Why Clemson Tigers Will Take Down Auburn Tigers in Week 1
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta between the Clemson Tigers and the Auburn Tigers will be one of the most anticipated games of the opening weekend in college football.
Clemson will likely enter the season ranked in the Top 25, while Auburn is at the very least one of the thirty best teams in the nation—giving the rivals the primetime 7 p.m. matchup on ESPN, Sept. 1
Auburn and Clemson will both have plenty to prove heading into Week 1.
Auburn will be looking to exact revenge from a loss to Clemson last season, in which Dabo Swinney's squad ended the defending Southeastern Conference and national champion Tigers' 17-game winning streak.
Meanwhile, Clemson had quite an unhappy ending to the 2011-12 season, after being humiliated 70-33 by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, and want nothing more than to bounce back strong.
However, Auburn has been trending down since its remarkable national title run, while Clemson appears on the rise after its upset win over Virginia Tech in last year's ACC title game.
Here are five reasons why Clemson will topple Auburn in this fall's opener.
Orange Bowl vs. West Virginia Was a Fluke
Bowl games are never adequate representations of how teams perform on a weekly basis.
The team that face planted in Miami is not the same squad that Clemson will bring to Atlanta in September.
One of the most common offseason knocks on Clemson has been its embarrassing outcome against WVU in the Orange Bowl.
On that day, the Tigers were just extremely unlucky and faced a team that was playing out of its mind and had by far its best performance of the season.
It was a series of very unfortunate events that sunk CU, and it wasn't a true depiction of what the Tigers are capable of.
Despite the outcome, Andre Ellington managed to be the lone bright spot for his team in the game, racking up a game-high 116 yards at an average of 11.6 yards per rush.
If one or two of those ill-fated events hadn't happened and Clemson wasn't playing from so far behind, Ellington may have continued to pound the Mountaineers on the ground, which could have flipped the course of the game.
In the end, it is obvious that Clemson is better than that 70-33 result showed.
After that, the Tigers made a huge defensive upgrade by hiring a new defensive coordinator, Brent Venables of Oklahoma.
He will be out to show that Clemson's defense is much improved, not only from the Orange Bowl but from the rest of last season's downfalls as well.
Sammy Watkins Will Play
One of the lowest points for Clemson this offseason was the arrest of star receiver Sammy Watkins.
The sophomore is one of the most electric players in all of college football, but was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance and possession of marijuana this offseason (via Nicole Auerbach, USA Today).
Originally, it was believed that he would be held out of at least the season opener, but now that may not be the case.
In mid-July, at a media golf outing, head coach Dabo Swinney was asked if Watkins would see the field against Auburn. He left the door open for the sensational sophomore to play, according to Greg Wallace of OrangeandWhite.com:
“There’s certainly a chance anything could happen,” Swinney said. “We’ll wait and see and talk about it further.”
Swinney has been under fire by the media because now signs point to a shortened sentence, which could end up being only one-quarter or half of the Auburn games.
However, in all likelihood, Watkins has been and will, as the season approaches, continue working internally to improve his status for that game.
If you take a trip to the Clemson practice facilities on almost any given morning at about 6 a.m., I would guess that you'll find Watkins doing a little extra work to earn his way back on to the field.
No matter what the details are with the situation, it is looking like he will take the field on Sept. 1.
The Fort Myers, Florida native finished fourth last season in all-purpose yardage, and he will be the No. 2 returning all-purpose runner in the NCAA behind only WVU's Tavon Austin.
Watkins was the national freshman of the year in 2011-12, and he is poised to have another great season, which will all start with Auburn.
No More Michael Dyer
It wasn't the 12-for-25, 198-yard, one touchdown and one interception effort by Barrett Trotter that kept Auburn in the game against Clemson last year.
It was Michael Dyer who dominated the Clemson rush defense for 151 yards and two touchdowns at an average of 9.4 yards per carry.
But the two-time 1,000-yard rusher is now no longer with Auburn (and according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, now he's apparently gone from Arkansas State too).
Losing the best player from an already unimpressive offense will prove to be crippling for the Tigers.
They have a talented replacement in Onterio McCalebb but he had less than half as many carries as Dyer for a reason—because Dyer is better.
Auburn played musical quarterbacks last season and they ended up without a chair when the music stopped in many of their games.
Trotter is gone, freshman Zeke Pike was sent home for the summer, and neither Kiehl Frazier nor Clint Moseley have been able to take control of the race for the starting job.
Frazier can add another dimension to the offense with his legs, but Moseley is a more proven passer and may fit in better in Auburn's new pro-style scheme.
However, neither of them will have what it takes to make the Tigers offense truly formidable without Dyer.
The New Coordinators
Auburn lost one of the best offensive coordinators in college football in Gus Malzahn.
Malzahn coached explosive offenses at Arkansas and Tulsa before helping Auburn claim a national title, and is considered one of the pioneers of the no-huddle and Wildcat offenses.
Ever since Auburn's national title run, Malzahn's name came up in nearly every high-profile head coach opening, and he eventually landed at Arkansas State.
His replacement Scot Loeffler has a nice resume, which includes experience in the NFL, with the Florida Gators and most recently at Temple.
However, he runs a pro-style system that is nothing like the spread attack Malzahn ran.
The fact that this new system will be tested against Clemson in Week 1 is certainly a cause for alarm for AU.
Meanwhile, CU will be experiencing an upgrade at defensive coordinator through the addition of former Oklahoma Sooner coordinator Brent Venables.
The only way to go is up for the Tigers defense which, led by Kevin Steele, allowed WVU to re-write the NCAA bowl record book by allowing 24 points or more in seven games last year, ranking No. 81 in scoring defense.
Oklahoma had a bit of a down season last year defensively under Venables, though it did finish No. 1 in the Big 12 Conference in scoring defense.
However, it wasn't quite enough for some OU fans, who claim that the Sooners will be better off without "The Neck Vein."
Looking closer, however, many of their downfalls can be attributed to the many explosive offenses present in the Big 12 Conference last year.
Linebacker Curtis Lofton of the New Orleans Saints who was a 2007 consensus All-American under Venables at Oklahoma, was quick to defend his former coach against fans who believe OU will benefit from his departure.
"I really don't understand," Lofton told John E. Hoover of Tulsa World in a telephone interview. "That's crazy. He's, if not the best coach on that staff, one of 'em. I just hope Oklahoma doesn't suffer from him leaving."
Lofton is just one of many players to blossom in a Venables defense and Clemson is sure to have plenty of players do the same.
X-factor of the Game: Tajh Boyd
The almost unparalleled playmaking ability of Sammy Watkins propelled him to instant star-status at Clemson, but it is quarterback Tajh Boyd who is the engine that makes the Tigers offense hum.
CU finished No. 21 in passing offense and No. 24 in scoring offense last year in Boyd's first season under center.
The Hampton, Virginia, native led Clemson to a 10-4 season, the Tigers' first ACC title in 20 years and their first Orange Bowl in 30.
This was all while putting up 3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns—enough to break Clemson's single-season passing yardage and passing touchdown records.
With another season under the coaching of Dabo Swinney and Chad Morris, Boyd's numbers could see an improvement in 2012.
Auburn has a rather mediocre secondary, which finished No. 51 in the nation in passing defense and will lose its interception leader and No. 2 tackler, Neiko Thorpe.
None of Thorpe's interceptions came against Boyd last year, who torched the Auburn defense last season for 386 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and 71.4 percent completion percentage.
With the absence of a huge presence in the secondary in Thorpe, Boyd could have as much, if not more success than he did last season against Auburn.