All eyes on Eagles

Clemson-Florida State on Oct. 19. That's the game everyone in the nation has been pointing to as the ACC's game of the year since before the season began. And with good reason.

The Seminoles have an off week this week, so their focus is on the Tigers. But the Tigers can't return the favor just yet because they have a game this week against Boston College, and that has to be their sole focus. The good thing for Clemson fans is their team has proven to be pretty strong at focusing on the task at hand and not looking ahead since Dabo Swinney became the head coach.

The Tigers were not good at that when Tommy Bowden was their head coach; there always seemed to be something to knock the team's focus off the mark and knock the team off the rails. The odd part about that is that Swinney was on Bowden's staff for many of those years.

But every head coach is different, and teams typically take on the personality of their head coach. One of the keys to Swinney's personality and success as a head coach is that he focuses on the small things and the small steps in the journey to having a good football team.

A friend of mine in the sports writing business who has covered Alabama for most of his career told me when Clemson hired Swinney as an assistant coach that it was a terrific hire. He covered Swinney's playing days with the Crimson Tide and also his time as an assistant coach in Tuscaloosa and had nothing but praise for him. He said, "He'll be a good assistant, and one day he will be an even better head coach. He is detail-oriented like few coaches I have come across." That certainly has proven to be true. Where Bowden and his teams always seemed to focus on the end of the journey, Swinney and his teams focus on what it takes to get there.

For the Tigers this week, that is the Eagles … and not the Seminoles.

Last week, the focus was the Syracuse Orange. The week before that, it was the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

The Tigers took care of their business easily in each of those games because they went to work each day focused on that week's opponent and not that team waiting for them on Oct. 19. Now, they have to do that for one more week before they can get to the long-awaited showdown with Florida State.

But Boston College might offer the toughest test of those three, and the Eagles typically have given Clemson trouble. The Tigers do lead the all-time series 11-9-2, and they have won the past two meetings and four of the past five.

Before that, however, Clemson went six meetings (five losses and a tie) and 50 years without a win over Boston College.

A couple of those recent losses were heartbreakers in overtime in 2005 and 2006, and another one was even tougher to take: in 2007. That game is memorable, forgettable and frustrating all at once for Clemson fans because it came during a run when the Tigers came up just short of the Atlantic Division title year after year. By missing that, they missed out on a chance to play in the ACC championship game year after year.

But that game was the most frustrating of the bunch because Clemson had chance after chance to take control and just could not. The Tigers just missed out on the win as Cullen Harper's long touchdown pass attempt was just out of the reach of Aaron Kelly.

And with that went maybe Bowden's best chance to win the division title. Who knows if he would have been let go after the early season struggles the following year if he had a division title on his resume. If not, that certainly would have changed the history of Clemson football.

Swinney's first win as the Tigers' interim head coach came in 2008 at Boston College in his second game at the helm as Clemson went 4-2 down the stretch to help Swinney keep the job full time.

With Swinney running the show, the Tigers have turned around their struggles against Boston College with three wins in four years since he became the full-time head coach. The only loss came in Clemson's offensive-challenged season of 2010 in a 16-10 Boston College win.

That year led to a big change for Swinney and the Tigers as he went in a new direction with his offense and offensive system by hiring Chad Morris. A year later, Swinney made another big move, hiring a new defensive coordinator in Brent Venables. Both moves have paid off in a big way, and Swinney now seems to have the program and systems in place to have Clemson be a championship contender for some time. That all starts with focus, a focus fans will see Saturday with another strong performance against Boston College.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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