Clemson Football: Tigers' Road to the 2013 BCS

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2013

CLEMSON, S.C. - Saturday night, Clemson’s players and coaches were looking forward.

It was much better than looking back.

A night that began with BCS National Championship aspirations ended with a dispiriting 51-14 loss to No. 5 Florida State, the Tigers’ worst home loss since a 37-0 defeat to Virginia Tech in September 1998.

Clemson fell from No. 3 to No. 9 in the Associated Press Top 25 and from No. 4 to No. 10 in the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll and saw its hopes of making the BCS title game virtually extinguished.

However, the Tigers (6-1, 4-1 ACC) still believe they have plenty to play for in 2013, most notably the program’s second BCS bowl game in three seasons. Clemson was No. 9 in the season's first BCS rankings released Sunday night.

“It’s very disappointing,” said senior tailback Rod McDowell. “But at the end of the day we still control our destiny in terms of how far we go. We just have to continue to go out and play Clemson football and find our swagger back on offense.”

McDowell says leadership will play a key role in Clemson’s chase of a BCS berth.

“We just have to keep leading,” he said. “You know what? If we win out and go 11-1, we’ll still go to a BCS bowl. And that’s my mindset. So we just have to keep executing on the little stuff.”

If the Tigers can pick themselves off the mat quickly, they’ll have an excellent shot at making a BCS bowl, given their exciting, attractive style of offense and a fanbase which is willing to travel with its team, making them an appealing choice for at-large selection.


Where Clemson Stands

Where Clemson Stands
RecordAP PollCoaches PollStrength of ScheduleBCS Standings


Biggest Obstacles to a BCS Berth

Of Clemson’s five remaining regular-season games, one looms large above all: Nov. 30’s season finale at South Carolina. The Tigers have not beaten their hated in-state rivals since 2008, a 31-17 win that cemented Dabo Swinney’s rise from interim head coach to the full-time position.

The Gamecocks have beaten Clemson four consecutive times, tying for the longest streak in the teams’ rivalry, and would love nothing more than to get “one for the thumb” in Williams-Brice Stadium.

In his last trip to Columbia, senior quarterback Tajh Boyd passed for a career-low 83 yards, completing just 11 of 29 passes in a 34-13 defeat.

Clemson has not won in Columbia since 2007, when Mark Buchholz’ last-play field goal lifted the Tigers to a 23-21 victory. Since then, the Tigers have lost a pair of games in Columbia by a combined score of 68-30.

A year ago, Clemson led South Carolina 14-10 at halftime but ran only 19 offensive plays in the second half of a 27-17 defeat. Standout defensive end Jadeveon Clowney piled up a Memorial Stadium record 4.5 sacks for the game.

That game knocked Clemson out of BCS at-large contention, and it’s entirely conceivable that a similar situation could arise in late November.

Maryland is reeling following a 34-10 loss at Wake Forest, a team Clemson beat 56-7 two weeks ago. The Terrapins lost top receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs to broken legs. Next up is a trip to Virginia, itself reeling after blowing a 22-0 lead to Duke. Georgia Tech’s flexbone offense always provides a challenge, but Clemson should be favored at home. Then comes a visit from FCS foe The Citadel.

If Clemson takes care of its own business, the season finale in Columbia will loom large.


Help Needed 

At 6-1 overall, Clemson remains in solid position for a BCS at-large berth. The Tigers have three teams ahead of them that would not be considered their league’s automatic BCS qualifier at this point of the season: Miami (Fla.) (6-0), Missouri (7-0) and Stanford (6-1).

All three contenders face significant challenges in the coming weeks. Stanford travels to unbeaten and No. 2 Oregon for a crucial Thursday night clash on Nov. 7. Miami travels to No. 3 Florida State on Nov. 2 for what could be a top-five matchup with BCS implications of its own. And Missouri will host South Carolina Saturday night, then travels to Ole Miss on Nov. 23 and hosts Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M on Nov. 30.

And of course, if Mizzou survives its end-of-season tests, it would likely get No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship.

Clemson does not have a win over a team currently ranked in the Top 25, but the Tigers would be helped significantly if injury-riddled Georgia can turn around its current slide. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 5 when Clemson beat them in the season opener but have dropped out of the Top 25 after losing to Missouri and Vanderbilt. Georgia has one game left with a team currently in the Top 25, a Nov. 16 visit to No. 11 Auburn.

Clemson's remaining schedule
Oct. 26At Maryland
Nov. 2At Virginia
Nov. 14Vs. Georgia Tech
Nov. 23Vs. The Citadel
Nov. 30At South Carolina
Clemson sports information

Clemson could still make the ACC title game but must beat Maryland, Virginia and Georgia Tech and hope that Florida State loses twice in its final four ACC games against Miami, N.C. State, Wake Forest and Syracuse.


The Big Picture 

According to statistician Jeff Sagarin, Clemson currently has the 45th-best strength of schedule in the FBS. Games against Georgia and Florida State help, but beyond that, Wake Forest is the only team Clemson has played with a record over .500 (4-3). Maryland, Virginia and The Citadel won’t help that metric, although Georgia Tech is 4-3, and a win at South Carolina would raise some eyebrows as well.


Final Bowl Prediction

If the Florida State team that blitzed Clemson Saturday night shows up the rest of the season, the Tigers have no hope of an Atlantic Division title and winning the ACC for an automatic BCS berth. If Clemson takes care of business against its final five foes, the Tigers should be able to take advantage of attrition above them in the BCS rankings and make themselves an attractive BCS candidate. My prediction? The Tigers go to the Fiesta Bowl for a scoreboard-shredding showdown against Art Briles and Baylor.


 *Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained directly by the author.

Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace


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