"THAT TEAM IS LONG GONE." Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has the response set on repeat. Any time someone dares to bring up the Tigers' surprising 8-0 start last season, or their awful 2-4 finish -- which included a demoralizing 70-33 Orange Bowl beatdown by West Virginia -- Swinney pauses, looks around and calmly says it again: "Long gone."
"That was a good team but not a great team," he explains in his office as he waits for another spring practice to begin. "They were good enough to win
Then he curls his upper lip. "But that team is long gone."
Funny thing, though: The 2012 depth chart looks an awful lot like the one from 2011, with 48 lettermen and 15 starters returning. The electrifying offensive trio of QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins and RB Andre Ellington is back, marking the first time Clemson enters a season with a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher. It's the defense that's the problem -- the thing Swinney wants to wish away with his refrain.