College Football: Clemson headed to Gator Bowl
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2008
COLUMBIA, S.C. ó Five days ago, Clemson didn’t have a permanent coach and was just a loss against South Carolina away from not going to a bowl game. Now the Tigers are going to a New Year’s Day bowl with a former assistant who earned his new job by winning four of his last five games.
The Gator Bowl invited the Tigers (7-5) on Wednesday. Clemson appears to be playing Nebraska (8-4). Bowl officials wouldn’t confirm that, but hundreds of Huskers fans have booked flights and hotels in Jacksonville, Fla., and Tigers coach Dabo Swinney let it slip that he was excited to take on “a great opponent like Nebraska.”
The teams have only played once, and Clemson fans remember it well: The Tigers won 22-15 in the Orange Bowl to win the 1981 national championship.
For Swinney, it ends a whirlwind five days. On Friday, Swinney was the interim coach, unsure if he would get the job permanently, knowing that a loss to South Carolina would mean the end of Clemson’s season. Now he can concentrate on recruiting and getting his Tigers ready for their first Jan. 1 bowl since losing to Virginia Tech 41-20 in the Gator Bowl eight seasons ago.
“I’m not sleeping very much right now, just because I can’t. I’ve got so many things I want to do and thinking about. Every day when I wake up, I’ve got to pinch myself. I can’t wait to go to work and get started on whatever the day has before me,” Swinney said.
The Tigers have appeared in the Gator Bowl nine times, more than any other team, although they have gone to Jacksonville just twice in the past 15 years.
Clemson’s passionate fans, winning four of five games in November and some serious lobbying from athletic director Terry Don Phillips helped get the Tigers the bid, said Kelly Madden, chairman of the group who selects the teams for the Gator Bowl.
“We believe the Clemson fan base will follow their team and support their team like they always do,” Madden said.
Swinney said he held a team meeting on Oct. 13 when coach Tommy Bowden stepped down and reiterated one of his goals was to make Clemson’s ninth bowl in 10 years. The Tigers only miss was 2004 when they were eligible, but sat out after a brawl with the Gamecocks.
“We were fighting and clawing and just hoping we could finish strong and get a bowl,” Swinney said. “But to have a New Year’s Day bowl, that’s something special. That kind of separates us from the pack, so to speak and is a great reward.”