You know you’re doing something right when a 10-win season in major college football is considered a “down year.” Yet that’s the label coach Dabo Swinney‘s 2021 Clemson team was presented with after losing three games in one season and missing the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2014.
The Tigers began the season 4-3 before rattling off six straight wins to finish the season, which included three wins by at least 21 points and a 20-13 victory against Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl.
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Now in 2022, Swinney’s Tigers are looking to return to college football’s biggest stage, and they may have the pieces to do just that. In fact, SportsNaut.com gives Clemson the fourth-best odds to win the national championship of any team in the country, and the Tigers begin the 2022 season ranked No. 4 nationally in the Associated Press top-25 poll.
Clemson’s first game of the season is Monday at 8 p.m. ET in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.
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“We weren’t really very good (last year), but we just kept finding ways to win, and that’s what good teams do. That’s what culture does,” Swinney told TigerNet.com last month. “And even the games we lost, they still had a chance to win every game, and they just kept believing, even with the disappointment and adversity and challenges and injuries and all these things.
“They’ve got a good perspective, and I think had a reset on the appreciation of winning, what it takes to win and how small that margin for error is. I love their mentality, their mindset, and I think that’ll serve everyone well as we go through the season.”
One of the reasons many think Swinney and the Tigers will return once again to the top of the sport in 2022 is because of junior quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. As a former five-star high school recruit, Uiagalelei was a first-year starter in 2021 after the departure of Trevor Lawrence to the NFL. He impressed in two starts during the 2020 season, but took a step back statistically last year. He completed only 55.6% of his passes for 2,246 yards with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Coming in to push Uiagalelei is talented five-star freshman Cade Klubnik, the highest-rated quarterback in the class of 2022 according to 247Sports.com. Despite the competition for playing time, both Uiagalelei and Klubnik have said that their faith in Christ is a primary reason why they chose to enroll at Clemson.
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Clemson’s culture of faith all starts with Swinney. Now at the beginning of his 14th full season as head coach, Swinney has built the Tigers into perennial national-title contenders (winning in 2016 and 2018), but he’s also done it while being very outspoken about his faith.
After winning the national championship in 2016, he exclaimed on national television amidst the celebration that “only God can do this!” Then after winning his second national championship in 2018, Swinney told ESPN, “It’s just simply the grace of the good Lord.”
At the ACC Football Kickoff event in 2018, Swinney was asked again about his faith. “If there’s really hope in the future,” he responded, “then there’s power in the present to deal with whatever mess you’re dealing with in your life, to step through, to hang in there, to persevere, to continue to believe in something, and that’s what my relationship with Christ did for me.”
Swinney says that he came to faith at the age of 16, growing up in Pelham, Alabama. He attended the University of Alabama and joined the Crimson Tide football team as a walk-on wide receiver, eventually earning a scholarship and lettering for three seasons (1990-92). Swinney’s winding road to head coach at Clemson even led him to working in real estate for three years, yet at every step, he said it’s Christ who’s sustained him.
“He’s given me hope and peace, and I love Jeremiah 29:11. ‘For I know the plans I have for you,'” Swinney said at the 2018 ACC Kickoff. “That’s kind of been a life verse for me. It says to give you hope in the future. There are plans for good, not disaster. And so I’ve always taken that, and I’ve kind of applied that to my life along my journey.”
Only God knows where He’ll take Swinney in 2022. Whatever the end result, the coach can rest secure in the knowledge that he’s deeply loved by God.
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