CLEMSON, S.C. – For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved journalism—and sportswriting. My mother loves the story of waking up one snowy morning in rural Iowa to realize that her young son had woken up and trudged through the yard, traversing 10-foot high snowdrifts to retrieve the Sunday Des Moines Register from the mailbox by the road and spread it out on the dining room table, taking the sports section first.
I didn’t know I wanted to be a sportswriter when I went to the University of Iowa, but eventually, I landed at The Daily Iowan, the award-winning student newspaper where I covered Iowa football, baseball and wrestling.
That led to a journalism degree and a career as a sportswriter. Following a brief stint covering University of Wisconsin football, I moved South to cover Alabama athletics for the Birmingham Post-Herald. When the Post-Herald folded in 2005, I moved to South Carolina and began a seven-year stint covering Clemson football for the Anderson Independent Mail.
I have won numerous state and national awards for my writing, including a pair of top-10 national awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors. And now, I’m proud to begin covering Clemson football for Bleacher Report.
I’ll bring you the ups and downs of Dabo Swinney’s program, the good and the bad, discussing the players, coaches and stories you want to read about with flair and fun. It’s going to be a fun ride. Now, here’s a quick look back—and forward.
Best Athlete I’ve Ever Interviewed
A lot has changed in my 13 years in sportswriting. Practices which were once open are now closed, save miniscule viewing windows. Coaches who were once open with their views now couch their opinions carefully and limit access to their assistants and players. Honest opinions are rare.
That’s why, in this age, a player like Tajh Boyd is so refreshing. Clemson’s star quarterback is friendly, gregarious and never ducks an interview. He is generous with his time, honest and knows every reporter by name.
Boyd always has time for reporters, answers each question completely and never acts like questions are beneath him. He has a long NFL career ahead of him, but after that, it’s not a stretch to say he’ll be a politician.
Best Team I’ve Ever Covered
The best team I ever covered didn’t win a conference title. They didn’t go to a bowl game. They didn’t even win their division. Thanks to NCAA probation, the 2002 Alabama Crimson Tide weren't eligible for the SEC title game or postseason play.
Before the season, the NCAA laid down a two-year bowl ban, meaning any junior or senior could transfer without penalty or sitting out a season. Second-year coach Dennis Franchione told players to “hold the rope” and hang around, and everyone did. The Tide’s only losses came to an Oklahoma team that won the Big 12, a Georgia team that won the SEC and arch-rival Auburn.
That team was memorable for the camaraderie it fostered and the pride it brought back to Bryant-Denny Stadium following Mike DuBose’s tumultuous reign.
I’ll never forget sitting in a Neyland Stadium media room right next to the Alabama locker room following a 34-14 demolition of Tennessee that ended the Vols’ seven-year domination of the Tide—and hearing Alabama players sing an expletive-laced version of “Rocky Top” through the paper-thin walls.
A trip to Hawaii to cover a season-ending win over the Rainbow Warriors didn’t hurt, either, although flying back to Alabama to cover Franchione’s sudden departure to Texas A&M was no fun. Franchione didn’t live up to his words, but his team was truly special.
Most Memorable Game I’ve Ever Covered
The 2009 Clemson football team limped into South Florida with a 3-3 record for a meeting with Miami. Dabo Swinney’s first full season as the Tigers’ head coach started in frustrating fashion; Clemson lost three games by a total of 10 points, continuing an ugly trend that defined the Tommy Bowden era.
That changed against Miami.
Thanks to a pair of long C.J. Spiller touchdowns, Clemson matched the Canes blow for blow and tied the game with five seconds left on a Richard Jackson field goal. Miami kicked a field goal on its possession in overtime, but Clemson won the game when quarterback Kyle Parker found wideout Jacoby Ford streaking over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown and a stunning 40-37 overtime win over the No. 9 Hurricanes.
Is Tajh Boyd or Sammy Watkins Clemson’s Best Contender to Win the 2013 Heisman Trophy?
