The 2010 season is a season that Dabo Swinney vows to never happen again. A season in which the Tigers went 6-7 and had their first losing season in over a decade.
The 2010 schedule provided opportunities that the Tigers failed to capitlize on. Many predicted that last year's three game stretch of Auburn, Miami, and North Carolina would define how Clemson would perform for the rest of the season.
And it did, and the Tigers were again defined as a team with among the best talent in the ACC, but fail to put its talent to good use.
But now, equipped with a new offensive coordinator in Chad Morris and some new faces on the coaching staff, the Tigers will now come into 2011 to rewrite and learn from their mistakes in 2010.
And, as in 2010, their first few games will very much define how their season will play out for them.
Date: September 3
Clemson will start out the 2011 season against the Sun Belt Conference opponent Troy Trojans.
In what is likely to be a noon or 3:30 kick-off time, this game will serve several purposes. First, it will allow Clemson to shake off the inevitable rust it will surely have, especially on offense. Second, it will give fans a better idea of what to expect from the offense, as this will be the first time the offense is fully seen outside of practice.
This game also presents an opportunity for some of the younger players, especially the freshman, to take the field and contribute throughout the game.
The first game is essential for establishing what a team wants to do every year, and this game against Troy will serve that purpose. While Clemson is still breaking in a new quarterback in Tajh Boyd, along with a completely new offense, Troy should not present too much of a problem, and Clemson should take the game by at least 21 points.
Date: September 10
Clemson continues its play at home against the Division II Wofford Terriers.
Similar to Troy, this is a week in which the new offense can continue to gain momentum and confidence, and Tajh Boyd can become more comfortable with the play calls, especially at home. This is another opportunity for the young freshmen, especially at wide receiver, to solidify their status and become a part of the regular rotation. As talented as the new impact freshmen receivers may be, it will take time for them to learn the new offense and adjust to the college speed of the game.
This is also a big opportunity for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's defense to see what it has before they hit the meat of the schedule. They are sure to look closely at the performance of the front seven, especially at the defensive line where Daquan Bowers and Jarvis Jenkins production must be replaced.
Date: September 17
The first test Clemson faces will be when it hosts the National Championship Auburn Tigers at home.
In what is a likely 3:30-7:00 kickoff, Clemson will finally have the home field advantage it needs, especially with a new quarterback and a defense that needs to get its front seven together. But what will be the most intriguing matchup in this game will be the offenses.
New Clemson offensive Chad Morris's system is similar to Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's system, with Morris having learned under Malzahn before. Now, these two quick-paced, spread offenses will go head to head. And this time, there's one major difference in this game: no Cam Newton.
But what will really determine the outcome of this game is the quarterback play and how well Tajh Boyd steps up to the plate in his first big home game. Auburn currently has a quarterback competition in the works, though Barrett Trotter is the early favorite to win the job.
Regardless of who's under center for Auburn, the game can be sure to be quick paced, and will be especially challenging for the defenses to keep pace. Overall, because of the loss of Cam Newton at quarterback, this is Clemson's perfect opportunity to snag away a win from the Auburn Tigers at home in Death Valley and come away from the game with a 3-0 record.
Date: September 24
Clemson is at home this week to host the Florida State Seminoles, and it will be the first game at Death Valley in which no kind of Bowden is the head coach. It will be head coach Jimbo Fisher’s first time in Death Valley.
The last few meetings between these two teams have been physical, grueling ones, with FSU and Clemson splitting the last two meetings. While Clemson has had the defensive advantage for the last couple of meetings, FSU showed a taste of what they used to be way back in their high days when they shut down South Carolina in the Peach Bowl.
The overall key in this game will be the play of the defenses, which have been the overall deciding factors for both Clemson and FSU, as both have been unable to make much of an impact on defense in the final minutes. It looks to be a close one, but Clemson has the ability to come out on top in the last minutes.
Date: October 1
Clemson’s first—and biggest—road test of the season will be on the road against Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies of the Coastal Division.
If there’s one thing Beamer can do, it's win at home in Blacksburg. Beamer has had Clemson’s number for the past two meetings, winning both times by a combined total of 39 points, with Clemson lacking ability on offense, defense and special teams when facing the Hokies in both previous meetings.
It will be a tough test for new quarterback Tajh Boyd, and even though VT is breaking in a new quarterback in Logan Thomas, the Tigers will find themselves hard pressed to win here. You may anticipate a lower scoring affair, but the Tigers may be unable to find that win against Beamer.
Date: October 8
The Tigers get to head home for the week to face the Boston College Eagles. The Eagles got the 16-10 win last time in Chestnut Hill, a game in which the Tigers continuously shot themselves in the foot.
Boston College, however, still does not have what it takes to make it back to the ACC Championship, and the key to this game will involve Clemson being careful and precise with the football. This means not turning the ball over in a key moment in the game, as BC has had its moments when a team turns the ball over and gives them good field position. Last year’s loss was also due to a lack of consistency in how the offense kept the defense on their heels, and was too predictable.
