College Football: Predicting the Clemson Tigers Season, Week by Week
In as many questions that the Clemson Tigers football team faces entering the 2011 football season, there are just as many reasons for hope, especially coming off a disappointing 6-6 season that ended with an ugly bowl loss to South Florida.
Seemingly things can only go up for a team loaded with talent, young and inexperienced as it may be.
Here I'll break down each game of the season, predicting a score and winner for each.
September 3 vs. Troy
The immediate perception for those unfamiliar with the Trojans of Troy would be that they're a typical week one cupcake.
Coming from the Sun Belt Conference, Troy doesn't open eyes with football prestige, but in their own right, they've got a solid program. Coming off their fifth straight conference title, Troy is used to scoring, and scoring a lot.
They averaged just over 34 points a game last year, good enough to get them eight wins and get them in a third straight bowl. Boasting a talented sophomore QB in Corey Robinson, the Trojans lack depth at receiver, yet have talent in the backfield returning from last season.
Their defense, however, leaves much to be desired.
Clemson has a somewhat shaky history in their first games of the season. Not to say they've lost many, but they rarely come out looking exceptionally strong. New starter at QB Tajh Boyd will have the load on his shoulders, and will be asked to direct a young offense throughout the season.
The first game against Troy will have its bumps and bruises, and Tiger fans might not come away with a feeling that this team can be world beaters. But hey, its this first week. Give it time.
FINAL: Clemson 42, Troy 21
September 10 vs. Wofford
In-state opponent Wofford is not your average FCS opponent.
Sure, they lack the athletes a BCS program might have, but the offensive system they run has frustrated numerous opponents in the past.
Running a wing bone style not to dissimilar to Air Force and Navy, Wofford can be very difficult to defend. They'll make some plays and eat up clock that could leave this game lower scoring than many think it will be.
That being said, Wofford's defense will most certainly struggle to stop the new high powered offense now in place at Clemson. OC Chad Morris will look to spread the field and while this one may be close early on, Clemson will pull away with big plays in the second half.
FINAL: Clemson 45, Wofford 17
September 17 vs. Auburn
You could call it a revenge game. But I think most Clemson fans would simply call it another chance to prove the Tigers can play with the big boys.
The defending national champs make a visit to Death Valley in mid-September, and while there's no Cam Newton or Nick Fairley, the game will still have the still appealing "ACC vs. SEC" heading.
The reality is, this is not the same Auburn team that went unscathed throughout the entirety of the 2010 season.
Only six starters return for the defending champs, a fact that is certainly unsettling for Gene Chizik taking his team to Death Valley, a stadium that can get as loud as any SEC venue.
To say this would be an easy win for Clemson would be unfair, both to the recruiting of Auburn and the uneasy history of Clemson football, one that's used to seeing the ACC Tigers fall flat in one too many big games.
Clemson has the definitive edge in talent, but not in experience. Home field advantage wins this one.
FINAL: Clemson 24, Auburn 17
September 24 vs. Florida State
We would have to retreat several years to remember the last time Clemson played a Seminole team this talented.
On both sides of the ball, FSU looks to have everything lining up for what could be a truly special season. EJ Manuel proved during his snaps last year that he can lead an offense.
Throwing for a near 70% completion percentage with essentially every receiver from last year returning, Clemson's defense will have their hands full all game long.
The good news for Clemson despite likely being outmatched at nearly every position is that this game is, like the Auburn match, in Death Valley.
It's been nearly nine years since FSU has beaten Clemson in Death Valley, a fact that seemed near impossible during the stretch of ACC titles FSU had in the 1990's. The Seminoles will also be coming off what is sure to be a physical game with Oklahoma the week before.
That being said, this Florida State team is simply too talented at every position for Clemson to match them toe-to-toe for four full quarters.
FINAL: Florida State 30, Clemson 21
October 1 at Virginia Tech
Not exactly the team or environment you want a young team to have to play for their first road game of the season.
A trip to Blacksburg is never easy, and for Clemson, it's been typically downright miserable.
The Hokies come off an ACC championship season, and have the talent to repeat. Flashy QB Tyrod Taylor is gone, but in his place steps in Logan Thomas, a massive play caller many have compared to Cam Newton.
Clemson's linebackers will be called on in a huge way in this one, as Thomas has the mobility to do damage not too unlike his predecessor.
Clemson's last game in Blacksburg was a disappointing 24-7 loss coming off a huge win over Georgia Tech the weekend before. But that was a Thursday night game, a scheduling gaff that surely got someone's backside lit from the athletic department.
Clemson tends to be a team that plays on emotion, so the Florida State game could factor in heavily to this contest. The talent is similar, but coaching and a tough locale to play in gives VT an edge.
