CLEMSON, S.C. — As crazy as it sounds, this season is about to get tougher for No. 8 Clemson.
Sure, the Tigers went from obscurity to the top 10 with three straight wins over defending national champion Auburn, rising Florida State and current Atlantic Coast Conference champ Virginia Tech. But anyone paying attention knows that Clemson (5-0, 2-0 ACC) has a knack for big wins followed by letdowns, something the Tigers hope to avoid when they play Boston College (1-4, 0-2) on Saturday at Death Valley.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows you don't have to look far to see the program's tendency to play up — and down — to its competition. He was receivers coach in 2004 when the Tigers won at Miami, then fell to Duke; and in 2006 when Clemson opened 7-1 to reach the top 10 but lost at home to lightly regarded Maryland.
Swinney got the job in part for the same reason: The Tigers lost a first-half lead to a Terps team they were supposed to dominate and two weeks later then-coach Tommy Bowden was out.
Now, it's Swinney who must guard against the Tigers stumbling against the struggling Eagles. So far, so good.
"I really like their business-like approach," Swinney said of his team. "They know we've got a ton of improvement to do."
The Tigers have enjoyed their surprising run of success and don't want to see it end for many reasons, not the least of which is wiping out the past perceptions of the program's shortfalls.
Tight end Dwayne Allen says it started with Swinney's changing attitudes in the locker room. Each victory, Allen said, put another dent in the belief of outsiders that Clemson will eventually find a way to lose.
"That stigma in the media that we have gotten off to great starts in the past and not having that consistency," Allen said. "That's what we have do, stay at our level no matter the opponent."
Right now, that level is among the best in the country. The Tigers were barely mentioned when the season began, most observers wondering if Swinney would keep his hot, hot seat if the team didn't dramatically improve from last year's 6-7 mark. These days, Clemson's considered a rising power and a legitimate threat to duplicate Auburn's run from nowhere to a BCS title.
Clemson's got an offensive coordinator in Chad Morris who is friends with — and schooled in the system run by — Auburn offensive leader Gus Malzahn. It has a unknown starter in Tajh Boyd who can run and pass like Auburn's Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton. Heck, the schools even share the same Tiger mascot.
Not so fast, Morris said. These Tigers haven't accomplished anything yet.
"I can imagine what's being said out there," Morris said. "I hope we are this year's Auburn in January."
Clemson's had its problems with Boston College since it became an ACC member in 2005. The Eagles first league victory came at Death Valley six years ago, then they defeated the Tigers the next two seasons when a win by Clemson in either game would've been enough to send it to the ACC championship game.
The Tigers were heavy favorites a year ago against a Boston College team that came having lost its past five games. But it was the Eagles who left with a surprising 16-10 victory, a defeat that sped up the slide to Clemson's losing season.Comment on this story
Still, an Eagles win this time would be perhaps the biggest letdown in Clemson history. Boston College's lone win was against Massachusetts and the Eagles will be without star running back Montel Harris, who re-aggravated a knee injury in last week's loss to Wake Forest.
"We have had guys in and out of the lineup, and we have had an inconsistency in our practice schedules that has shown up and manifested itself in games," Boston College coach Frank Spaziani said. "Once again, they are realities."
Clemson's offense has worked better than many expected, ranked second in the ACC with 466 yards and nearly 35 points a game this season. The Tigers, though, haven't scored an offensive touchdown on the Eagles in two seasons, a streak they're hoping to break this weekend.
"I really feel like we're searching for that complete game," said Boyd, a third-year sophomore. "I'll be very excited when that happens."