When he was hired, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney had never been anything other than a position coach, coaching wide receivers for his entire career. Now, sitting in his third full year as head coach, Swinney is feeling the heat of a head coach, and with only a 19-15 record his first two full years as head coach, the 2011 season will be a critical turning point in shaping the rest of Dabo's tenure here at Clemson.
The 2010 schedule featured a duo of low level teams in North Texas and Presbyterian, followed by a crucial three game stretch of Auburn, Miami, and North Carolina, which would dictate how Clemson would perform for the rest of the season. The result was a 6-7 losing season, with Clemson losing by three points to Auburn, by nine points to Miami(FL), and by six points to North Carolina.
The common theme through this three game stretch: Clemson was competitive and could have won at least two of the three, but failed to close out close games.
The 2011 schedule will be no different, and will be just as difficult, if not harder, for Clemson to overcome their early season woes.
Clemson will open up with two easily winnable games against the likes of Troy and Wofford, and face yet another three game stretch of tough opponents in Auburn, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Sound familiar?
But, one thing working in Clemson's favor is the fact that the first four games will be played at home, with Virginia Tech the only away game in their first five games. Clemson will have a lot of hype for their third and fourth games, hosting the defending national champion Auburn Tigers and the defensing ACC Atlantic Division Champion Florida State, who will look to capitalize off of second year head coach Jimbo Fisher's success in his first season.
Will Dabo turn the Tigers around in 2011?
Once the stretch ends, the Tigers will host Boston College, travel to Maryland, and host the North Carolina Tar Heels in Death Valley.
Fortunately for Clemson, the bye week will fall in between the Georgia Tech game and the Wake forest game, with the Georgia Tech game being an away game.
The last four games will also tell a very interesting story, with three of the last four games being on the road, with their opponents being Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and rival South Carolina, who have won the last two meetings against the Tigers.
The 2011 schedule for the Clemson Tigers will challenge a young yet talented team, especially during the three game stretch. With a revamped offensive staff, a young quarterback in sophomore Tajh Boyd and a new offense, and young receivers, it will be interesting to see exactly how Boyd emerges and whether he will have what it takes to be the starter.
The three game strecth of Auburn, Florida State, and Virginia Tech will, like in 2010, be an indicator of how the Tigers will perform for the rest of the season.
The impact of this schedule will give the coaches and fans a big insight into how exactly things have changed on both sides. With a top ten recruiting class, there will be some new faces on both sides of the ball, particularly on the offensive side, as the Tigers brought in some of the best receivers in the nation, among them Charone Peake and Sammy Watkins; Martavis Bryant enrolls from the 2010 class as well, and is in line for immediate playing time.
It will be intersting to see who wins the battles for playing time, and how Morris will go about using the threats he has at his disposal, including at tight end with Dwayne Allen and at running back with starter Andre Ellington and highly touted Mike Bellamy, who is considered by many a huge threat and playmaker at the running back position.
On defense, the most watched position will be the linebacker position, in which Clemson obtained not one, nor two, but three top linebackers in the 2011 recruting class in Lateek Townsend, Stephone Anthony, and Tony Steward. Corico Hawkins is a mainstay at middle linebacker and Quandon Christian performing well at strong side linebacker. With one spot open due to the departed Brandon Maye at weak side linebacker. one of these players may end up getting the red-shirt.
With the departure of Daquan Bowers, the end spot will be closely watched throughout these first five games, as the pass rushing ability of Bowers will be hard to replace. Mallicah Goodman looks to step into the starting role. The kicking position will also be closely scrutinized, as this was a big factor in Clemson's inability to win close games.
The 2011 season will be crucial for Dabo Swinney if he wants to get off of the hot seat: