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Eric Boynton | Spartanburg Herald-Journal | October 30, 2018

Clemson football: Tigers focused on earning fourth consecutive playoff berth

Clemson appears as ready for the stretch run of the regular season as any of the previous three rosters which made the College Football Playoff, looking like a team that understands and embraces its identity in all phases of the game.

Saturday's 59-10 dismantling of Florida State that established several new levels of all-time futility for the host Seminoles was just the latest step forward in a team finding its stride with the first CFP rankings unveiled Tuesday. Clemson (8-0) is expected to be no worse than third, with an ongoing debate pitting the Tigers against LSU with Alabama the likely No. 1.

The Tigers were second behind Alabama in Sunday's AP and Coaches polls, followed by Notre Dame and LSU in both.

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"We're kind of getting into what we call our championship phase of our journey and think we're in a good place," Swinney said. "We're definitely improving and we've got a good feel for who we are and who can do what. We've developed a lot of depth, there's a great chemistry and morale on this team, unbelievable leadership and character, along with the performance you've seen.

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"They've really bought into taking pride in whatever it is they're doing, trying to create energy for each other and just playing well without worrying how much you play. It's a very selfless team. We've definitely gotten better. We've not regressed anywhere. If we can continue to be hungry and eager to improve and realize we're a work in progress and kind of always under construction, never be satisfied, I think we have a chance to have a really good finish."

Clemson is a near-40 point favorite over struggling Louisville Saturday before its final regular-season road trip to Boston College, which re-entered both polls after defeating Miami Thursday. The Tigers finish with home games against Duke and South Carolina. In October outings against Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Florida State (the Tigers had an Oct. 13 open date), Clemson won by a combined 163-20, the 47.7 margin of victory the largest differential over the same month since 1948.

Clemson's healthy and fresh, playing all 72 players on its travel roster Saturday for the third time in four road games. With the weekly improvement of freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence complemented by a successful balance across the board, the Tigers certainly appear primed for a fourth consecutive CFP appearance.

"What people don't see is this is a team that likes to practice, they take coaching, and I've been challenging these guys really hard the last three weeks," Swinney said. "They've all responded, love the preparation, and that's what leads to the success on game day. And the leadership is just incredible. It's the easiest team I've ever coached, they're just unbelievable. They're locked in, focused, and know exactly what they want. They know what it takes and they're willing to give it every single day. Just very committed to how we do things."

Swinney acknowledged from early in August camp this was his deepest and most experienced roster. While his praise and expectations for this year's group hasn't changed, he also knows success at the top is all based on results and there's much left to play out.

"A lot of people ask if this is our best team and they've got to go earn that," Swinney said. "That 2015 team we had might've been more talented than the team that won (the national championship) in 2016, but we didn't get it done. The amount of competition and functional players we had to start this season was definitely the most complete roster, but we still got a long way to go to finish." 

This article is written by Eric Boynton from Spartanburg Herald-Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.