Everybody plays a game like this, usually two and sometimes three, and Clemson would prefer to pay an in-state opponent. The question isn’t whether Clemson wins against Buddy Pough’s Bulldogs, but can the Tigers emerge without a serious injury to complicate the remainder of the schedule.
Replacing seven starters on either side of the ball allows new coach Dave Doeren to pretty much clean the slate and start from scratch. N.C. State has been a thorn in the Tigers’ paw and Thursday nights have been painful for Clemson. Still, there’s no debating the disparity in talent.
There’s nothing that suggests this should be any different than a year ago when Clemson, staked to a four touchdown lead by halftime, cruised in Winston-Salem. This Wake defense may be as good as any in the Jim Grobe era, but Clemson’s overall team speed should sufficiently tip the scales.
In the air outside the stadium, the autumn nip should be exhilarating for a team on a rip. Playing in the Carrier Dome should be a nice experience, but an indoor rug makes fast teams even faster. Other than its experience with West Virginia at the end of last season, coach Scott Shafer’s team won’t have seen anybody this quick.
Steve Addazio has a rep as a top recruiter, precisely what this program needs, but it’s a tad early to expect much from the Eagles. Quarterback Chase Rettig has digested his fifth offensive playbook in five years, but he’ll be throwing on the run all day. By this point Clemson should be on the doorstep of the BCS conversation.
This could be the last reasonable obstacle to the ACC Atlantic Division title. A few mistakes were costly last year in Tallahassee. It won’t require a perfect game for Clemson to beat FSU for the sixth straight time in Death Valley. Young FSU quarterback Jameis Winston could make it interesting.
After this season, Clemson won’t return to Maryland again for a long time, if ever. Randy Edsall started a linebacker at quarterback last season, and it was hard to take the Terps seriously. Playing in Byrd Stadium can be a challenge at times because of the less-than-animated crowds. This needs to be a firm farewell for an ambitious team.
It might be a surprise to learn that after Clemson won the first 29 games – remember Frank Howard’s “white meat” description? – the series has been virtually even under three different head coaches. Mike London’s attempt at revitalizing the winning culture enjoyed under George Welsh has met with mixed results.
A second Thursday night game seems ominous, particularly this late in the schedule and against a team with an offense as confounding as Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets. By this point Clemson should be sensing the inevitable. A win would close out the ACC portion of the schedule and assure a date in the conference championship game. Clemson 50, Georgia Tech 28
Here’s another example of how the schedule sets up Clemson for a potentially grand season. Rather than N.C. State or another conference opponent the week before the state rivalry game, the Tigers can rest a lot of people against coach Kevin Higgins’ Bulldogs and spend most of two weeks preparing for the Gamecocks.
Many of you skipped to this game without looking at the others, which is much like reading the final chapter of a whodunit, so here goes. The incentives could be through the roof, but so much needs to break right for either team to be undefeated. For the first time it’s not impossible. Ultimately, the determining factor will be how well Clemson’s defense can handle what Steve Spurrier throws at them.