If Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney can say one thing, it’s this: his football team is getting some attention right now.
After snapping defending national champion Auburn’s 17-game win streak with a 38-24 win last Saturday, which saw the Tigers gain over 624 yards of total offense and hold Auburn without a touchdown of any kind in the second half, the Tigers have started out the year on the right foot and will host their first ACC opponent in Florida State, a key divisional matchup for both of these schools.
But, as many of the pundits are wondering, are the Clemson Tigers for real?
After all, we’ve all been here before. In 2008, the Tigers were ranked in the top ten nationally before falling at the Georgia Dome against Alabama, finishing the season at 7-5 and firing former head coach Tommy Bowden midway through the season.
Let’s not forget the expectations that the Tigers always seem to fall short of. Clemson has, for some time now, continually brought in top talent from the likes of North and South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, but this talent has failed to develop and Clemson never truly took advantage. In a basketball-heavy conference like the ACC, Clemson is one of the few that truly puts its foot towards football first. Recent talents like Jacoby Ford, CJ Spiller, Daquan Bowers and others were unable to go on to that next level in college and did not have that opportunity to go there. Washout recruits like Xavier Dye, Willy Korn and Brandon Clear never fully reached their potential, in part due to both their play and the coaching staff.
With Florida State coming back to Death Valley, they will be facing a different Clemson football team. This team is younger than it was the last time they played here, but it continues to grow with every passing week. Dabo Swinney has put together a solid staff in the off-season, bringing in a new offensive coordinator in Chad Morris, who has done wonders for first year starter Tajh Boyd, and a top ten recruiting class that includes plenty of talented players who have already cracked the two deep rosters. Clemson returns young players from last year that have been through the fire and have proven themselves threats in receiver Deandre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington.
On top of that, freshman have made faster progress than fans may have anticipated, especially at the skill positions, where true freshman receiver Sammy Watkins is already a starter and scored four touchdowns in three games. True freshman running back Mike Bellamy has shown big-play capability while learning the offense, and red-shirt freshman back DJ Howard has shown himself to be a capable number two behind Ellington. Freshmen receivers Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant have worked themselves into the rotation as well, along with receiver Adam Humphries.
The defense is young, but still has playmaking potential with the likes of defensive end Andre Branch, safety Rashard Hall, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and corner-back Xavier Brewer. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele excels at making half time adjustments, which has been a prime factor in his defense allowing zero second half touchdowns in the first three games of the season.
As we all watch the Tigers battle the Seminoles, everyone will wonder, from beginning to end, win or lose: Are the Tigers for real?