After a disappointing 2008 season, in which a team with ACC title and even national championship hopes fell to a 7-6 record, many people are counting Clemson out in the upcoming football season.
The Tigers lost some key players, and will be under the reign of a new head coach and two new coordinators. However, I believe that this Clemson team has as much potential to win the ACC as last season's team.
Now, they have the benefit of coming from under the radar.
I'm not one to overly criticize Cullen Harper, like many Clemson fans, but he did have some crippling faults. The last drive of the Gator Bowl was excruciating to watch.
Regardless, the Tigers will have an improvement in this position, whether Kyle Parker or Willy Korn wins the starting job for September 5th. Korn has yet to impress in college ball, but seems to have great potential. Parker had a great spring game, and his arm strength is an asset.
Either way, Clemson will be pretty good here. IMPROVEMENT
C.J. Spiller is coming back, and when you add in Jamie Harper, Andre Ellington, and Rendrick Taylor, Tigers faithfuls should have no worries.
James Davis' spot in the Thunder and Lightning duo will be filled by Jamie Harper, and Clemson will have the same running back talent it's had for several years. Now, they just need to get the ball to their playmakers. EQUAL
Another year of experience under their belt. Under the leadership of Thomas Austin, this liability from 2008 may be an asset in 2009. IMPROVEMENT
Here is the biggest question Clemson has to answer. With the departure of Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham, Jacoby Ford is left alone here. Marquan Jones impressed in the spring game, but the Tigers need to find some consistency here. LOSS
Ricky Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers on either end. Enough said. EQUAL
Besides wide receivers, this is Clemson's biggest worry. There are some big holes to fill, but Kevin Steele should have the defense coached up to the same point as Vic Koenning did. EQUAL
This adds up to a net improvement when you balance quarterback and offensive line against wide receivers. So, how will that play out?
I could make an unsubstantiated statement about what kind of record Clemson will have, but let's go game by game and see.
Saturday, Sep. 5 Middle Tennessee
This game shouldn't be that tough. Clemson will be at home, with the excitement of coming back to football after the summer. It should be an easy game from running down the Hill to the singing of the Alma Mater.
That said, this is the Middle Tennessee team that beat Maryland last year. It would be humiliating to lose to them at home to start the season. I don't think that will happen, though.We were better last year and are better this year than Maryland. Easy win.
Record: 1-0 (0-0)
Thursday, Sep. 10 at Georgia Tech
Clemson does not do well on Thursdays, when the eyes of the nation are upon them, and we have problems with Georgia Tech.
Their triple-option offense will be hard to adjust to, especially after five days, and all indications are that Paul Johnson's team will be better this year than last year. I don't see Clemson winning this one.
Record: 1-1 (0-1)
Saturday, Sep. 19 Boston College
The Tigers broke the curse last year, pulling out a tough win in Chestnut Hill. Under new coach Frank Spaziani, the Eagles will be in a rebuilding year.
At home, Clemson should win by a fairly large margin, although BC's tough defense led by Mark Herzlich may be an issue. The record in this budding rivalry will go to 3-2 in the ACC.
Record: 2-1 (1-1)
Saturday, Sep. 26 Texas Christian
After Georgia Tech, this is the toughest game on our schedule. I have a lot of respect for TCU, and they have a rock-solid defense. That said, they will be traveling half-way across the country to face a hostile crowd.
This will be TCU's third game of the season; the previous two are at Virginia on Sep. 12 and home against Texas State on Sep. 19, neither a serious test. This also means that they have two weeks to prepare for us.
Our offense is better; defense is a toss-up. I really don't know how this game will go, but expecatations will still not be high for Clemson after starting 2-1, so because of that I will put this down as a win, while remaining fully aware that this is a possible loss.
Record: 3-1 (1-1)
Saturday, Oct. 3 at Maryland
Maryland is hard to figure out.
In 2006, they put the final nail in our coffin after the defeat at Virginia Tech. In 2007, they were the starting point of our climb back into the national rankings after the defeat vs. Virginia Tech. In 2008, they were the beginning of the end for Tommy Bowden.
This year, they lose star receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Maryland has never again reached the lofty levels attained by Ralph Friedgen in his first season as head coach there. They ended last year with a close win over Nevada in the Humanitarian Bowl, marked by some in-team dissension.
Clemson should win this one, but it might be close.
Record: 4-1 (2-1)
Saturday, Oct. 10 Open Date
At this point in the season, we should be ranked somewhere in the 20's or high teens. Clemson always does poorly when faced with high expectations, but the second half of the schedule is easier than the first.
This will be a test of Dabo's coaching ability. If he can keep the team focused, he was the right choice. If we have a late-season collapse, the jury is still out.
Saturday, Oct. 17 WAKE FOREST
Wake at home should be a win. I don't know how we lost to them last year, and I guess the administration didn't either, thus Tommy Bowden's midseason resignation.
Wake always has a tough defense, and they have a good quarterback in Riley Skinner, but I think our defense will be better, and our quarterback (whoever it may be) combined with our running attack will be too much for them.
Record: 5-1 (3-1)
Saturday, Oct. 24 at MIAMI (FL)
This is the toughest game of the second half of the season, but Randy Shannon's squad will be in no condition to play after their brutal first month (Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma).
They have two cupcakes (Florida A&M, Central Florida) before the Tigers travel to Miami. I think the first four games (an 0-4 start is not unlikely, I think) will be too demoralizing for Shannon's young, but talented, team.
Put off Miami's return to the glory days for another year; the Tigers win this one.
Record: 6-1 (4-1)
Saturday, Oct. 31 COASTAL CAROLINA
I wish we didn't schedule Division I-AA schools; there are Division I-A schools that are just as sure wins, but they look a lot better. We offend less this year than last year, but still...
No way we lose this one.
Record: 7-1 (4-1)
Saturday, Nov. 7 Florida State
Bobby Bowden's team is on the way back up. There is real talent in Tallahassee, as Clemson found out last fall, and the bowl win over Wisconsin was very impressive.
However, Clemson has the edge on defense and I think they pull out a win in a close game.
Record: 8-1 (5-1)
Saturday, Nov. 14 at NORTH CAROLINA STATE
NC State had an impressive second half, and Russell Wilson is an excellent quarterback. However, I don't see the talent level to compete with the big boys.
This is a potential trip-up, but I have confidence in our defense's ability to shut down Wilson and give us a win.
Record: 9-1 (6-1)
Saturday, Nov. 21 VIRGINIA
Al Groh's team is headed in the wrong direction, and, playing at home, Clemson should have a definite advantage here. The win last year was ugly; look for this year's to be a little prettier.
Record: 10-1 (7-1)
Saturday, Nov. 28 at SOUTH CAROLINA
Quarterback problems continue to plague Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks. With Garcia finally emerging, this could be a breakout year for USC. Their defense will be tough as always. But Clemson's skill level is just too much for their cross-state rivals; this could be an ugly win, but it will be a win.
Record: 11-1 (7-1)
This makes us undefeated in the Atlantic division, and only one conference loss to Georgia Tech. That is enough to put Clemson in the ACC championship for the first time. The Tigers will face a tough team, either Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, or North Carolina.
I will make no predictions about who wins the conference, but an 11-1 record, even with a loss in the ACC title game, is enough to merit BCS bowl consideration and virtually ensures a top-10 ranking. A win in the title game would mean the Orange Bowl, or possibly even the national championship.
There are several possible slip-ups: TCU, Florida State, NC State, and South Carolina. But I think Clemson should have the edge in all of those. If we can keep consistent and play to our skill level, I think 11-1 is very possible.
Is my head in the clouds? Could be. But it never hurts to hope.
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