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A Thursday of Importance

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Clemson is preparing for a Thursday night clash against Georgia Tech which will help determine its BCS fate.

Contextually speaking, one of the biggest games in the country this week not involving a national title contender will take place in Death Valley on Thursday night, as the Clemson Tigers will host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Ranked No. 8 in the most recent BCS standings, Clemson is attempting to overcome a demoralizing loss at the hands of Florida State earlier in the season to make its second BCS bowl appearance in the last three years.

Although championship expectations were certainly palpable in Death Valley at the start of the season, another BCS invite would undoubtedly go down as a successful campaign for a program that has won just one conference title in the past two decades.

An apathetic approach from the Tigers following their 51-14 home loss to the Seminoles would have been understandable given the abrupt and embarrassing nature in which their title aspirations went up in flames. With a veteran-laden roster, increased athleticism due to improved recruiting efforts and a schedule which appeared to be relatively manageable, a national championship had been the only thing on the minds of the Clemson players and coaches prior to the debacle on October 19.

But as has been noted by many college football coaches throughout the laurels of history, winning championships is a process.

The Tigers took their first step towards becoming a legitimate national contender when they officially hired Dabo Swinney as head coach prior to the 2009 season.

Utilizing his quirky personality and seemingly endless supply of energy, Swinney took to the recruiting trails to make the Tigers a perennial power in the lifeblood of college football, completing the next phase of the championship process: increasing the talent and athleticism in the program.

The final part of the championship-building process is often the most difficult step to take. Finding a quality head coach and tremendously skill players is difficult, but it certainly can be done with exceptional effort. Getting those players and coaches to develop a championship mindset, however, can be slightly more perplexing.

Clemson took a major step in the right direction in that regard by defeating perennial SEC power LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to conclude last season. The Tigers then validated the improved caliber of their program with a 38-35 victory over No. 5 Georgia to start the 2013 campaign.

So while the loss to Florida State is understandably difficult to swallow, in some regards, it is almost a necessary part of the process.

As should be the case, the Tigers have been focused on not letting one subpar moment define this team or this season. The new approach has been one focused on continuing to fight in an attempt to finish the season in the most positive way possible.

It is an approach which starts with the man in charge of the program.

“We wanted to get off to a great start in the month of November,” Swinney commented on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. “We’re 8-1 and battling hard, and we just want to have the best finish that we can.”

In order for the Tigers to have the best finish to their season, they will have to get past a Yellow Jackets team which will be very motivated.

Despite currently sitting with a relatively disappointing 6-3 record, Georgia Tech is still mathematically alive for the Coastal Division championship. Any hopes for a repeat trip to Charlotte would immediately dissipate with a loss to the Tigers, however.

Historically speaking, the Yellow Jackets have fared very well against Clemson, leading the all-time series 50-26-2. That success has continued in the modern era as well, with Georgia Tech losing only three games to Clemson since the 2004 season.

“We’ve got a big challenge this week in Georgia Tech, and it’s good that we’ve got a little extra time to try to get ready for them,” Swinney said of his team’s upcoming opponent. “You don’t really see [Georgia Tech’s offense] until you play them. We’ve got a lot of guys back who have played them, and they understand what you have to do to give yourself a chance. They just do a great job in executing their scheme.”

The Tigers will find themselves in the national spotlight against the Yellow Jackets simply by proxy of being ESPN’s nationally-televised game, but most fans throughout the country will not be overwhelmingly motivated to make this contest “must-see” television.

For the Clemson players and coaches, however, each game from now to the end of the season will be approached as the most important to date.

A BCS bowl invite, still considered a tremendous accomplishment, is very much still in the mix.

More importantly, Thursday night’s contest will afford the Tigers with yet another opportunity to continue to build upon their championship attitude.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.