CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson's Dabo Swinney enjoyed festive award banquets; the texts, emails and calls of congratulations on the Atlantic Coast Conference championship and watching his star quarterback Deshaun Watson work the Heisman Trophy stage. Now, the coach of the top-ranked Tigers is ready to get back to work.
No. 1 Clemson (13-0) returned to practice Monday in preparation of its Orange Bowl matchup against No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) on New Year's Eve — and the chance to play for a national championship.
"We think we've got a good plan," Swinney said. "Now we've got to go execute it."
If Clemson's past is prologue, that won't be difficult.
The Tigers have won their past three bowl games, all against national championship-winning opponents including Oklahoma. Clemson rallied from 11-points down in the fourth quarter to beat LSU 25-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl three seasons ago. It defeated Ohio State 40-36 in the Orange Bowl after the 2013 season before obliterating the Sooners 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl last winter.
Swinney said he's got a main message to his players going forward this week: Don't expect last year's Oklahoma team this time around.
The Sooners, Swinney said, have a smoother, more effective offense led by quarterback Baker Mayfield, plus a fierce defense that Clemson will have to be at the top of their game to overcome. Things broke right for the Tigers a year ago, Swinney continued, with Oklahoma committing five turnovers in the blowout.
"We had something to do with that," Swinney said. "But at the end of the day, if you turn the ball over against a good team, it's going to get away."
There was a rush of activity at Clemson's football offices and meeting rooms inside Death Valley, with players breaking off into position meetings before heading out for practice.
The Tigers expect to work out or meet on campus through Dec. 21, when Swinney gives the team off for the holiday. They'll gather again Christmas night, then work out briefly on Dec. 26 before flying off to Miami to finish game-planning for the Sooners.
Swinney expects a healthy group on the trip. He said all-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team receiver Artavis Scott had a procedure to fix a damaged meniscus in a knee — Clemson policy does not identify which knee was affected — that had bothered him for about a month, Swinney said.
Scott would be limited in practice for a day or two, but figured to be full speed for the Orange Bowl.
Swinney, Watson and defensive end Shaq Lawson have had a hectic time since defeating North Carolina 45-37 to win Clemson's 15th ACC crown on Dec. 5.
Lawson was in Houston early last week as a finalist for the Lombardi Award.
Watson first went to Atlanta where he won the Davey O'Brien award as college football's top quarterback for jetting with his family to New York for Heisman ceremonies. Watson finished third behind winner Derrick Henry of Alabama and runner-up Christian McCaffrey of Stanford.
Swinney prodded his steady, goal-driven sophomore to enjoy the experience of his first-ever Big Apple visit. But Watson, the coach said, was locked in to what was next in the team's goal to finish 15-0.
"I know by the end" of the trip, Swinney said, Watson "was ready to come back home."
Watson enjoyed his post-season trips, but he certainly relished being back on the field with his team even more.
"It's exciting," Watson said. "We might have been a little rusty at first before we got it going."
Watson said the Tigers plan to stick with what works, using the same prep work that won them their first 13 games this season.
Swinney believes Watson's steadiness and focus has rubbed off on the rest of the team.
While Watson thought it cool to be a Heisman finalist, Swinney said the trophy his quarterback truly wants "is the one they give to the last team standing."