A subdued Dabo Swinney walked from a quieted Bobby Dodd Stadium early Sunday two weekends ago, following a loss at Georgia Tech. Clemson's normally exuberant coach was disappointed as a perfect season was blemished; a pursuit of a national title likely ended in Atlanta.
But Swinney was not overcome with despair as he walked from the concourse to the team bus.
Why? Perhaps it was because a window of opportunity is just opening for Clemson this season - that is what Swinney believes and that is was the roster suggests.
No. 9 Clemson (8-1, 5-1) is in the top 10 of the Bowl Championship Series standings for the third time with 42 of 85 scholarship players being freshmen - a total including redshirt and true freshmen. Another consensus top-10 recruiting class is on the way.
Of the top 10 BCS teams, Clemson had the fewest seniors on its two-deep depth chart entering the season.
The young Tigers have an opportunity to clinch an ACC title-game appearance with a win Saturday against Wake on Saturday (noon, ESPNU).
A peak season
Think out two years.
Think about 2013 when quarterback Tajh Boyd could be a redshirt senior.
Think about receiver Sammy Watkins as a junior. NFL draft analysts believe Watkins would be an early first-round pick if he were eligible for the draft after this season, but to Clemson's delight he is not eligible until 2014.
The Post and Courier asked Watkins to think about what Clemson might look like in two years when the 42 freshmen on the roster this year, players such as five-star linebackers Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony, defensive end Corey Crawford, receiver Martavis Bryant and running back Mike Bellamy become juniors and redshirt sophomores.
"I think our whole team will be nasty," Watkins said. "Our whole team will be more mature, bigger, better, stronger. Everybody will understand the game more. They'll have a (purpose) when they take the field of just being a champion."
Wave after wave
One great class is not enough for any program to reach elite status, this holds true for prospect rankings from college football to pro football to Major League Baseball.
Clemson is on the verge of back-to-back consensus top-10 classes for the first time since the advent of Rivals.com's and Scout.com's Web recruiting rankings.
The Clemson staff now has turned its focus to the 2013 class, which Swinney says has a chance to be "as good as we've signed."
Said Swinney: "As I've said many times I don't need a lot of patience just a little bit and we are going to get this program on solid footing where we can be a national contender and have a national presence every year."