With new coordinator Chad Morris, this shouldn’t be the case; a quick-paced, no-huddle offense may be just what this Clemson team needs.
At home, the Tigers should pull this one out of their hat, and they should win by at least a touchdown—but this is a trap game in every sense of the word.
Date: October 15
The Maryland Game can be described in two words: trap game.
That's how it has always been for the Clemson-Maryland matchup, especially considering that Maryland has won two of the last three matchups, including the last time the Clemson Tigers came for a visit. However, the Terps are in several years of transition with a new head coach in Randy Edsall, formerly of UConn.
While Edsall certainly has the potential to take Maryland further, doing so will take time. With the current cast of players, its unlikely that 2011 will be that year. But, on road games, the visiting team always has the greater chance of breaking down, and Clemson must play its cards carefully like it did against Boston College.
The keys here will be Tajh Boyd and the offense playing smart football and the defense not giving up any long unnecessary big plays, especially through the air.
Overall, Clemson on the road should win by a touchdown.
Date: October 22
The Tigers get to stay in town for another week as they get set to host the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Under head coach Butch Davis, the Tar Heels have made great progress, particularly in recruiting and on defense. While the offense is still trying to completely find its footing, their defense remains one of the best in the ACC. Even with their top players suspended in 2010, their younger reserve players gained invaluable experience and should not be overlooked in this matchup.
Overall, these teams are evenly matched in most facets of the game and will probably see a similar performance in last season’s matchup—a low scoring, back-and-forth affair. This game will be decided in the fourth quarter and by whichever defense gives up that one big play.
The last few years, the big city of Atlanta, Georgia has not been so kind to the Tigers.
The Tigers must head back to Atlanta once again to face Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jacket option attack.
Clemson has had some rough times in Atlanta over the past several seasons, and things haven’t lightened up for them in the big city.
Last season, the Tigers had a great game plan for attacking Paul Johnson offense, and they have the opportunity to do it again. Georgia Tech loses its starter quarterback Josh Nesbitt and running back Anthony Allen, and it did not have a very good recruiting class to find any kind of play makers on offense. With questionable help at quarterback and running back—and devoid of less help at receiver—the Yellow Jackets may be hard pressed to win, even in their own stadium.
Aside from the football facts, Clemson’s biggest enemy lies in the terrain itself, Atlanta, where the Tigers just can’t seem to catch a break.
Date: November 12
A team on some serious decline over the past few seasons has been Wake Forest, who, since winning the ACC in 2005, has not been anywhere close to getting back to the top
After a season that saw itself juggle through three starting quarterbacks, Wake Forest ended its season near the bottom of the ACC Atlantic Division, desperately searching for any kinds of answers. With its quarterback situation still in doubt, not to mention its defense, Wake Forest will find a win in Death Valley hard to come by, especially if they don’t find any answers defensively.
Date: November 19
One thing that can be said, "When was the last time the Wolfpack beat the Tigers?"
Clemson must stay on the road for three of its last four games, and the second one is a visit to Raleigh, North Carolina to visit the Wolfpack and head coach Tom O’ Brien.
Clemson has had NC State’s number for about the last seven years, and many of those wins have been blowouts. One of the few exceptions was last year, when Clemson managed to emerge victorious from Death Valley 14-13, a game that saw Clemson shoot themselves in the foot multiple times, from fumbles on the five yard line, to interception after interception thrown by Kyle Parker.
It was only because of the defense that the Tigers were able to escape—and that won’t change this year.
Overall, NC State is still devoid of talent when compared to Clemson, but nothing can ever be counted out in this rivalry. A lot of how NC State fares will depend upon the return of Russell Wilson and whether he decides to pursue a career in pro baseball, as the Wolfpack will have question marks at the quarterback position.
Overall, if the defense shows up like it did in last year’s meeting, the Tigers can come away with a solid win.
Date: November 26
The most anticipated game of the season comes along—the rivalry game, where the Tigers and the Gamecocks will face off in Columbia and Gamecock fans are riding high after beating Clemson in back-to-back meetings by over three touchdowns.
With only a 1-2 record against South Carolina, Dabo is looking to get back into Clemson’s good books by getting win number two against Spurrier and his Gamecocks. It will be no easy feat, as their biggest threats are a 6’0, 207-pound running back in Marcus Lattimore and an even bigger threat in 6’4, 200-pound receiver Alshon Jeffrey, who absolutely carved up the Clemson secondary in their last meeting.
Rivalry games are always among the biggest, hyped games in college football, and this game is no different. If Clemson wants to break South Carolina’s winning streak, it must find a way to contain Jeffery and find its rhythm offensively, a big part of why Clemson scored only seven points in last year’s dreadful loss in Death Valley.