CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn't worried about his team's early loss or its damaged reputation — only about the opportunity ahead against No. 4 Florida State.
"This is Clemson-Florida State, none of that matters," Swinney said Tuesday, "what the record is, what you did last year, where you're ranked. You just better show up."
A successful effort against the Seminoles (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) by the Tigers (2-1, 0-1) on Saturday may restore talk of championships both in the ACC and the College Football Playoff."We've got a lot to prove because people don't think we've done anything yet," safety R.J. Mickens said. "It's going to be a great opportunity for us."
And one Clemson believes it can take advantage of after its bumpy start.
The defending ACC champions were picked to win the league for an eighth time in nine seasons and began the year ranked No. 9. But a mistake-filled showing in a 28-7 loss at Duke in Week 1 sent Clemson sliding down the rankings — and set off warning bells about the team's viability as a title contender.
"They don't give out trophies after three games," Swinney said.
The mistakes continued in the opening quarter of Clemson's second game, against FCS opponent Charleston Southern — a fumble and interception by Tigers quarterback Cade Klubnik had the team down 14-7 — before Klubnik and the offense found some rhythm in what became a 66-17 rout.
The steadiness on offense continued last week, Swinney said, in a 48-14 victory over Florida Atlantic in which the Tigers were up 34-0 by halftime. Klubnik finished without a turnover after making four the first two games.
"Every time he has an outing, he grows," Swinney said of his sophomore passer. "He's gotten better every week and that's what you want."
Offensive coordinator Garrett Riley said he discovered a group of players who went through adversity, didn't flinch and bounced back. That's a positive characteristic for a coach to see early in the season, he said.
"That's something we can always lean on as we move forward," Riley said.
Klubnik must take another step forward and remain mistake-free if the Tigers hope to compete against the Seminoles, who have one of the biggest wins of the season, 45-24, over LSU in the opener.
Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis has led a high-scoring attack with potent playmakers like receivers Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman, and South Carolina transfer Jaheim Bell.
The defense is led by end Jared Verse, who passed on the NFL last year for another try at championships in college.
"Everybody knows this is a big game," Florida State coach Mike Norvell said. "You've got a team that the last however many years has pretty much led the ACC in how they've play and what they've done."
One area that may be different for Clemson come Saturday is at kicker. Freshman Robert Gunn III won the job at fall camp but has struggled at times with accuracy. That led Swinney to call on ex-backup Jonathan Weitz, who was taking graduate courses remotely and planning on a career in finance, with a job lined up in New York.
Instead, the 22-year-old Weitz drove from Charleston to Clemson and was at practice Monday, when he made seven of eight kicks, Swinney said.
Will Weitz start? "He's starting today," the coach said. "But we've got a long week of practice and (pregame) warmups."
"We just needed some maturity at the position," Swinney said.
Mickens, the senior safety, said the mindset of the Tigers has been solid all year long and the focus clearly is on being the best they can this week.
"We always expect to win, no matter who it is," Mickens said. "We play to a standard, not to an opponent. They're a great team, (but) we're just preparing to play Clemson football."
AP freelancer Bob Ferrante in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.
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