Each February College Football fans across the country are overcome with a renewed sense of hope for each of their teams as the following seasons schedules are released. This year for the Clemson Tigers, this was even more important because of the long disappointing season that had just passed.
As we look ahead to the 2009 campaign the general consensus outside of Tiger-town is that the Tigers will have a pretty mediocre year. Although the Tigers lost their starting Quarterback in Cullen Harper, one of the two running backs in James Davis, and their two top receivers in Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham, the Tigers have reasons to be hopeful on offense.
Cullen Harper's mishaps might have cost a few games for the Tigers last year and most will be happy to see a new man under center, be it red-shirt freshman Kyle Parker, or red-shirt sophomore Willy Korn. Replacing James Davis might not be too big of a deal either, as electric senior runner CJ Spiller will be joined by Sophomore Jamie Harper and red-shirt Freshman Andre Ellington, who both looked very good this spring. Finally replacing the receivers might be the toughest task. Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham were both very underrated contributors who did it all for the Tigers. Jacoby Ford is the clear favorite to land the top receiver spot after a very good campaign last season. A large group beyond Ford will be vying for spots and reports out of spring practice were mediocre to encouraging.
Dabo Swinney's style of offense, which will be under the direction of the young Billy Napier, will be more smash-mouth with more reliance on the run. With all 5 starters on the offensive line returning, it appears that what was once a major flaw, might be an asset to the Tigers this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers return practically everyone outside of their star safety's. Last year the Tigers were ranked in the top 20 defensively but had troubles tackling in the backfield. The Tigers had very few sacks and the defensive line, which was short star end Ricky Sapp most of the season, lacked the killer instinct to take down the quarterback despite constant pressure. With new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele in town from Alabama, look for the Tigers to send more Blitz packages and try to correct the sack shortage from last season.
Finally, before looking at the schedule, to sum up the Tigers this year its easy to buy into the fact that they aren't going to be a top tier team after a long line of disappointing and underachieving seasons. But as we look ahead to this new season, the Tigers will once again have the talent on the field to win as they have had the last few years, the question is if the new coaching staff can finally utilize the talent to its full potential. Although not the likely scenario the Tigers should have renewed hope as they set out on a new season.
Now on to the schedule:
September 5th, 2009: Middle Tennessee State at Clemson
This first game of the season for the Tigers will be a much better way to start the year than last. Although Middle Tennessee is not a bad team, the Tigers should be glad that they can work out some kinks this first week. Middle Tennessee is a team the Tigers should take seriously because they beat Maryland last year, but as long as they don't overlook them, they should be able to get the victory in Death Valley. I expect the game to be close for a while at the beginning but the Tigers should be able to pull away in the second half and capture a 3 score victory.
September 10th, 2009: Clemson at Georgia Tech
After a successful first game of the season for the Tigers, they will have to make a short turnaround to play in Atlanta only 5 days later. Georgia Tech returns alot of players from a very good team last year. The option offense will require the Tigers defensive to very sharp. Although Tech beat the Tigers last year in Death Valley, Clemson's defense was pretty good against the option. On the other hand, the Tigers struggled most of the game offensively as Tech got great pressure on Korn and then Harper. I fully expect this to a be a great battle under the lights, a low scoring affair to be decided in the fourth quarter. The Tigers won't be the favorites but coming out of Atlanta with a victory isn't impossible and would go a long way in building the teams confidence early.
September 19th, 2009: Boston College at Clemson
Last season up in Chestnut hill the Tigers finally beat the Eagles for the first time in ACC play. As the Eagles return only a portion of the team from last season its easy to think that they might have a down year. Although this is true, they were viewed similarly last season and ended up having a good year with 9 wins. I look for the this to be another good battle for the Tigers, but at this point I think the Tigers speed and the crowd in Death Valley will help propel the Tigers to victory and avenge the painful loss from two years ago.
September 26th, 2009: TCU at Clemson
A late addition to the schedule TCU looks like one of the toughest teams Clemson will play next year. TCU returns alot on offense but a bit less from a defense that lead the country last year. All in all, they will likely come into Death Valley as a top 15 team and will engage the Tigers in a very low scoring battle. Like Georgia Tech this will be a statement game for the Tigers as they will battle the strong out of conference foe. At least point I see this game as a complete toss up because Clemson is at home.
