Landon Walker knows the anguish a third straight loss to South Carolina caused the Clemson community. The senior right tackle knows by losing three of its last four games, Clemson eroded much of the goodwill it accrued with an 8-0 start.
But Walker said the whole November nightmare -- the offensive slowdown, the inexplicable loss at N.C. State, the third blowout loss to the Gamecocks -- will all be forgotten if the No. 21 Tigers (9-3) can do one thing: beat No. 5 Virginia Tech (11-1) Saturday in the ACC title game at 8 p.m. in Charlotte (ESPN).
To Walker, what is at stake Saturday is not only the program's first ACC title in 20 years but his team's legacy. Will this Clemson team be remembered as one losing its grasp of a rare opportunity, or one that rebounded to have its finest three hours in one of the program's most important games of the last two decades?
"Everything goes away if we can win Saturday night," Walker said. "People will forget about South Carolina and N.C. State, they'll say 'do you remember that Clemson team that won the 2011 ACC championship?' They won't say 'Do you remember that team that lost to N.C. State and South Carolina?'
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"To be able to win a championship is more important than beating South Carolina. Any time you can put a ring on a player's finger, that is better than winning a (rivalry) game."
Walker's sentiments were shared by tight end Dwayne Allen, who said he does not want a repeat of the feeling he had after Clemson lost in the 2009 ACC title game to Georgia Tech.
"I don't want to sound dramatic, but (Saturday) means everything," Allen said.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said psychologically 'flushing' losses must occur in the first 24 hours following a defeat and that mental purging is nearly as important as the following four days of practice.
"What we you have to try to do is move forward and regroup after a very emotional game, a very physical game," Morris said. "There are not too many teams playing in championship games. ... We have four practices left, and we have to try to get it back and we are going to get it back."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney tried to put the season in perspective Saturday night, saying few expected Clemson to be playing for an ACC title.
"We've both earned the right to be in this game, and like I said, it's irrelevant what we've done, good or bad," Swinney said. "It's about this game Saturday night and trying to find a way to win it."