Moving on

Moving on

Like most kids their age (9 and 12) my sons plays sports. Just about any sport they can find (except for maybe soccer), and they learn lessons about themselves through each practice and game they take part in.

One of the key lessons is simply to move on. If they make a mistake on a play, move on. If they make a big play, move on.

Lose a game? Move on.

Win a game? Move on.

That's a huge part of sports. Players and teams can't do anything about the last play or the last game. The focus should be on the next play and next game.

That's the key for Clemson this week and then heading into the bowl game and into the offseason. What's next?

Sure, Saturday's 27-17 loss to South Carolina was disappointing, and it takes away a lot of the excitement that built up through the season for the Tigers.

The 10 wins are nice, and to win 10 games in a season two straight years after having not done it once since the early 1990s is certainly an accomplishment for Dabo Swinney's program. It's another step in the right direction.

But the Tigers didn't come through in their two biggest games of the season – at Florida State and against South Carolina – and that leaves a big hole in Clemson's resume.

What exactly are the Tigers from this season? They were good enough to blow out some bad ACC teams, but they just were not good enough to win those two showcase games.

They had a lot of highlights and big moments from a lot of good players, but their deficiencies were highlighted by the Gamecocks.

Clemson had thoughts of an ACC title through the season, and when those were dashed, the focus became a BCS bowl game. But the Tigers just weren't good enough to achieve those goals this season.

They were good, just not great. That's nothing to be embarrassed about (the four-game losing streak to South Carolina is something to be embarrassed about, on the other hand). It's just the way the season played out.

But that's now in the past. There is no reason to sit around and feel sorry for yourself – either as a player, coach or fan – or fret about the loss to South Carolina. Hand-wringing and worrying about it won't do any good either. Now the key is the question I ask my sons all the time: What are you going to do about it? The Tigers' players and coaches have to answer that this offseason.

For the coaches, it's simple. They need some help with the next recruiting class and the one after that and the one after that, etc. Clemson has good talent, for sure, but it doesn't have elite talent in a few places, and that's holding the team back.

The Tigers certainly need some help on the offensive and defensive lines. The offensive line performed better this year than most people figured it would, but again, most of those games were played against teams that just don't have the resources or players Clemson does. South Carolina? With all that SEC money, it can match, and surpass, Clemson's resources and is doing a good job recruiting big, strong offensive and defensive linemen.

Even with all the wide-open, high-flying offenses these days, football is still won by the offensive and defensive lines. Think I'm wrong? Look at the three teams still in the hunt for the BCS title game: Notre Dame, Alabama and Georgia.

Alabama's offensive line looks like an NFL unit. The same could be said about Notre Dame's defensive front. Georgia is strong on both lines, and all three teams showcase a traditional power-based offensive and defensive approach and haven't been swept up in the more finesse systems most teams use.

Clemson wants to be more physical, but it still needs a lot of work in that department. Is there a problem with the strength and conditioning program? That's a question for the people inside the team. But it's obvious the Tigers aren't where they want to be, or need to be, as far as matching up physically with the nation's best teams.

That was painfully obvious Saturday night as South Carolina's defensive front dominated after a strong start by Clemson's offense.

Clemson's defensive front also needs some help, and landing Montravius Adams and/or Carl Lawson would be huge (Robert Nkemdiche probably is headed to Mississippi). The Tigers also would benefit from the maturation of the players already on their defensive line, and getting Shaq Lawson into the fold will be a big plus.

And then there is the secondary. Clemson's defensive backfield was limited from the start of the season, and it didn't help when it was hit by injuries. But the Tigers' defensive backs played worse the past two years than any Clemson group back there in a long, long time. The players used terrible technique, and there were just too many missed assignments and blown coverages to overcome. Brent Venables looked for answers and tried different things, but sometimes – most of the time actually – it just comes down to having playmakers, and Clemson really didn't have any in its secondary this season.

That has to be addressed in recruiting. And while the coaches are out searching for the next wave of Tigers to step in, the players already on the roster have to remember Saturday's loss. They have to use it as motivation to improve and work hard to get better. The coaches can do everything in their power to make the team better, but in the end, it really comes down to the players. How dedicated are they to taking the next step and moving the program to the next level?

From what we saw this year, these players, especially the leaders, are committed to doing just that. They have done something a Clemson team hasn't done in a while in winning 10 games in back-to-back seasons. They had a lot of great moments and gave the Clemson fans a lot of thrills and reason to be proud.

But is that good enough? If it is, then this is what the Clemson program will be: a top-15 program, a program good enough to compete in the ACC but not really nationally, a program just on the outside of the big time. If it's not good enough, we'll see it from the work ethic of the leaders – and the whole team, really – and see how this team battles through the winter, into spring practice and back into the summer to prepare for 2013.

The 2012 regular season, as a whole, was a positive, for sure, but the way it ended was a huge negative.

But there's nothing that can be done about that now. It's time to move on, and if all the right steps are taken, the Tigers can move on to bigger and better things.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley

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