October 3rd, 2009: Clemson at Maryland
After last years shocking loss to the Terps the Tigers have to be excited for revenge. Last year's game was especially disappointing given the many missed opportunities for Clemson that would have sealed the win long before the second half collapse. This year Maryland returns its top play makers but lost many other important aspects of the team. I feel as though if Clemson can avoid missing opportunities like last year, then they can come out of College Park with a victory.
October 17th, 2009: Wake Forest at Clemson
Last year's battle in Winston-Salem was very low scoring as the defense of Wake Forest put on a show. The Deacons return nine starters on offense but lose most of their dominant defense. Two years ago the Tigers dominated Wake in Death Valley in November, as everything seemed to go wrong for the Deacons. This year shouldn't be a repeat of that, but in a high scoring game than last season I expect the Tigers can claim the victory at home, as the crowd in Death Valley overwhelms the Deacs.
October 24th, 2009: Clemson at Miami
The Hurricanes are no longer what they used to be, but a certainly on the rise again this year. After a 7 win campaign last year they will look to build on what was a very young team last year. Miami possess a similar team to what Clemson has had recently, plenty of talent but young and undisciplined. Although the Tigers should be the senior team in this game, I feel like this is one of those game the Tigers will lose. Miami won't have a very impressive record because of a brutal start to the season, and it seems to fit as a game the Tigers will lose. Despite my gut feeling, it should be a close game and is winnable for Tigers.
October 31th, 2009: Coastal Carolina at Clemson
To be entirely honest the only thing exciting about this game should be that it takes place on Halloween. Coastal is certainly building a program the right way, but the talent difference on the field should result in the Tigers being victorious by a large margin. Last season Penn State put 56 on the board against Coastal, and I expect the Tigers to be slightly shy of that.
November 7th, 2009: Florida State at Clemson
If there is one home game that everyone has circled, it is this one. (Although TCU is quite good too) The Noles took a step forward last year as they tried to get back to the top, and this year should be another step forward. Returning a veteran offensive line is a key factor to claiming the Noles as favorites in the Atlantic Division. Last years game in Tallahassee was a close battle but the speed on offense proved too much for the Tigers defensively. This should be a patented night game in Death Valley and the crowd will be very loud giving the Tigers a chance to win it. Due to this factor I think the Tigers have a chance although they aren't the favorites for this one.
November 14th, 2009: Clemson at NC State
After a 2-6 start last year, State rebounded with 4 straight wins to get a bowl bid. With an all-ACC quarterback returning in Russell Wilson, and many other key parts to the team, the hype is back in Raleigh. On the other hand, I'm not quite buying into yet. The Pack have an inexperienced line and still sport an underwhelming defense. The last few years the Tigers have dominated the Wolfpack, especially on offense. I believe State to be a bowl team, but I don't see them vying for an ACC title as some suggest. Based on the Tigers success against State last year with a similar defense, I think Clemson can come out of Raleigh with a victory.
November 21st, 2009: Virginia at Clemson
The last few years Virginia has had a lack of overall talent despite some first round draft choices. With 5 wins the last two years, and not alot to bank on this year, the Cavs find themselves looking at another down year. Although they gave Clemson a good run for it last year in Charlottesville, I think the Tigers can be victorious on Senior Day in Death Valley.
November 28th, 2009: Clemson at South Carolina
The Gamecocks haven't had much success in these rivalry games lately, and much of the problem can be contributed to the play on offense. Next season should be another middle of the road campaign for the Gamecocks with 6 or 7 wins their likely result. Despite this they do sport a good defense and if Spurrier can ever figure out how to move the ball with one quarterback, they might be a bit more dangerous. The crowd in Columbia will obviously be a strong factor in the game and the Tigers will have all they can handle from the Gamecocks. At this point in time I see this game as a toss up.
Overall, as you can see their are really no game the Tigers can mark down as a L yet. With a handful of easy games, and a few more winnable ones, the Tigers should have no problem returning to a bowl game. With a couple of the toughest games at home this year, the Tigers should feel good about their chances every time they take the field at Death Valley. Overall, many peoples expectations are for 7 or 8 wins, but at this point I'm gonna venture to guess about 8 or 9. I don't expect the Tigers to make it to the ACC championship, but it isn't out of the question. My best guess right now is the Tigers get another invite to a higher end ACC bowl game, maybe the Champs Sports Bowl.
Anyway, it should be a fun season in Tigertown and all across the country. Too bad we have to wait another three months!