No. 1 Clemson finished the regular season undefeated. Now the Tigers are trying to finish the entire season undefeated – and if they do, they’ll make history in the process.
“It’s pretty cool,” Clemson offensive guard Eric Mac Lain said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Not a lot of teams have been able to do that through the college football era. This will be the first 15-0 team potentially. It’s just cool. It’s cool to secure that No. 1 spot throughout the season and a great accomplishment for our team.”
Clemson faces No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET. If victorious, the Tigers will play the winner of No. 2 Alabama versus No. 3 Michigan State for the national championship on Jan. 11.
That would be quite the feather in the cap for Dabo Swinney, who has led Clemson to bowl wins over LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma in the last three years.
“I think that he just truly is a players’ coach,” Mac Lain said of Swinney. “Every decision that he makes or everything that he does for this team is with us players in mind. The best thing is he understands that he needs to continue to learn and grow as a coach. He’s constantly been developing. You can see with his attitude with the way he handles situations, from 2011 to 2015, he’s a different, smarter, better coach. That’s great to be able to see in your leader, that he understands that he needs to continue to grow in his journey.”
Clemson was unchallenged for much of the season. Of course, it helped having Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson, who threw for 3,500+ yards, ran for 800+ yards and accounted for 41 touchdowns (30 pass, 11 rush).
“When you got a guy that can run it like Deshaun, you never really know where he is, so that can be a little bit stressful at times,” Mac Lain said. “But also it’s a huge relief because you know you don’t have to block perfectly every single play because you know he can escape and get us in the best position to win.”
While Watson certainly has wheels, he can hurt you with his arm. In fact, he completed 69.5 percent of his passes this year and averaged 8.5 yards per attempt.
“I really think that Deshaun has been undervalued as a passer in this postseason,” Mac Lain said. “Guys are always talking about what he does with his feet and what he can do running-wise. But I think that honestly, Deshaun is the best deep-ball passer in all of college football, and I think that his numbers show that. I think he’s looking forward to this game, to really being able to just keep demonstrating that.”
The Tigers beat Oklahoma, 40-6, in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season. Overall, Clemson has won 22 of its last 23 games, with three wins coming against ranked teams.
“I think we have demonstrated that no game is too big for us this year,” Mac Lain said. “We played Notre Dame with the entire nation watching. (We played) Florida State. So we’ve been on this stage before, this magnitude of a game, and I think it’s pretty cool to watch the maturity. This is probably one of the youngest teams we’ve ever had with 40 or so freshman, but you wouldn’t notice that out on the field. You would think it’s a group of seniors. So I think that no stage will be too big for this team.”