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CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is focused on getting his 13th-ranked Tigers ready for the postseason after another disappointing end to the regular season — something he's knows all too well with his team's five-game losing streak to No. 8 South Carolina in season finales.
Swinney has had some solid results picking up his team in recent years.
In 2011, the Tigers followed a loss to the Gamecocks with a victory over Virginia Tech to win the school's first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 20 years. A season ago, Clemson rebounded from a South Carolina loss with a memorable, 25-24 comeback to topple LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Swinney expects his players' pride to once again to rise to the forefront this postseason following Saturday night's 31-17 defeat in the rivalry game.
"This football team is about the right things," Swinney said. "We're building a great football team one season at a time and we've got to keep grinding, keep growing, keep believing."
That might be hard for some outside observers and even Clemson fans after the latest meltdown against the Gamecocks. The Tigers had six turnovers, four of them in the final quarter after the team had rallied from 10 points down to tie the score at 17-all.
The game was seen as a way for Clemson to regain some swagger and confidence after the midseason debacle where No. 1 Florida State put up the most points an opponent has ever scored at Death Valley in a 51-14 beatdown that cost them a chance at another ACC title.
"Got two painful losses and we can't ignore that," Swinney said. "We can't make it feel like we're a bunch of failures either. It's hard to win and as we catch our breath and step back, we've got to celebrate the success that we had and not dwell on and magnify the couple of failures."
Swinney his team's mood was understandably down when he met with them Sunday. He urged them to take the time away from the field — Clemson won't find out its bowl destination or opponent until Sunday — to shore up academics, watch the sun come up and realize they put up a very special regular season.
Clemson reached double-digit victories for a third straight season, something last accomplished when the Tigers did it in four straight from 1987 through 1990.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd set ACC career records with 102 touchdowns passing and became only the third league QB to surpass 10,000 yards.
"It's still a great season. We just didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish as far as this game goes," Boyd said after the loss to South Carolina. "There is life after this. There are bigger things at stake."
Finishing strongly in the postseason is at the top of Boyd's list. He played two of the best games of his career following South Carolina defeats in 2011 and 2012, accounting for 600 yards and seven touchdowns in defeating Virginia Tech in 2011 and LSU a season ago.
Boyd looked poised for similar heroics last Saturday night, guiding the Tigers deep in South Carolina territory when down by a score midway through the final period. But Boyd had the ball ripped from his arms by defensive end Chaz Sutton for a fumble to end the threat.
Boyd threw two interceptions down the stretch and Clemson could not come back.
"We almost overcame the turnovers," Swinney said. "There were just too many."
The coach also knows the bowl could be the final time for playmakers like Boyd and perhaps junior receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive end Vic Beasley, each expected to consider jumping into the NFL draft.
Swinney said a few weeks ago he'd be surprised if Watkins, considered a first-round NFL talent, returned for his senior season. Watkins has set career highs of 85 catches for 1,237 yards.
Beasley is tied for the ACC lead and stands fourth nationally with 12 sacks. Both Watkins and Beasley were all-ACC first-team selections Tuesday.
Also, Clemson will likely have to deal with offensive coordinator Chad Morris again drawing interest for head coaching positions. He talked with North Carolina State and Texas Tech a year ago. Swinney said no one's called yet asking to talk with Morris, who earns $1.3 million a season with the Tigers.
Swinney and his assistants are on the road recruiting this week. He said come Sunday, however, "we'll get excited about our bowl opportunity and further developing our team in bowl practice and try and get that 11th win."