Ranking the Clemson Tigers' Toughest Games

Jeffrey Fann@TalkinACCSportsAnalyst IAugust 24, 2009

CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 25: Gaines Adams #93 of the Clemson Tigers walks on the field during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Memorial Stadium on November 25, 2006 in Clemson, South Carolina. South Carolina won 31-28. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

No one really knows what to expect from new Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. What we do know is that Kyle Parker has been named the starting quarterback, and that being a tougher football team has been emphasized. My ACC Preview had the Tigers finishing as good as 9-3 and as bad as 6-6. How does the 2009 schedule look?

1) @Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, September 10, 2009

The Tigers will be coming off a game with the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. They employ a four WR spread aerial attack. Then the Tigers play the run heavy attack of Georgia Tech with less than a week of preparation. That's a very tough match-up for the Tigers. They have more than enough athletes to pull a surprise, but because the Tigers have such a short turnaround, and that it's Kyle Parker's first big game as a quarterback, I don't see the Tigers winning this one.

Chance of Clemson winning: 30%

2) @North Carolina State Wolfpack, November 14, 2009

The Tigers handled the Wolfpack early last year in a game that was well before NC State hit their stride. The previous week the Tigers play an always-emotional game with Florida State that could leave them flat. Clemson should have some success running the ball on the Wolfpack, but ends Ricky Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers will have to hold dynamic NC State QB Russell Wilson in check. That won't be easy to do. The game is at Raleigh as well. Loser of this game won't win the Atlantic Division.

Chance of Clemson winning: 40%

3) Florida State Seminoles, November 7, 2009

Clemson has had success against the Seminoles in recent years. They have won four out of their last six against FSU. I've always thought this was Tommy Bowden's downfall. He recruited speed to beat Florida St. and Miami, and did well against those teams. The problem was his teams didn't have the physicality to consistently beat the Virginia Techs and Boston Colleges.

The Tigers always play Florida State well in Death Valley, and will give the Noles all they can handle again. By then, whoever is at quarterback for the Tigers, Kyle Parker or Willy Korn, should have plenty of experience. Florida State has a great offensive line that can keep the Clemson defensive ends under control. This one is a toss-up.

Chance of Clemson winning: 50%

4) @Maryland Terrapins, October 3, 2009

The Terrapins are the kind of physical team that can give the Tigers trouble. Da'Rel Scott is an underrated back for the Terps, and Chris Turner is not a bad quarterback. The game is in College Park too. The Tigers have better overall talent, but that didn't matter last year in a terrible second half effort by Clemson playing at home. The Tigers lost 20-17. This is the type of game where C.J. Spiller needs to get loose for a couple of scores early. The Terps aren't built for big comebacks.

Chance of Clemson winning: 50%

5) @Miami Hurricanes, October 24, 2009

This is a tricky game to call right now. You just don't know where the Canes will be mentally. Will Jacory Harris blossom into the ACC's next great QB, or will he be crushed by the brutal opening schedule?

I think the Canes will come in 3-3 searching for an identity, and this might be their most critical game of the season. These teams are very evenly matched, but I like Clemson's defense a little better and they are little more explosive on offense. Clemson corners Chris Chancellor and Crezdon Butler can neutralize a very solid Miami receiving crew, and Jacoby Ford (if his hamstring is OK) can get behind a suspect Miami secondary.

Chance of Clemson winning: 55%

6) TCU Horned Frogs, September 26, 2009

I think this game sets the tone for the Tiger's season. Assuming a likely loss to Georgia Tech and a likely win over Boston College, Clemson will either sit a solid 3-1 heading to Maryland or a shaky 2-2. Forget that the Horned Frogs lose seven starters on defense, year in and year out TCU has one of the best defenses in the country. Last year only one team scored more than 16 points against them. They have three-year starter Andy Dalton coming back at quarterback.

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Teams like Fresno St., Boise St., Utah, and TCU live for games like this, and they are perfectly capable of beating Clemson at Death Valley. The Horned Frogs also have their own star defensive end, potential All-American Jerry Hughes. This is a great out of conference match-up.

Chance of Clemson winning: 60%

7) Wake Forest Demon Deacons, October 17, 2009

The Wake Forest game marked the end of the Tommy Bowden era last year in an ugly 12-7 loss. In that game C.J. Spiller got hurt and didn't finish the game. I think you'll see Clemson go to the running and short passing game against a Wake Forest team that lost all three of its linebackers. Riley Skinner is back at quarterback for the Deacs, but assuming everyone is healthy, I like the Tigers in this one. The game is also at Clemson.

Chance of Clemson winning: 65%

8) @South Carolina Gamecocks, November 28, 2009

This series should be a lot closer and more competitive than it is, but Clemson has dominated South Carolina for more than a decade. The Tigers have won 10 of the last 12 games, including a 63-17 win in 2003. This is one of the South's most underrated rivalries. The fans in the state of South Carolina are very passionate about this game.

Stephen Garcia is the new quarterback for the Gamecocks. He's got talent, but I'm not convinced he's enough for South Carolina to be a SEC contender. It wouldn't hurt them to find a consistent running game either, which they didn't have last year.

Right now, I can't find any tangible reason why Clemson won't win this game, other than it's a rivalry game.

Chance of Clemson winning: 75%

9) Virginia Cavaliers, November 21, 2009

By the time this game roles around, the Cavs new spread offense will either be humming or it will be struggling as bad as Auburn's attempt at their version of it last year. This is Clemson's final home game of the season, senior day. If the Tigers come in with seven or eight wins already and a chance to have a nine-win season, expect a loud and energetic crowd. That's exactly where I think the Tiger's will be too, either 7-3 or 8-2 coming into this game. Clemson has speed to burn on defense and that should be enough to contain the Cavaliers in this one.

Chance of Clemson winning: 80%

10) Boston College Eagles, September 19, 2009

It's less than two weeks before the start of the season, and BC still is having quarterback issues. Projected starter Dave Shinskie recently suffered a rib injury in fall practice. LB Mark Herzlich's health issues have been well documented. It's been a rough offseason for BC.

The Eagles open with a couple of softies in Northeastern and Kent State, but then they come to Clemson. They have a huge and solid offensive line, but I don't see them pulling an upset this early in the season. If they do, Dabo Swinney might want to run for cover. Losing to a top-15 Georgia Tech is one thing, but lose to BC and the Tigers will be in serious, serious trouble. Who knows, the 2009 Tigers might resemble the schizophrenic teams Bowden put together and beat the Jackets but lose to BC. Then Tiger fans really will wonder if they just got Tommy Bowden part 2.

Chance of Clemson winning: 90%

11) Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, Sept 5, 2009

The Tigers should win this game comfortably, but they best pay attention to the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee did knock off fellow ACC team Maryland last year and lost by only six at Kentucky. This is one of those games, where if Clemson is caught looking ahead to Georgia Tech, they could end up in a tussle.

Chance of Clemson winning: 95%

12) Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, October 31, 2009

Coastal Carolina comes from the Big South Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision, so there is no way they should stay within four TDs of Clemson. However, Gardner-Webb comes from the same conference and came within a FG of overtime with Georgia Tech. The times are gone when teams can sleep walk against anyone, but if the Tigers come prepared, the goal will be to keep everyone healthy with Florida State the next game.

Chance of Clemson winning: 98%