CLEMSON—The battle cry around the practice fields has shifted.
Last season, following the heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the jumbotron inside the indoor facility blared the entire season with one phrase, that was spoken by every player in every interview session— “Finish with no Regrets.”
This year, there is no longer a feeling of regret, after avenging that loss and defeating Alabama in the 2017 CFP National Championship Game and capturing the Tigers first national championship in 35 years, instead there is a new mantra being championed on the practice fields— “Why not us?”
“I want to get back to the national championship in Atlanta,” wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud said. “That’s a big goal. It’s hard to go three, back-to-back-to-back, so why not do it? Why not us?
The fact is, it is not hard to go back-to-back-to-back in reach the national championship in college football—it is nearly impossible.
Only once since the BCS era, the beginning of having the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams play each other to determine a national champion, has a team achieved that feat, Florida State.
Florida State accomplished the impressive feat in the first three seasons of the BCS-era of college football (1998-2000) and it has not been accomplished since then. No Urban Meyer team has accomplished the feat. No Bob Stoops team has accomplished the feat, and none of the Alabama dynasty led by Nick Saban have accomplished the feat.
But don’t tell McCloud or the rest of the Tigers those numbers, because they simply do not care.
“I’ve been winning my whole life—high school, little league, my whole life. That’s what I’m used to,” McCloud said. “Going 10-2, whatever the season may be, I’m not used to that. Winning is always a must to me. Going back-to-back-to-back has never been done here. Winning a National Championship has been done. Last year’s seniors set a standard for us, so have to keep it at that.”
While becoming the first team to make three consecutive appearances in the national championship game is a goal for the 2017 Clemson Tigers, it is a goal that you will not see plastered on any boards in meetings rooms or on the jumbotron in the indoor facility.
The reason is that no one needs to be reminded of the goal and they all understand what it takes to get there, and what it takes to win.
“It’s not something that we really think about, but we know what it takes,” defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “We know how we have to practice and compete every day. We know how we have to work in the weight room. We just know what it takes to get to that point. We’ve done it twice, so why not a third time.”
That understanding of what it takes to not only reach the mountain top, but being able to plant your flag when you have reached it, has provided this team with a confidence that they did not have before.
Even after coming so close in 2015 to achieving their ultimate goal, what they learned last season has the 2017 Tiger team brimming with confidence that they can make it three in a row.
“There’s a different swagger,” McCloud said. “The way people talk when you’ve done something. You’ve already done it, so nobody can tell me that I can’t do it. When you’ve already done something, it’s like, ‘All right, you’re going to see.’ With the team itself, the swagger, the confidence, the competitive leadership we’ve got out there—it’s building every day. I think we’re just getting better.”