For the Tigers, the new attitude and the fresh start began with a bowl game win against LSU. It was a notch in Dabo's belt; affirmation that with hard work, Clemson can be a national player once again. One can argue that Les Miles' team did as much to lose the Chick-Fil-A Bowl as Swinney's did to win it. After all, inexplicably, the Tigers from the bayou went away from a rushing attack that was working.
But good teams win ball games. And Clemson took the win...and let the expectations soar.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU was a watershed moment for Swinney’s tenure: a win over a top-15 SEC foe. Sure, the Tigers had a pair of wins over Auburn, the win over South Carolina that sealed Swinney’s full-time status and a Music City Bowl win over Kentucky. But none seem to have resonated like fourth-and-16 and Chandler Catanzaro putting one right between the pipes as time expired in the Georgia Dome. (via)
For Georgia the new era started last December as well, only it was a few weeks earlier. In many ways the bowl game against Nebraska was just a nice bookend for a terrific season and an opportunity to see how the team would respond after losing their previous game. A game in which they'd stood toe to toe with the giant, and damn near slayed the beast. Would they play with a runner up hangover, or would they treat the game as a new start?
Head coach Mark Richt has said they are not using the loss to Alabama as motivation. But somewhere in the deep recesses of each player's mind is the fact that they not only almost claimed the SEC, but nearly did it against Mighty Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide dynasty. The game was theirs and just slipped through their grasp.
"Our focus right now [isn't] so much the big picture dream than what have we got to do every single day, every single practice, every single play, to get where we want to go," Richt said. (via).And that's been a consistent message from Richt during this time of year. Win the East and you have a chance to win the SEC. Win that and there's a good chance you're playing in the most important game of the season. So the message is the same this August as it was last August. Hard to argue against that, logically or emotionally.
Both Georgia and Clemson are coming off stellar seasons. Both have senior quarterbacks that returned just for games like this. Both are being batted around as possible title contenders.
One thinks they can. One knows they should have. Whether that attitude changes Labor Day weekend or not depends on the preparation.