It's almost here

CLEMSON – Dabo Swinney can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And, apparently, it isn't a train.

While the official end of preseason "camp" is basically here, Saturday marked as big a milestone as any on the road to Aug. 31's prime time Death Valley showdown between No. 5 Georgia and No.8 Clemson, one of the most-anticipated games in recent program history.

"Now it's time to get them back mentally. Get them back physically," Swinney said.

The "grind," per se, is almost over. Monday, Clemson will begin focusing on Georgia and sorting out those who will play, those who will not and the scout teams – a valuable milepost in any college football preseason.

And a welcome one.

Two weeks still remain before toe meets leather for Clemson-UGA, but my ability to consume further hype is nearing peak density. (Not that plenty more won't follow).

ESPN has already visited the WestZone twice – once with its college football mobile studio, and again Tuesday when personality Scott Van Pelt stopped to film his "Bald Man On Campus" GameDay feature with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins.

If you're like me, you've heard enough about preseason polls. Enough about what happened last season. You're ready for real, live action. Clemson being picked eighth in Saturday's preseason AP Top 25 poll was met with little more than a shrug and a nod. Action – starting with what happens against the Bulldogs – matters. "It doesn't matter if everyone is picking us to be horrible, picking us to win six games,"

Swinney said. "It's about this group. It's about our effort, what we can do. It doesn't matter if picked to do well, to win, it's irrelevant. We talked about it one time. But it's about our team and what matters."

The Tigers are in the preseason top 10 for the first time since 2008, when they began the season No. 9 entering a much-hyped Georgia Dome opener against Nick Saban and Alabama.

You all know how that turned out: Tommy Bowden's group was blitzed by the far tougher, far more physical Crimson Tide, dropping a 34-10 decision that wasn't even that close.

Six weeks later, Bowden's decade-plus run as the Tigers' coach was over, and Swinney was installed as the interim coach.

Although his position on hype is understandable, no matter what happens against the Bulldogs, Swinney's job is safe.

Five years later, Clemson has made tremendous progress in terms of toughness, talent and depth. Beat the Bulldogs, Florida State and South Carolina, and Swinney's bunch can make a legit argument to be in Pasadena for the final BCS national title game.

It's a tall order, but it can legitimately be done, if all the pieces fall the right way.

"I don't think we're anywhere near the type of team we could be before this is over," Swinney said. "We're on track as far as the progress we've needed to make at this time."

It's time to find out, for certain.

Saturday, the biggest news revolved around the redshirt status of freshman tailbacks (Wayne Gallman leads Tyshon Dye) and freshman defensive backs (Korrin Wiggins and Jadar Johnson will likely play, although highly touted cornerback Mackensie Alexander needs to get healthy) and the "five best" offensive linemen, with senior Brandon Thomas likely staying at tackle and Ryan Norton leading Jay Guillermo in the center competition.

Swinney knows what he has in veterans like quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, who played four and zero plays Saturday, respectively.

Saturday, Boyd got more questions about college football's student-athlete autograph controversy than he did about the scrimmage or football in general.

We're on the downhill slide to actual college football games that matter. The playbook has been installed. The grind is nearly done.

The 2013 regular season is almost here. And quite frankly, it can't arrive soon enough.

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