FINAL: Virginia Tech 27, Clemson 23
October 8 vs. Boston College
One of the more surprising budding rivalries in the ACC in recent years has been between BC and Clemson, a game that often ends with a margin in the single digits.
In fact, every game since 2005 except one has been decided by six points or less.
BC has an incredible back in Montel Harris, a young man just over 1,000 yards shy of becoming the leading rusher in ACC history. Aside from that, BCS returns nine starters to their offense.
Last year, Clemson seemed to be totally inept on offense in their game in Boston. Now with receivers that have some experience and some absolute speedsters in the freshman class, Clemson should be able to move the ball more easily. They key is containing Harris.
FINAL: Clemson 26, Boston College 13
October 15 at Maryland
Last year's game against Maryland proved the theory that if you turn the ball over a lot, you're going to lose.
Despite outgaining the Tigers by 137 yards, Maryland allowed three turnovers, leading to a 31-7 Tiger blowout. Even more surprising was that the Maryland game was Clemson's worst offensive output all season.
ACC Freshman of the Year QB Danny O-Brien returns to lead the Terps. He does lose to target Torrey Smith and talented RB Da'rel Scott.
New coach Randy Edsall brings a change of pace though, and should do well in College Park if his impressive year's at UConn show us anything.
Maryland will be a team that will be in the thick of things, but does not have the offensive talent to get into any type of shootout with Clemson.
FINAL: Clemson 34, Maryland 18
October 22 vs. North Carolina
The drama filled months in Chapel Hill surrounding the football program may have come to a slow down now with the removal of head coach Butch Davis.
While the final fallout from all the NCAA sanctions has yet to truly be seen, it may be safe to say the Tar Heels 2010 team will go down as the ultimate failure of potential and promise.
And yet the program moves on, actually with good talent thanks to the strong recruiting of Davis. UNC did lose QB T.J. Yates and nearly all of their rushers from last year, but bring back a solid defense and group of receivers.
Look for Clemson to expose a young secondary, and run away with a close win.
FINAL: Clemson 28, UNC 24
October 29 at Georgia Tech
This old ACC rivalry is often hard to predict, regardless of the quality of the teams.
The Jackets are without the key cogs of last year's offense Josh Nesbitt and Anthony Allen. But few can find talent tailored to a specific offense like Paul Johnson.
Don't doubt that Tech will still be extremely capable of moving the ball.
The Tech D will replace all of their DBs, leaving a chance for Tajh Boyd to make things happen against a young secondary. Anticipating a see-saw affair would be typical, but dead on. Clemson's young talent is better than the Yellow Jacket's young talent.
FINAL: Clemson 33, Georgia Tech 24
November 12 vs. Wake Forest
Clemson will come off a bye week for their final home game, a chance to beat down the Demon Deacs of Wake Forest.
That might not come easy, since Wake has 17 returning starters. The key to the Demon Deacon game will be the running of Josh Harris, who ran for over 700 yards last year, averaging nearly six yards a run.
Clemson's offense will be fine tuned by then, however, and no matter what Wake does offensively, Clemson should be able to do more than their share of scoring.
Last year Clemson outgained Wake by over 200 yards en route to a 20 point win. Expect more of the same here.
FINAL: Clemson 40, Wake Forest 17
November 19 at NC State
Of all the questions surrounding the NC State football program in recent years, none may annoy fans more than this one: how good could the Wolfpack be if Russell Wilson was still around?
The answer? Possibly rivaling FSU for the ACC Atlantic crown.
Despite Wilson's departure, NC State has a lot to hang their hat on, namely a stout defense that should be even better than last year, where they gave up their fewest points per game since 2006.
Eight players return on the defense, making that side of the ball slightly better than the offense.
This is a game I frankly see going either way. However, Clemson always seems to lose at least one of these games against another ACC opponent many think they should beat.
Fact is, given the history of the Tigers, they're almost guaranteed to lose a game to a lesser opponent. If it's not NC State, it will be Maryland or Boston College.
NC State has a D that can contain Clemson's play makers, and an offense that can score just enough to keep the game close.
FINAL: NC State 24, Clemson 21
November 26 at South Carolina
Not since the early 1970's has Clemson lost three straight to their in-state rival. It's probably been that long since South Carolina has flat out better teams than Clemson in consecutive years also.
As talented as the Gamecocks are, and as bad as they beat Clemson last year, this is a new season.
Clemson now has actual playmakers, though young, rather than cardboard stiffs lining up on either side of the line of scrimmage.
When it comes to offensive threats, the Gamecocks clearly have the Tigers beat. Better at QB, better in the backfield (but not as wide a margin as many think), and better at receiver.
This game will come down to which defense can hold. Which D can bend but not break?
That defense will likely be South Carolina's. The boast a D-line many feel is the best in the SEC. Clemson is still a year away from taking this rivalry back over.
FINAL: South Carolina 24, Clemson 14