No one has higher expectations for their team this year, or any year, than Clemson Tiger fans.
Except for one person: Dabo Swinney.
Entering his first full year as the Tiger's head coach, Swinney has tremendous weight on his shoulders. Most the weight on Dabo's shoulders comes from his own expectations.
From fighting his way onto the Alabama football team as a walk-on to earning a playing time for the Crimson Tide, Dabo raises his own expectations and usually meets them.
Much is expected from Swinney's staff as well. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele carries some expectations because he inherited on paper what looks like a solid defense.
Last year's defense played a "bend but don't break defense" and didn't take many chances. The result: very little big plays were given up but there were a lack of sacks and turnovers. This year look for more of an attacking defense that will blitz and leave the corners one-on-one. More chances for sacks and interceptions.
But I don't see any particular member of the coaching staff having overwhelming expectations because this group will operate as more of a team than in past years. Dabo hired based on a balance of experienced veterans and aggressive young coaches. They each should complement each other.
The highest expectations will be for CJ Spiller. This year he is the man. No longer in James Davis' shadow, CJ should get more touches than ever. CJ also will have a Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington to give him a little break. And don't forget about a Chad Diehl or Rendrick Taylor as fullbacks who love smashmouth football and opening up holes. And with an inexperienced quarterback look for the running game to be more of a focus.
Based on the lackluster play of Cullen Harper last year, the new quarterback has less expectations in my opinion. Not to mention with Kyle Parker and Willy Korn both having little to no experience one can't expect too much.
The recievers will have more pressure actually. Beyond a Jacoby Ford who will be the CJ Spiller of the receivers being the main target, a Xavier Dye or Terrance Ashe must step it up. But the most expectations lie with the offensive line. Last year the most criticized and weakest part of the offense comes in this year with more experience and should be more of a strength. If they can open up holes for CJ and protect for Kyle or Willy, then this offense could be special.
On the defensive side, the Tigers will have a strong defensive line and secondary. As was the case last year, the linebackers are the question mark. However, there is much more experience than last year and even talk of moving someone like a Ricky Sapp off the defensive line because of his ability to play in space and the depth and quality on the line. Look for a Daquan Bowers to shine even more with one year of experience under his belt. Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler will patrol the corners and both have the potential and experience to have great years especially under Steele's new defense. One of the linebackers like a Scotty Cooper or Brandon Maye could step up and make this defense really special. However, if the defensive line can put pressure on the quarterback and running game and the secondary have solid coverage then the skies the limit for these guys.
After last years disaster of being blown out by Alabama, looking dreadful against Wake Forest, and the second half collapse with Maryland; it's hard for any experts to rate this Clemson team very high in the ACC. So the only pressure should come from the Clemson faithful and within the Tiger's program. Will this be the year the Tiger's overachieve with the talent on the field or turn into another mediocre year by Clemson standards with another defeat of South Carolina to lessen the pain.
Each year I get so excited about the Clemson football team. From my junior year of high school till my senior year graduating from Clemson, I only missed one game. And though I can't attend games now due to distance and money constraints, I still love this time of year. I want to believe this is the year that Clemson rises to level of my expectations and goes to the ACC Championship Game and wins the thing followed by a thrilling BCS Bowl win against a team favored to beat us.
I would love to be sitting here next year writing how the Tiger's finally met expectations in 2009 and come into 2010 with a chance to challenge for the BCS Championship. But like I said at the beginning, no one has higher expectations than the Clemson fans.