The chatter that Clemson has a weak football schedule has begun, and is likely to continue into the fall.
It's not false. Outside of a road game against Florida State — Clemson's top competition for Atlantic Coast Conference supremacy over the past half-decade — there are no other games on the Tigers' schedule that stand out as intimidating.
Of the 12 opponents on Clemson's regular-season calendar, the Seminoles are the only one who finished inside the top 25 of last year's end-of-season USA Today Coaches Poll.
Louisville, which Clemson plays at home Oct. 1, was the only team of the other 11 to even receive votes (seven) toward the final rankings.
None of the other teams on Clemson's schedule are strong candidates to be top-25 teams in 2016. If that holds true, it will hurt the Tigers' resume. It could keep the Tigers out of the College Football Playoff with just one loss, and even if they go 12-0 again, critics could question if they are as good as their record.
The story line of Clemson's strength of schedule won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
At the same time, Clemson shouldn't be criticized — or even blamed — for the way its schedule is set up.
Clemson's season-opening game against Auburn, which struggled to a 7-6 record last year, no longer looks like a top-tier matchup. In 2014 when Clemson scheduled that game, it did. Auburn was coming off a national championship game appearance of its own.
The regular-season finale against South Carolina, Clemson's other SEC game, also looks weak. USC is coming off a 3-9 season and is likely multiple years away from re-emerging as a serious contender under new coach Will Muschamp.
But while Clemson has played an indirect role in the Gamecocks' declining performance, with the talent it has drawn away from USC in recent recruiting cycles, it cannot be faulted for having the annual rivalry game on its schedule.
Clemson's ACC schedule includes several games it should win easily, but that's out of its control. It's not as if the Tigers are avoiding playing the toughest teams in their conference — it's just there aren't many top-tier teams in the ACC right now. Two of their most challenging tests, Florida State and Georgia Tech, will be played on the road. If Clemson wins the ACC Atlantic Division, it could potentially get another top-25 opponent with the ACC Coastal champion in the ACC title game.
The only slots on the schedule where Clemson could have made a concerted effort to book tougher opponents would be its two September non-conference home games. Games against Troy and South Carolina State could both be labeled as "cupcakes." But even that's easier said than done.
Playing a game against a Football Championship Subdivision team can subtract from a resume, but it's been standard practice in the SEC for years, and S.C. State has become a regular visitor to Clemson — thrice in the past four years — because of its in-state ties.
Playing September games against lower-level FBS teams, like Troy, is commonplace throughout the country. For example: Alabama is set to play Western Kentucky and Kent State this September, while Ohio State opens with Bowling Green and Tulsa.
Clemson's schedule might not be considered strong, but that's not the Tigers' fault. It's par for the course for Clemson over the years and for the most part, with other top teams' schedules around the country. It just might get more attention because of Clemson's status as a national championship favorite.
Clemson 2016 schedule
Game times listed where available
Sept. 3: at Auburn (9 pm)
Sept. 10: vs. Troy (12:30 pm)
Sept. 17: vs. SC State (noon)
Sept. 22: at Georgia Tech (7:30 pm)
Oct. 1: vs. Louisville
Oct. 7: at Boston College (7:30 pm)
Oct. 15: vs. North Carolina State
Oct. 29: at 14 Florida State
Nov. 5: vs. Syracuse
Nov. 12: vs. Pittsburgh
Nov. 19: at Wake Forest
Nov. 26: vs. South Carolina