Atlantic Division Preview – The Case Against…Clemson

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.

Related Links:
* Sporting News has their Clemson preview in at #49 in the country. (Link to article)

* Dr. Saturday has – “The Dabo Difference”

About BJD95

1995 NC State graduate, sufferer of Les and MOC during my entire student tenure. An equal-opportunity objective critic and analyst of Wolfpack sports.

'09 Football

40 Responses to Atlantic Division Preview – The Case Against…Clemson

  1. choppack1 07/15/2009 at 11:19 AM #

    Clemson had one of the best D’s in the conference last year. How does the returning group look on that end?

    If there’s a team NC State has had trouble w/ the last few years, it’s los Tigres. We beat them 2 years in a row in 2002 and 2003, but we had lost 2 straight to them before that, and have lost the last 5 matchups. And quite frankly, of the 16 games on his plate since TOBs arrival, no one has dominated us in both games like Clemson has.

    As for Spiller – I think he’s a little bigger than a “scatback”, but what this really means is that the Tigers lose valuable depth back there. If he gets hurt – can anyone play the game-breaking role that Spiller does?

    I’ve got family in Anderson and their words are that Swinney is saying all the right things and doing all the right things right now. However, this cautious, rational feeling can quickly be replaced w/ a rough September.

  2. BJD95 07/15/2009 at 11:28 AM #

    TigerNet take on defense:

    Because these are “cases against” – I didn’t focus as much on the positive aspects. I expect Clemson’s defense will be good, but not dominant.

  3. choppack1 07/15/2009 at 11:37 AM #

    Ahh – good point. Me, I’m looking for reasons to dismiss the Tigers.

    Thanks for linking – it was an interesting read.

    Doesn’t look like I’d write them off either (you certainly didn’t.)

    Sounds like they’ll be a tough out – and our best hope is frankly that Swinney doesn’t know what he’s doing!

  4. VaWolf82 07/15/2009 at 12:20 PM #

    CFN preview of Clemson:

    Talent has never been a problem for Clemson, but consistency and flakiness have been. Will this be the year the program finally lives up to its promise? With a star in C.J. Spiller to build around, this should be a team worth watching.

  5. CaptainCraptacular 07/15/2009 at 12:21 PM #

    While not technically the same, Ford went Loss, Loss, Tie against Bobby Ross and Maryland from 84-86

  6. VaWolf82 07/15/2009 at 12:26 PM #

    Me, I’m looking for reasons to dismiss the Tigers.

    Just wait and see if they end up with a QB. If they do, then they could be in the mix. If not…well we’ve all seen how that will play out.

  7. VaWolf82 07/15/2009 at 12:34 PM # preview:

    Clemson vs GT in week 2 on Thursday night could tell us a bunch about both teams.

  8. choppack1 07/15/2009 at 12:58 PM #

    That’s an early important Thurday night game. It’s one of the beauties of college football…I’m not looking forward to waking up groggy on Friday morning, but a good Thursday night match-up is always nice.

  9. BJD95 07/15/2009 at 1:27 PM #

    Clemson/BC should tell us alot, too. It’s a possible overconfidence or hangover game for Clemson (after GT), and should tell us both (i) if Clemson can be more consistent and focused; and (ii) whether BC can continue to be competitive or will quickly morph into the Atlantic’s Duke.

    I can’t totally write off anyone. I don’t think any Atlantic team has less than a 10% or more than a 20% shot at the crown.

    FWIW, in the SFN poll, I picked Clemson as my team to surpass expectations.

  10. Classof89 07/15/2009 at 1:42 PM #

    Clemson is one of those teams that is flaky and inconsistent against everyone else (particularly Wake, for example), but always seems to turn in a solid performance against us (that 38-6 shellacking we administered in Death Valley during the Rivers era being a notable exception.

  11. choppack1 07/15/2009 at 2:09 PM #

    BJD – You’re exactly right. Someone has to win it, but everyone has pretty big questions.

    I’d be tempted to say that FSU probably has the best shot. Of course, they have been talented the last few years and have little to show for it.

  12. CaptainCraptacular 07/15/2009 at 2:16 PM #

    Quite a few weeks this season with compelling Thursday night games this year. Including ours vs SCar and GT/Clem there’s GT/Miami, UNC/FSU, UNC/VT, Ole Miss/SCar, and a couple reasonably interesting Big 12 matchups. Can’t wait for the season to start and see how the crazy ACC race will play out.

  13. VaWolf82 07/15/2009 at 2:52 PM #

    FSU’s talent hasn’t been at QB (really since Weinke) or on the OL. I read an FSU preview that said that they returned their starting OL from the end of last year…and there wasn’t a single senior among the bunch.

  14. choppack1 07/15/2009 at 3:14 PM #

    That’s true -but they’ve had QBs look decent, but detiorate as time goes on if my memory is correct.

    In other words – I’ll believe an FSU QB has turned the corner when he can string together a good season.

  15. McCallum 07/15/2009 at 3:24 PM #


    They have nearly the same coaching staff as the one that Bowden had during his tenure. I hear the Clemson fan base constantly through 104.9 The Drive (Mickey Plyler is the biggest a$$ and fool on radio) and one of their major points of contention with Bowden/Rob Spence was the two point stance versus the three point stance.(if you have poor coaching what difference does it make)

    Clemson was like a 17 year old girl in a high performance sports car…………no idea how to change gears. State under Amato was like a 16 year old girl in a sports car…………grinding gears and still unable to change gears.

    Questions across the board for Clemson:

    1) no proven QB
    2) poor offensive line play
    3) unproven tight ends
    4) unproven wide outs
    5) unproven coach

    The defense will be decent but will it be well coached?

    Clemson is a team suffering due to the FSU Effect and State was the same under Amato. Just add speed and things will somehow workout despite a lack of coaching. FSU got away with plenty of speed for 10 years plus but all good things must come to an end.


  16. VaWolf82 07/15/2009 at 3:45 PM #

    Clemson does have a new DC…Kevin Steele (who did OK as DC at Alabama last year). But as you pointed out, all of the big questions are on offense.

  17. howlie 07/15/2009 at 5:33 PM #

    dabo coaches best with pom poms & acne cream.

  18. McCallum 07/15/2009 at 5:59 PM #

    Dabo is ALL IN!!

    If you know any Clemson people you know what I’m saying.


  19. highstick 07/15/2009 at 7:20 PM #

    I hate Orange!! Wish you guys would quit trying to identify with them just because they are a land grant agricultural/engineering school. Other than that, we have no other similarities with the Pickens County jail crew!

  20. Wufpacker 07/15/2009 at 7:51 PM #

    I’m with highstick on this one. Except for UNC and UMd, Clemson is pretty much at the top of my hated conference rivals list. Not even sure why but I’ve always had a strong dislike for the orange and purple.

    One of my favorite college fb moments was when Woody Hayes got so steamed that he cold-cocked the Clemson player (name escapes me at the moment) who passed by him too closely on the sidelines. I’ve wanted to do the same thing myself at times (like when Dantzler made our defense look like a poor HS team). Yeah, Dantzler was really needing a good pounding that day as far as I’m concerned…unfortunately nobody could catch the bastard.

    Regarding the promotion of Dabo Swinney (first with the interim tag and then without) to the head spot…I admittedly do not follow such things closely but is it not a bit unusual for a position coach (WR’s) to be hired/promoted ahead of either the OC or the DC?

    In fact after typing that I am now wondering about MOC. I know he was the QB’s coach, and has been a QB’s coach again since leaving NCSU, but wasn’t he also OC at least a year or two under Sheridan before getting the head gig? I honestly can’t remember.

  21. CaptainCraptacular 07/15/2009 at 8:01 PM #

    “That’s true -but they’ve had QBs look decent, but detiorate as time goes on if my memory is correct.

    In other words – I’ll believe an FSU QB has turned the corner when he can string together a good season.”

    Chop, you really, really should do some research on FSU. Your assessement of them is founded on impressions from 2005, not 2008. While they still wound up with 4 losses, last year was a FAR cry from the Jeff Bowden years. Their problem in their down period has been terrible O-Line play and no running game. There is ample evidence that has been corrected. Ponder has room to grow as an accurate passer but can make plays with his legs and proved to be dangerous last season. If I was on the sandlot picking QBs from the ACC to be on my team, Ponder (at this current time) would be my #2 choice behind Wilson.

    This kind of thing may be forthcoming in a future SFN Atlantic Division team preview, but in the last 5 years FSU’s runnning offense has gone as follows (rounded numbers):
    2005: FSU 94 yds/game 12th in ACC
    2006: FSU 96 yds/game 12th in ACC
    2007: FSU 127 yds/game 6th in ACC
    2008: FSU 177 yds/game 2nd in ACC

    In that same time frame, FSU’s scoring offense has done the following:
    2005: FSU 29 pts/game (18 vs teams with winning records) 2nd in ACC
    2006: FSU 26 pts/game (24 vs teams with winning records) 2nd in ACC
    2007: FSU 23 pts/game (21 vs teams with winning records) 8th in ACC
    2008: FSU 33 pts/game (28 vs teams with winning records) 1st in ACC

    Note the huge disparity in 2005 with the Noles scoring most of their points vs poor teams, but struggling against good teams. 2007 was the first year Jimbo took over the offense and it was a year of growing pains with a new Offensive Coordinator. Last year clearly showed the fruits of this change and their hire of Rick Trickett. FSU is no longer a one dimensional offense.

    Keep in mind that this was done last year with an O-Line made up of true FR and SO, which is going to result in some inconsistency such as the egg laid vs a veteran Wake Forest D and the struggle vs the veteran BC D. Other than those 2 games, their O was very difficult to stop. They beat themselves against GT, the late fumble at the goal line snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and everyone except Ole Miss was totally shut down by the dominant Florida D.

    The O-Line is still extremely young and it would not be unreasonable to again expect a game or two where that unit struggles against a top defense. But they have a year of starting under their belts and I would predict no repeat of the Wake Forest performance. Their WRs are a question mark as of right now and they do have to replace Graham Gano at kicker which may prove to be the difference between a win and a loss (vs Miami perhaps given the history). Their D should be solid as usual however.

    Their schedule has them visiting BC, UNC (with 2 weeks to prepare), Clemson, and Wake in conference. I see this as being favorable in that Clemson is a big question mark and BC almost surely will drop off and Wake having to replace very key personnel on D.

    FSU may very well wind up with the same record as last year, based on relative gains and losses, but with whats known about the rest of the Atlantic, all things considered I would pick them as the favorite to win the division.

  22. CUTotalTiger 07/15/2009 at 8:07 PM #

    Very good read…. The offensive line for Clemson should be very good in 2009. There are 10 players playing this year who started last year and Phil Steele has this unit ranked #2 in the ACC. Of course there is no question about talent at the tailback posisitn. Harper, Spiller and Ellington are as talented as anyone in the conferene. The recivers should be good as well. Defenses have to focus attention to Ford and eveyone seems to have forgoten about Taylor, who redshirted last year. This should open the door for Jones and Dye. Defensively the Tigers may have the strongest unit since 1991.
    BUT………..two glaring weaknesses that will negate all of this. The Tigers have no quarterback and special teams is below average.

  23. blpack 07/15/2009 at 11:37 PM #

    Clemson is one of those scary teams who is hard to figure. Lots of talent, short on big wins. Maybe that will continue. We have really struggled with them lately. We owe them.

  24. McCallum 07/16/2009 at 7:21 AM #

    The offensive line will be good this year?

    Based on what? Nobody on that line could have been called decent much less good last year. Cloy is coming around but Hairston and Walker have difficulty with power and speed respectively.

    Ellington and Harper are untested. Spiller has not proven he can carry the load and since the o-line coach has not changed why do you think there will be a change this year?

    The Tigers have no proven:

    wide outs

    The offense is one big hole and question mark. The team has yet to prove it is mentally tough and that will take time if Dabo is indeed the man for the job.

    No disrespect intended. I like Clemson and Tommy Bowden picked up more than a few easy checks beating the hell out of State.


  25. choppack1 07/16/2009 at 9:28 AM #

    Captain – Thanks for including the research – that does show some improvement. I don’t claim to be an expert on FSU – and I don’t have time to do extensive resarch on them. I’ve written them off as a talented team that will continue to be inconsistent until something changes. Right now, the main “somethings” is Bowden.

    You may very well be right – FSU may run the table and win the conference. However, one of those golden rules is “never bet against a streak. That way, you’re only wrong once.”

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