59F Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney can't think of a better example for his football players than basketball great Michael Jordan.
Jordan, Swinney said, never wavered in his intensity or attitude to win, whether the Bulls were starting the season or had wrapped up a playoff spot with a month to go. Swinney wants the same approach from the seventh-ranked Tigers (9-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) heading into North Carolina State (5-5, 2-4) now that they've clinched the ACC Atlantic Division.
"I'm a big basketball guy and to me Michael Jordan is the epitome of a competitor," Swinney said Tuesday. "And he was expected to be the best player on the court every game. This guy was so mentally strong and focused at being the best and not being satisfied."
Swinney said Clemson has plenty left to achieve before it tries for a league championship at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 3. A win over the Wolfpack would be the team's 10th this season, something the program hasn't accomplished since 1990.
The Tigers hope to end a two-game losing streak to rival South Carolina on Nov. 26, Swinney knowing all too well how a third consecutive defeat to the Gamecocks would rile Clemson fans no matter how many wins they achieve this season.
"You've got to be ready to perform at the highest level every single week regardless of what's happened in the past," Swinney said.
Clemson's hasn't always been able to do that the last couple of seasons.
Two years ago the Tigers won six straight games to win the Atlantic Division and earn a spot in their first championship game. First, though, they had to travel to Columbia for the annual regular season-finale with the Gamecocks.
"We laid a big, fat egg," tight end Dwayne Allen said, recalling the 29-7 defeat.
Allen, then a redshirt freshman, said the team didn't show the same fire and work ethic during its practices before that loss - and they paid the price in Palmetto State showdown.
Allen said it's the job of he and Clemson's other upperclassmen to set the tone in practice. The Tigers were lively and focused on Monday, Swinney said, preparing as intently for North Carolina State as they had for any game this season.
Allen knows how difficult it can be to hold players' attention, especially after achieving a divisional title they'd worked for since 2010 ended. He sees a maturity on the club there hadn't been in other years, a poise that helped the Tigers rally from a 28-14 deficit to defeat Wake Forest 31-28 last Saturday.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Ford and a 10-yard scoring pass to Jaron Brown to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Then Chandler Catanzaro nailed a 43-yard field goal as time expired, setting off a wild, onfield celebration at Death Valley.
Hangovers usually come after the biggest of parties.
There's no time for that, Swinney said.
He acknowledged reviewing the BCS standings - the Tigers are seventh - and contemplating scenarios that would get the one-loss Tigers as high as possible the next few weeks.
For Allen, "That's too much thinking."
He said the simplest thing for Clemson is to focus on this week and beating North Carolina State.
The Wolfpack have been up and down this season. They followed a satisfying, 13-0 win over rival North Carolina with a 14-10 loss to Boston College.
Struggling North Carolina State could sure benefit from a distracted Clemson, the ACC scoring leader.
"We're in a ditch, we have to dig our way out again," North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien. "We've found a way out before, we have to find a way out again now."
Swinney said star receiver Sammy Watkins will take it easy in practice this week after injuring his shoulder in the Wake Forest win. The team won't know the status of Watkins, the ACC leader in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches, to play until game time, Swinney said.
Clemson has won seven straight over the Wolfpack, including the past three in Raleigh.
Swinney hopes his players can keep their heads on straight and continue those winning ways. "We won our division," the coach said. "We need to go play like that."