Enjoying Similar Turnarounds
JACKSONVILLE - When Dabo Swinney was named Clemson's interim coach in mid-October, the Tigers had lost three games, longtime head coach Tommy Bowden and just about every bit of confidence the program had coming into the season. Thoughts of making a bowl game were nearly gone, too. "Back on Oct. 13, we would have been happy to be playing in the Hormel Sardines Bowl," Swinney said. "We would have gone anywhere and we would have walked to get there." The Tigers (7-5) rebounded from the turmoil that accompanied the coaching change, won four of their final five games, beat archrival South Carolina and earned their first January bowl in five years.About 900 miles west, Nebraska enjoyed a similar turnaround after finishing 5-7 last season, missing the postseason and firing Coach Bill Callahan. The Cornhuskers (8-4) won five of six down the stretch under Coach Bo Pelini, beat rival Colorado and returned to New Year's Day for just the fourth time in 11 years. Either Clemson or Nebraska will keep their momentum going into the offseason following today's Gator Bowl. "We want to go out on top just to further cement the foundation that we've been talking about building for the next couple of years," Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz said. Both programs had higher goals before the season. The Cornhuskers believed they could win the Big 12 North but didn't match up well against three of the conference's elite teams, losing to Missouri (52-17), Texas Tech (37-31, OT) and Oklahoma (62-28). Clemson opened the season ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press' college football poll and was a unanimous pick to win the Atlantic Coast Conference. But Alabama thumped the Tigers in the opener. Clemson bounced back to win three straight, but consecutive losses to Maryland and Wake Forest prompted Bowden to resign midway through his 10th season - a move that surprised players, coaches and fans. Swinney picked up the pieces for the Tigers. "When we were sitting there at 3-3 and things weren't really going our way, I don't think any of us would ever believe we would be able to turn it around and make it to the Gator Bowl," Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper said. "We turned the season around. Now, we have an opportunity to finish strong. That's all you can ask for."