Both Boyd and Watkins are among the best players in college football. Boyd threw for 3,896 yards and accounted for 46 total touchdowns as a junior (36 passing, 10 rushing), while Watkins endured a sophomore slump marred by a suspension related to a spring drug arrest and various injuries and illness (57 receptions, 708 yards, three touchdowns). However, he’s fully healthy, focused and ready to replicate his All-American season of 2011 (62 receptions, 1,219 yards, 12 scores).
Both are capable of taking over a game with highlight-reel plays, but here’s why Boyd is the Tigers’ best Heisman hope: he’s a quarterback.
Since 1972, only two wide receivers—Notre Dame’s Tim Brown in 1987 and Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991—have taken home the stiff-arm trophy. In that same span, 18 quarterbacks—including 11 in the last 13 years—have won the award.
Quarterbacks are simply more likely to win the award due to the media narrative driven by ESPN and other national outlets. If Clemson is successful this fall, Boyd will likely receive much of the credit and emerge as the Tigers’ top Heisman contender.
What Do the Tigers Have to Do to Beat the Gamecocks in 2013?
Clemson has lost four consecutive games to South Carolina, the Gamecocks’ longest streak since 1951-54. USC has never beaten Clemson five consecutive times. Two ways to avoid such an ignominious feat: Control Jadeveon Clowney, and keep South Carolina’s offense off the field. Clowney tortured the Tigers’ offensive line last year with 4.5 sacks and was in Boyd’s face all night.
Perhaps even worse? Clemson ran only 19 offensive plays in the second half; its defense couldn’t make stops when it had to. South Carolina held the ball for 39:58 to Clemson’s 20:02. Clemson works best when its offense is on the field, and to have success in Williams-Brice Stadium Nov. 30, that must be the case.
What are the Odds Clemson Runs the Table in 2013?
Clemson begins the season as a top-10 team and has been mentioned as a trendy national title pick. To do so, the Tigers will likely have to go 13-0—it’s unlikely that a one-loss ACC team will win any BCS battles with a one-loss SEC team.
What are the odds it happens? Let’s say 10-1. The ACC schedule is favorable: Florida State visits, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami aren’t on the schedule, and the toughest road trip is either N.C. State or Syracuse.
The key will be winning the SEC East games that bookend the schedule—Georgia and South Carolina. It’s possible, given Clemson’s recent success against SEC powers like Auburn and LSU, but the Tigers haven’t beaten Georgia since 1990 and haven’t beaten South Carolina since 2008. Beating both SEC teams will be a difficult task.
Which Tigers Will Give Georgia the Toughest Challenge in Week 1?
Georgia's secondary returns only one starter from 2012 in junior cornerback Damian Swann. In addition, projected safety starter Josh Harvey-Clemons will miss the game due to a suspension connected to a May arrest for marijuana possession, and projected contributing safeties Tray Matthews, Corey Moore and Shaquille Fluker are all questionable with injuries.
That makes Boyd's job even easier. Expect him to hook up early and often with junior wideout Sammy Watkins, who is healthy and focused following a suspension- and injury-riddled sophomore season. Watkins is one of the most explosive players in America, and not the kind of player you want to throw an inexperienced secondary against.
DeAndre Hopkins is gone to the NFL, but 6'5" wideout Martavis Bryant has earned a starting role. He averaged 30.5 yards per catch as a sophomore but struggled with consistency. His size and speed could give the Bulldogs' secondary fits.
2013 Season Prediction for Clemson
The moment Boyd announced in January that he was returning for his senior season, anticipation for the 2013 season built like no other in recent memory in these parts. Clemson is filled with offensive weapons and returns four offensive line starters from last fall.
Brent Venables’ defense improved down the stretch, allowing more than 27 points just once in the final seven games. As mentioned, the schedule, save the SEC East foes, is favorable, and Swinney’s bunch is poised for a special season.
My regular-season prediction? 12-1. The Tigers will win the ACC for the second time in three seasons, but a loss to one of the SEC rivals will keep them out of the BCS National Championship Game.