NEW ORLEANS -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has a tendency to dominate the conversation during the regular season when it comes to how the Tigers stack up against the rest of the country. Whether it's his crusade against "Clemsoning" from early in his tenure or the recent reintroduction of the "R.O.Y. Bus" -- a no-one-believes-in-us motif that stands for "Rest Of Y'all," for those unfamiliar with Dabo-ese -- talking about the Tigers often includes references to or about its coach.
And there's no doubt that Clemson's current run -- 29-0 since the start of 2018 and seeking its third national championship in four years -- is a credit to Swinney's vision for the program and both the school's belief in and commitment to a culture that produces consistent winners. But in order for that winning culture to take with the players, it requires lessons and leadership that have been passed along like oral tradition through the Clemson program.
Senior defensive lineman Nyles Pinckney was a freshman on the team in 2016 when the Tigers won their first College Football Playoff National Championship. Last year, he played a key role in the title rout against Alabama, reading and bringing down Mac Jones on the Crimson Tide's fake field goal attempt at the beginning of the second half. Pinckney knows nothing but seasons that end in the College Football Playoff, and he makes a point to communicate everything from his experiences -- what it takes during the year, how to handle the environment and so much more -- to the younger players on the roster.
"It helps give them a step ahead in experience and everything like that because I've been a part of it so long [and had] guys in front of me that were a part of it," Pinckney said. "So when I see what they taught me, I'm just doing my part in passing it down so they can hopefully pass it down to young guys and keep it going."
There's no 29-0 without Tajh Boyd, Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley leading the Tigers to bowl wins over LSU and Ohio State. There's no 29-0 without Deshaun Watson and Carlos Watkins proving that Alabama not only bleeds but can be beat on college football's biggest stage. When Clemson won the ACC championship in 2011, it was the program's first conference title in 20 years. By the end of the decade, the Tigers were not only the class of the ACC with five consecutive conference titles but arguably the new ruling family in all of college football.
The secret sauce to the Dabo Dynasty is -- and will continue to be -- the standard set by the players, the leadership of the upperclassmen and how those lessons of experience are passed along to the next group.
And never is that experience and advice more important than on a stage like the CFP National Championship.
"You know, with young guys, they don't really understand the magnitude of the moment sometimes, so you really gotta just let them understand that, I've been here, done that a few times now," senior safety Tanner Muse explained. "I've been blessed enough to do that. But you just really gotta let them know the magnitude of this game. Just relax. A lot of guys get uptight and think this is the end of the world. It's just another game and a part of your life."
Clemson's playoff and (more specifically) championship game experience stands out in the tale of the tape as we count down the hours to Monday night's kickoff in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. No. 1 LSU has a home field advantage, the best offense in football and plenty of "team of destiny" vibes on its side, but No. 3 Clemson is in the midst of something much bigger than one season.
Getting to the playoff and competing for the title is the standard now, and the players are the ones who hold each other accountable when it comes to meeting that standard each and every season. Win or lose against LSU, the identity of this Clemson program will remain unshaken.
Travis Etienne, the two-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year, described Clemson as a team with no "hot-headed superstars:" Everybody has a team-first mentality and egos are kept in check.
As the talent on the rosters and in the program continues to level up -- and it most certainly will as Clemson closes in on signing a No. 1 recruiting class in 2020 -- the culture of selflessness is going to be challenged. The coaching staff can try to keep it going, but it has to start with the players.
"We understand who we are and what it takes to get here," Etienne said. "I feel like that that helps us at the end of the day. We genuinely care for one another."
So while Swinney can dominate headlines and viral videos, don't overlook the ones responsible for keeping the culture going. Clemson is a college football power that's built to last because its players have made championship contention the standard and hold each other accountable, passing along lessons that will give the next group an advantage on the game's biggest stages.