CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thinks the 10th-ranked Tigers have grown since their late-season collapse of last fall and have the experience to avoid a similar slide this season.
"Consistency is something this program has lacked," Swinney said Tuesday. "That's the next thing we've got to do."
The quest starts Saturday when the Tigers (7-1, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) travel to Duke (6-3, 2-2). Clemson appeared ready to break through a year ago when it stood 8-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country. The Tigers were in the thick of BCS title talk because of a record-setting offense that looked unstoppable.
Then things fell apart.
Clemson lost three of its final four games in the regular season. While the team rebounded to win the ACC crown, Clemson was demolished in prime time in an embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson's already handled several obstacles it hasn't in the past since its lone loss, a 49-37 defeat at No. 9 Florida State, to get itself back in the top 10. Swinney said the players have learned from last year's problems and look forward to continuing their strong play.
"I just think the experience they've had is going to pay off for them," Swinney said. "That's usually the case."
Tigers center Dalton Freeman said Clemson went nine games without a break last year and bumps and bruises began to take a toll. There were also several underclassmen at key positions, he said, like quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins whose production tailed off and mistakes increased as the season wore on.
"They hadn't been through it before and I don't know if they were mentally ready" for the stretch run, Freeman said.
Freeman says those players haven't forgotten what they went through and are focused on building on their four-game win streak.
For Boyd, this is a chance to prove he won't have a drop off in production the way he did last fall. Boyd had passed for 24 touchdowns and three interceptions in Clemson's perfect start. He had four touchdowns and seven interceptions the final four games.
Boyd said he's a much more mature player this season and doesn't spend much time thinking about what went wrong for him last fall.