Playing with a purpose

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - After ending the regular season at 6-6, Da'Quan Bowers can find the fine line between playing for the ACC Championship and not even qualifying for a bowl.

Had Clemson beaten Florida State, instead of losing 16-13 on a 55-yard field goal as time expired, the Tigers would have finished 5-3 in ACC play. That record would have been good enough to qualify Clemson for a second-straight trip to the ACC Championship.

But it wasn't until the next week that Clemson become bowl eligible, after beating Wake Forest 30-10.

Nearly a month later, Clemson is set to play South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

It's not exactly what they had in mind back in August when talking about a December game in Bank of America Stadium.

"We could be at home watching all these bowls," Bowers said. "We're just happy to have the opportunity to play here. We're just going to try to play hard and physical, and have a good victory going into next season."

There was a time in the not too distant past when a bowl trip like this year's could have been met with lukewarm regard.

It's a scenario that has similar parallels to last season.

Clemson missed out on the school's first-ever BCS game after losing a heart breaker in the ACC title game to Georgia Tech. Instead, the Tigers had to settle on a trip to Nashville, Tenn. for the Music City Bowl.

Clemson played inspired football on that cold night, beating Kentucky 21-13.

Head coach Dabo Swinney noted that result as part of the culture he's trying to model.

"That's one of the things as I evaluate where we've come from January of 2009," he said. "In two seasons, we have grown. And that's one area that we have grown tremendously. Our guys have lined up, regardless has happened the previous week, who we're playing or where we're playing. They've competed their tails off. Anybody that watches the film will tell you that."

Chris Hairston believes it, too.

"We're always playing with passion. That's just something about this team that's helped us through the past couple of years—to show up for games that everybody else says doesn't matter," he said.

Fellow senior DeAndre McDaniel isn't too sure where to put a finger on what's transpired, but he said something's changed during his four years at Clemson.

"If it's one thing I can say, it's leaders—coach Swinney he leads us also. He can coach us into the game, tell us what we need to do to win and what to expect," McDaniel said. "The leaders, like last year, we had great leaders. All they did was help the leaders for this year, to make the underclassmen better."


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