From good to great, farewell DeAndre, and why it’s good for Clemson if Chad Morris leaves (evenutally)

NORTHWESTERN COMMAND – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was asked Monday how important he thinks the Chick-fil-A Bowl outcome will be for the perception of his program.

Swinney dodged the question. But he acknowledged earlier this year that Clemson was a “good” team, not “a great team.”

Win or lose vs. LSU, Clemson’s season should still be defined as “good.” I’ve believed this prior to the South Carolina game.

Not many teams win 10 games in a regular season. Clemson does some things very well, like score points and move the ball against non-elite defenses. Clemson has rewritten large parts of the record book this season. But we know Clemson is a flawed team. It’s defense has been down for two seasons and I’m not convinced its offensive line is championship caliber.

But can this group of Clemson players become great going forward?

For Clemson to go from good to great it has to contain players like Sam Montgomery

“As far as changing the perception or whatever I’m not sure what that is,” Swinney said. “We are trying to position ourselves to be one of the consistent, unique, national- type programs out there. I feel we’ve taken a step forward in that direction.”

What does Clemson have to do to go from good to great? To become one of those rare programs Swinney spoke of? It has to beat teams like LSU and South Carolina. More specifically, it has to get better against both lines.

We saw what big-boy football looked like in the Georgia Dome on Saturday. Clemson saw it up close against Florida State and South Carolina. And on New Year’s Eve Clemson will compete with LSU defensive and offensive fronts that are tough, physical and national-championship caliber.

It’s going to be a massive challenge.

South Carolina has manhandled Clemson along the fronts during its four-game winning streak and LSU beat South Carolina earlier this year, holding Clowney sackless and Marcus Lattimore to 35 yards on 13 carries. This leads me to believe …

LSU > Clemson

“I truly believe this is a BCS-type bowl,” Swinney said. “This is exciting a matchup that is out there. We’re playing a national championship-caliber team in a national venue is a special opportunity.”

It is a special opportunity.

If Clemson can prove it can play with LSU along both fronts it can change its perception heading into 2013, it can position itself as a top 10 preseason team, and will give us reason to believe 2013 can be a special year.

Clemson is good. But we will learn in Atlanta whether it can be great in the not-to-distant future.

DeANDRE’S LAST DAYS AS A TIGER?

DeAndre Hopkins is now projected as a late first-round NFL pick by CBSSportsline.com and NFLDraftscout.com. If this is right – it seems right – then Hopkins’ college career will likely end in the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve.

Hopkins reminds me of Reggie Wayne. And Wayne was a late, first-round pick early last decade.

Hopkins can’t pass up the pay day that comes with a being a projected late-first, early- second-round pick. He has nothing else to prove at Clemson and the good news for Clemson is the one area where the Tigers are deep is at wide receiver.

WHY IT’S GOOD IF CHAD MORRIS LEAVES CLEMSON (EVENTUALLY)

OK, so this headline is a little bit of a teaser. Clemson would love to have Chad Morris back for 2013.

But 247Sports.com reported Morris interviewed with Auburn on Monday and he figures to be connected to about every vacant head-coaching position. Bovada.com ranks Morris as the third likeliest candidate for the Auburn job at 15 to 4 odds.

Whether he returns or not for 2013, we know Morris is going to become a head coach … and this is good for Clemson.

Why?

If you have a CEO-style head coach like Dabo Swinney you want Clemson to be a destination place for assistants who know Clemson can be a launching pad to bigger and better things. Clemson has proven it is willing to pay its assistants at the top-end of the payscale. If Clemson can prove it promotes coaches to head coaching position that will be further incentive to come to Clemson.

So don’t fear Clemson Nation, Morris leaving is not all bad news.

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