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Clemson begins preparations to face Notre Dame in playoff semifinal

Associated Press

Clemson has begun preparations for its College Football Playoff semifinal against Notre Dame at the Cotton Bowl.

The No. 2 Tigers (13-0) had taken a week-and-a-half break — aside from several All-Americans crisscrossing the country for various college football awards — since winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title with a 42-10 victory over Pitt. But to the sounds of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” Clemson reconvened Wednesday at its indoor training facility to start getting ready for the No. 3 Fighting Irish (12-0) on Dec. 29.

No. 1 Alabama (13-0) takes on No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) in the other semifinal at the Orange Bowl.

The Cotton and Orange winners advance to the national-title game in Santa Clara, Calif., on Jan. 7.

“The energy was really good,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “The guys were eager to get out there and get going.”

Despite Clemson's power-packed offense and defense (the Tigers are fifth nationally in overall offense and fourth in the country on defense), the Tigers honed in on the details of what it will take to advance to their third national-title game in four seasons.

“I want us to focus on the little things,” running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott counseled his group. He urged them to stay low to reduce a defender's target area and not forget the things they've worked on since last year ended with a 24-6 loss to eventual national-titlist Alabama in the CFP semis.

The Tigers last played Notre Dame in a drama-filled rainy 24-22 victory in 2015, a game where Swinney quipped the Tigers had to “BYOG, bring your own guts.”

He's not sure that contest will have much bearing on this one, especially since Swinney has spent several plane rides reviewing Notre Dame games — and getting more and more concerned about the challenge ahead for the Tigers.

“I think everybody is who they are at this point,” Swinney said. “They won't vary too much from that because that's what got them here. At the end of the day, they're really good.”

Clemson worked for about 90 minutes as several players had to finish up final exams this afternoon and Thursday morning.

“I could tell some of them had ‘finals brain,’ ” Swinney joked.

Workouts will ramp up Thursday through Dec. 19. Swinney expects to give his players off three days after that before returning to campus on Dec. 23 when the Tigers will fly to Dallas.

Swinney said his wife, Kathleen, and other staff spouses are working on a Christmas program where the team will celebrate together on Dec. 25 before continuing workouts with the Tigers’ usually grueling Tuesday game-week practice.

“Things are a little different this year with the games so early,” the coach said.

Swinney said there was no awards “hangovers” for players like defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell and left tackle Mitch Hyatt, who were all first-team AP All Americans and had their names included on several other organizations’ All-American lists.

Wilkins also won the William V. Campbell Trophy from the National Football Foundation, given to the game's top scholar-athlete.

Wilkins, Ferrell and fellow defensive end Austin Bryant all returned to Clemson this season instead of leaving for the NFL when they had the chance.

Swinney said Wilkins made the most of his opportunities.

“You don't get those experiences when you don't come back,” he said. “He exhausted and got everything out of this season and he had a lot of fun doing it.”

MEMPHIS’ HENDERSON LEAVES

All-American running back Darrell Henderson says he's leaving Memphis after his junior season for the NFL draft.

Henderson shared his decision Wednesday on Twitter, saying he will be forever grateful for Memphis giving him his opportunity to chase his NFL dream. It is unclear if Henderson will play in Memphis' upcoming bowl game.

The native of Batesville, Miss., led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 25 total touchdowns. He is second nationally with 1,909 yards rushing and averages 8.9 yards per carry on 214 rushes. Henderson leads the nation with 2,328 all-purpose yards and 22 rushing TDs.

His rushing yards are third-most in Memphis history, and his rushing TDs tied the single-season mark. He currently is second in Memphis history with 3,545 yards rushing and 45 TDs for his career.

Memphis (8-5) plays Wake Forest in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 22.

FAU’S SINGLETARY JUMPS TO NFL

Running back Devin Singletary is skipping his final season at Florida Atlantic and entering the NFL draft.

Singletary made the announcement Wednesday. He rushed for 54 touchdowns over the last two seasons. No other player at the major-college level over that span has rushed for more than 34 touchdowns.

Singletary says he hopes he “left a lasting impression” FAU, its football program and the Owls' community.

He rushed for 4,287 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his three seasons at FAU, with 66 rushing touchdowns and another one as a receiver. Singletary had four games where he rushed for at least 200 yards in college, 22 games where he rushed for at least 100 and 12 games where he rushed for at least three touchdowns.

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