As college football season approaches, I noted how difficult it was to pick someone to win the ACC’s Atlantic Division. On the flip side, I could easily argue the case against every team. The “slow season” for Wolfpack news is an ideal time to explore this in more detail. Today, we look at everybody’s favorite perennial underachievers – the Clemson Tigers.
It’s fair to say that in a division with Jim Grobe, Tom O’Brien, and even the current low-wattage version of Bobby Bowden, Clemson is at a distinct coaching disadvantage. Of course, this is nothing new for the Clemson faithful, as they’ve been muttering the IPTAY Kiss of Death (“He’s no Danny Ford!”) for almost twenty years. Following a lackluster 3-3 start that included a nationally televised spanking by Alabama and an ugly home loss to Maryland, Clemson forced Tommy Bowden out at midseason and elevated then-WR Coach Dabo Swinney to interim head coach. Swinney, whose name sounds more like a ranch hand from a Steinbeck novel than a football coach, won 4 of 6 games (including a shellacking of rival South Carolina in the regular season finale) before getting the “interim” tag removed on December 1. Swinney’s charges then lost their bowl game to a middling Nebraska squad, 26-21.
There is nothing in Swinney’s background to suggest he is ready to be a head coach – at least not at the BCS level, and especially not at a pressure cooker like Clemson. He is known as an excellent recruiter, but getting talent certainly hasn’t been Clemson’s problem in recent years. He is good at gladhandling boosters, but that’s not exactly how championships are won. He has embraced the still-living legend Danny Ford – which should buy him a few years of goodwill, but not much else. Fun fact – the Pack’s Dick Sheridan is the only coach ever to beat a Danny Ford-coached Clemson team three years in a row. This is especially impressive given that the Tiggers played Georgia on an annual basis during most of his tenure. Giving Swinney the job was a short-sighted, cost-cutting, emotional decision, and we know how those usually work out.
Like many of its ACC counterparts, Clemson has QB issues. Sophomore Willy Korn will battle redshirt freshman Kyle Parker and true freshman Tajh Boyd for the starting job (see TigerNet’s take here). To me, it sounds like nobody knows what to expect. Perhaps it will shake out by midseason, but by then, Clemson will have already played half of its league slate. Electric RB C.J. Spiller returns for his senior season, but nobody knows if he can shoulder the full rushing load without the “thunder” component provided by departed senior James Davis. Offensive line is also a question mark, which leads one to ponder whether Clemson’s entire offensive attack depends on a “scatback” runner who’s going to take a pounding and likely wear down as the season progresses.
Clemson also does not have a favorable schedule. The Tigers don’t play Duke, and its two easiest conference games – Boston College and Virginia – are at home. There’s no better way to slide up the conference standings than getting some easy games on the road (it’s also good to get your worst matchups out of the way on the road) – that way, all you have to do is “hold serve” at home. Alas, all four of the ‘Tiggers’ road games are difficult ones (Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, and NC State). None of these games are preceded by an off week. In fact, the most brutal matchup of all (at Georgia Tech on Thursday, September 10) is both early in the season and coming off a short week of practice. That’s not insurmountable, as 6-2 or even 5-3 can probably cinch the Atlantic crown – but it does make the road that much tougher.
* Sporting News has their Clemson preview in at #49 in the country. (Link to article)
* Dr. Saturday has – “The Dabo Difference”