, Spiller was at it again versus Florida State.
He set a career high with 165 yards rushing, surpassing a mark he set three years ago as a freshman. He had a 58-yard TD catch, his 20th career score of at least 50 yards.
And at the end of his 5-yard, high-stepping touchdown run that locked up the win, the humble, team-first Spiller gave what he called a "baby" Heisman pose.
"The thing I do is I go out each Saturday and try and prove I'm the best," Spiller said. "I just try and put my team in position to win."
That's certainly something Florida State coach Bobby Bowden hoped to do more of this season.
The Seminoles had won two straight and could've gained their own Atlantic Division foothold by beating the Tigers. Instead, Bowden left Death Valley in defeat, the way he had his previous three visits when son Tommy coached the Tigers.
"They have just played better than us and have probably been better," Bowden said.
Swinney expects the same focus at practice this week without lookaheads to Tampa, Fla., where next month's ACC title game takes place.
"They realize what's at stake," Swinney said. "They've got 13 days left in their ACC play. This is just grind it out time. I think they'll be fine in that regard."