Friday, August 15, 2008

Prelude to a Season... #9

#9.) Clemson

What You Need to Know: It's been a hard 17 years for the Clemson Tigers. They are perpetually loaded with talent. This year is no different as the Tigers return the 07 conference leaders in passing, rushing, and receiving. They play in the strong, but not overwhelmingly so, ACC and have finished short of the conference title game three years running. Though they play in the stronger Coastal Division, the Tigers have had opportunities to win the division only to watch it slip away through their own mistakes and errors. Head coach Tommy Bowden is a strong recruiter, always ranking in the top 20 classes, and this years class of 26, which may be his strongest, includes the consensus top prospect in DE Da'Quan Bowers. So the pieces are there.

What is troubling for Tigers fans is we've all seen this before. Each season the Tigers come to the table with talks of a conference championship and perhaps contending for a national title. Each season the chatter amps up until Clemson loses an ACC game (usually at home) to a team they either should beat, or are beating until they let it slip away. Last season was a critical loss to Boston College, the year before a loss to Maryland, the year before that BC again.

The Tigers have senior leadership on the field with returners in key skill positions, such as QB Cullen Harper, RBs James Davis and CJ Spiller, and WR Aaron Kelly. They also had no turnover in the coaching staff. But there are glaring holes in Clemson's armor. Their offensive line returns exactly 1 starter. Skill positions don't matter much if you don't have time to throw or blocks to run behind. Defensively, the Tigers have three brand new linebackers. Where they are weakest, they are thinnest, so depth is a factor. An injury to the LBs or OL will be devastating and felt immediately.

Who You Need to Know and Their 07 Stats:
QB Cullen Harper: 2991 yds, 27 TD
RB James Davis: 1064 yds, 10 TD
WR Aaron Kelly: 88 rec., 1081 yds, 11 TD
DE Ricky Sapp: 10 TFL, 5 sacks, 22 QB pressures

Game To Watch: The season-opener for August 30 will either quiet the critics of Bowden and the Tigers or amp them up to fever pitch one game in. Even with a loss, it's early enough in the season that the Tigers can rebound for the BCS. Two conference tilts will be challenging for the Tigers, and they are back-to-back: September 27 vs. Maryland and October 9 at Wake Forest, with the latter being the more challenging of the two.

They'll Do Well If...: The offensive line performs even moderately well. The linebacking unit gets past the steep learning curve. Key returners provide leadership on and off the field. The Tiger faithful don't increase the pressure with their usual "Fire Bowden" rhetoric after one loss.

Season Outlook: Bowden signed an extension to coach the Tigers at roughly $1.8 million per year through the 2014 season. Ideally, this will not only squelch future flirting Bowden would do for other jobs like he did with the Arkansas vacancy this offseason, but it should also quiet the rabid Tiger fans who call for his job after the first loss of the season. Usually to a team they should defeat. This year, their patience may get tested early. The Tigers open the season August 30 in Atlanta versus Alabama. The rest of the games are winnable for the Tigers and they will be favored in all. Anything short of an ACC title will disappoint the fans, and truthfully, the college football world. It's time for Clemson to be the team they should be rather than the team they always have been. Expect no worse than a 1-loss season and an ACC title.

1 comment:

TOPolk said...

Thanks for the write up. Everything you mention is true (minus the fact that we play in the Atlantic, not the Coastal).

Every year people jump on the Clemson bandwagon and predict great things for us when they really shouldn't. This year is different as we have no reason to fall short of expectations. While a 1-loss season would be great, I honestly see no reason why we should not win them all. The ACC is horrible, our out of conference foes are average at best, and our talent is off the charts.

TB better fire up Careerbuilder if he falls short this season.