With Alabama opening the 2008 football season against Clemson, an out of conference opponent, I'm immediately reminded of 2002 when we opened against Oklahoma.
What makes these two games similar—besides the point that they're both nationally broadcasted—is that when we faced OU in 2001, both fan bases enjoyed talking with each other about the things the two teams had in common.
(Traditions, uniforms that any football fan across the United States would recognize at the first glimpse, championships, and how a new coach pulled OU out of its slump and the faith we had in Coach Frachione doing the same with Alabama.)
Clemson, to a degree, shares a lot of things in common with Bama as well. The famed Howard's Rock the school advertises as part of their pregame ritual. This same Frank Howard is a Bama guy and played for the Crimson Tide in the late 1920s before moving into coaching as a profession. He is credited for building the Clemson program into what it is today.
Cecil "Hootie" Ingram, a defensive back at Alabama in the early 1950s, also coached at Clemson. In fact, he's credited with bringing the "Tiger Paw" to Clemson which is yet another one of their traditions.
No one that is a Clemson fan can forget Danny Ford who brought their last National Championship to Death Valley. And, of course we all know that Danny was also a member of the Alabama teams in the late 1960s.
We can go on and on with these comparisons. Tommy Bowden, Clemson head coach, was on the Alabama staff in the late 1980s working under Bill Curry.
Last, but certainly not least is Dabo Swinney, who was a member of our last national championship team in 1992 and also a former coach who started under Stallings and was here for the last half of the 1990s.
Ah, but there is one more comparison which brings us in to the present day. With the late season collapse at Alabama last year we all have spoken about how this team needs to finish, be mentally tough, and to go full speed from the kickoff until the final gun sounds.
Ironically, when the expectations at Clemson have been high there is one thing that Tiger teams and Coach Bowden haven't been able to accomplish. Finish, fulfill, and realize those expectations.
On both sides of the ball you can find some very solid positions with the Tigers which are quickly off-set by an evident weakness.
Clemson fields one of the best backfields in the ACC led by senior quarterback Cullen Harper. Harper finished in the top 25 NCAA QB rankings while putting up some impressive numbers. He had a fantastic touchdown to interception ratio with 27 touchdowns to only six interceptions.
But, before you get worried about Harper picking the Alabama defense apart, one other statistic has to be considered. His offensive line allowed him to be sacked 35 times in 2007.
The duo of junior CJ Spiller and senior James Davis aren't quite in the league of last year's Arkansas group of McFadden, Jones, and Hollis, but they are awfully close in terms of a great running threat. The duo combined for 15 TDs last year when running ball the ball.
Before you start getting worried about whether Alabama will be able to handle the Tiger's running attack or not, you'll want to consider this fact.
Last year, at the beginning of their schedule when they faced three teams of equal caliber, the duo combined for less than 100 yards in all three games, combined. This was against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Boston College, which was their most productive game (they gained 47 yards on the ground).
Harper isn't limited to a one dimensional attack when you consider the experience he has in his wide receiver corps. Seniors Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham both are legitimate play-making threats and Jacoby Ford is a nice addition to that rotation.
The productivity of Clemson's offense is going to boil down to one thing: their offensive line. Last year throughout the entire season, they were not able to stop teams that were intent on blitzing Harper. Early on, they couldn't establish a running game even with Spiller and Davis.
Today, if you were to ask 10 Clemson fans who is going to start on the OL, only a few will agree with each other. They are looking to add four inexperienced players into a group that needs to work extremely well as a unit to be successful.
Much like the offense, you can point to a few of the specific units on the Clemson defense and you'll likely rate them as some of the best in the southeastern United States. In fact, if asked, I would have to say that the defensive side of the ball may be the stronger unit of the two.
In a defense that rated in the top 25 in essentially every important category last year, this group returns eight starters from the 2007 season.
The strength of this defense in terms of returning talent is their secondary, led by two seniors: Michael Hamlin, who led he team in tackles, and Chris Clemons.
Junior cornerback Chris Chancellor, along with Hamlin, led the team with the most interceptions followed by their other cornerback, Crezdon Butler, who had three interceptions in 2007.
The defensive line was good in 2007 and returns three of their four starters in Clemson's 4-3 defense. The unit is anchored by defensive end Ricky Sapp who led the team with five sacks last season.
Much like Alabama fans have high hopes for members of their 2008 signing class, Clemson fans do as well with DaQuan Bowers. The hope is that Bowers, who participated in spring drills after enrolling early, will be able step in and fill that fourth starting position.
But, before you get all worried about the Clemson defense you have to look at the situation with their line backing corps where they are returning with limited experience. Does this negate the strong secondary if their safeties have to play closer to the line of scrimmage to support the run defense?
The battle to watch in this game is the trenches. Specifically, when Alabama has the ball with all the experience on our offensive line versus a solid defensive line fielded by Clemson.
Coming in a close second is the play calling on the Alabama sideline where Coach McElwain needs to take advantage of the weaknesses Clemson will deal with in their season opener.
Final: Bama 35, Clemson 32
Clemson's final record: 9-3
2007 Clemson Record: (9-4, 5-3 ACC)
2007 Bowl: Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Auburn (L 20-23)
Clemson Head Coach: Tommy Bowden (69-42 at Clemson, 87-46 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Rob Spence
Defensive Coordinator: Vic Koenning
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