CLEMSON – Dabo Swinney says there’s a distinct home field advantage when Auburn plays at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“You’re down a touchdown when you get off the bus,” Swinney said.
If that’s true, then Clemson’s game at Auburn Saturday night is a toss-up, which may not be all that surprising given recent history in the series.
The teams have met four times since 2007, with each team winning twice. Two of the games were decided in overtime and the other two were tied in the third quarter.
“Openers are always tough, for a lot of different reasons,” Swinney said. “But especially when you’re playing a great opponent like Auburn in a very tough and challenging environment. It’s a big challenge out of the gate for us.”
The fact that Clemson is ranked No. 2 in the nation, an odds-on favorite to win a second consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championship and advance to the College Football Playoff may not carry a lot of weight on “The Plains.”
“It’s fun,” Swinney said. “Anytime you get an opportunity to go into a great college venue, it’s a blast. It’s one of the best game day environments in all of college football. They have a very passionate fan base.”
Swinney should know. He grew up a fan of the “other side,” and later ventured into Jordan-Hare during his days as a player at Alabama and was on winning Crimson Tide teams against Auburn in 1990, 1991 and 1992.
And although Swinney has hung his hat at Clemson for 14 years now, one can rest assured that Crimson Tide fans will be cheering for Swinney’s team Saturday night.
“We’ll all be one big happy family once again, no doubt,” Swinney said.
Clemson plays in-state rival South Carolina every year, but Swinney also is fond of playing another Southeastern Conference foe whenever possible. Auburn, which will play at Clemson next season before dropping off the schedule, and Georgia have fit the bill in recent years, and Texas A&M will come onto the schedule for 2018 and 2019.
“If it was up to me we’d play Georgia every year,” Swinney said. “You can get beat every year, too. Auburn has been a great opponent. I think it’s a good measuring stick when you play Auburn and Texas A&M.
“I like the fact that we can step out of conference; it gives you a different feel. I enjoy it. It has been a tough challenge the last seven years, but I also believe that’s one of the things that has allowed us to build the culture of our program.”
Indeed, Swinney has been more successful than most against SEC opponents. He has eight victories in his head coaching career against SEC teams, including six in the last five years. Those six wins since 2011 are the most in the country among non-SEC coaches.
“We’ve still got a lot to prove and I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been,” Swinney said. “When I got the job at Clemson, the expectations were there. Nothing has changed.
“My expectation is we’ve still got a long ways to go. Until we go win two or three national championships, we’re just li’l ol’ Clemson.”
Scott Keepfer, The Greenville News