Rating the Home Games

The 2004 schedule was released last week and talk of the upcoming season is beginning to grow at a steady pace. In this two part series, I will focus today on rating the home games from most intriguing to least intriguing. In Part II tomorrow, I will do the same for the away games that are on the 2004 schedule.

My criterion for this assessment is varied and most certainly imperfect. However, I did try to focus on some of the most important things that makes for a good home game including anticipation of the game, quality of opponent, recent results with the opponent, time of the year the game is played, and past games between the teams in Death Valley.

The 2004 home schedule is littered with several solid match ups, but lacks the blockbuster opponent such as a Florida State or Miami. But then again, it was hard for me to find a home game on the 2004 schedule that was a dud. Because of that, it would not surprise me to see Clemson average over 80,000 in home attendance in 2004 because every home game has an interesting catch to it.

Here is how I rate the home schedule…from least intriguing to most:

#6 Utah State
October 16th, 2004
We know very little about the Aggies, who are coming off a 3-9 season in 2003. This will also mark the first time in history that the Tigers and Utah State have played a football game. Utah State is a member of the Sun Belt Conference, the same conference as 2003 opponent Middle Tennessee State.

Even though this game appears to be the least intriguing home game in 2004, it does have several factors on its side that will draw fans to Death Valley. First, Clemson will be returning home after the longest stretch away from Death Valley since 1984. After Clemson's home game with Georgia Tech on September 11, the Tigers will have to wait 35 days before playing another game in Death Valley.

Secondly, this game almost certainly will be marked has Homecoming. By itself, Homecoming in Clemson is a special event that draws sellout crowds almost every year. The opponent is rarely a contributing factor to alumni returning to Clemson, and this game will be no exception to that rule.

Given the amount of time away from Death Valley and the fact that it will be Homecoming, a big crowd (if not a sell out) will be on hand. Not too bad for the least intriguing home game on the schedule.

#5 Georgia Tech
September 11th, 2004
It's hard to imagine a situation where the Yellow Jackets rate as only the 5th best home game, but that will be the case in 2004. For starters, it won't mark the first ACC home game for the Tigers like it has in years past. Secondly, Clemson whipped Georgia Tech in 2003 and unfortunately many will equate that as a situation where Clemson can pencil Georgia Tech in as a win in 2004.

This game does have an upside, though.

It will be the last home game for Clemson until the October 16th game versus Utah State. The Yellow Jackets are a regional rival in football for Clemson and (minus last year's game) always seem to play a close, nail-biting game versus the Tigers. In fact, the last two Georgia Tech games in Clemson have come down to the last seconds before the game was decided. And finally, the Yellow Jackets travel about as well as any ACC team does to Clemson (minus FSU).

Expect another 80,000 plus crowd, and a little more excitement than the Utah State game since the Yellow Jackets are a considered a conference rival.

#4-N.C. State
October 30th, 2004
The Wolfpack will be minus their premier name in 2004 when they enter Death Valley. Gone is the pass happy Philip Rivers, who seemed like he played football for 14 years in Raleigh.

Chuck Amato has slowly become a pain in the neck to Clemson fans with his questionable ethics and cocky attitude. Amato has been sainted in Raleigh, despite the fact that the Wolfpack have yet to finish above 4th place in the ACC since his arrival.

Clemson was embarrassed two years ago on a Thursday night in Clemson by the Wolfpack, and the Tigers left Raleigh last year feeling as if they were the better team in a 17-15 loss.

Beating the Wolfpack in Death Valley would be a nice way to erase those two painful memories.

#3 Maryland
October 23rd, 2004
Ralph Friedgen brings his Turtles to Clemson in late October in a game that has all the makings of a major battle in the ACC race. Both teams figure to be pre-season 3rd and 4th in the ACC only behind Florida State and Miami, yet both teams could still be in position to make a run at the championship.

And at the very least, both teams will be fighting for positioning in the pecking order for major bowl games.

Big Ralph has had our number ever since his days at Georgia Tech. In addition, Maryland fans are as rude and obnoxious as any in the ACC, so beating them in Death Valley would add even more significance in my book to an already important game.

After punishing bad Maryland teams for most of the 1990's, the Tigers have taken our own fair share of beatings the last few years. And Clemson needs to beat Big Ralph before he bolts to the NFL, which may be only a matter of time.

#2-South Carolina
November 20th,2004
During most years, playing your arch rival at home would be the most anticipated game on the schedule. And make no mistake, the week leading up to the annual battle with the Gamecocks will be just as intense as it always it.

But, maybe because we beat the Gamecocks so bad last year, and maybe because the game is so far away on the schedule, it does not quite stir the emotions at this time of year to warrant the most anticipated home game on the schedule.

The Gamecocks will have revenge on their mind and once again they may be playing Clemson in an attempt to become bowl eligible. All of those factors will make the game special when these two old rivals clash again in late November.

But in early February, there are more worries on our schedule than the South Carolina Gamecocks…at least until rivalry week.

#1 Wake Forest
September 4th, 2004
The season opener for the Tigers will be against the last team to beat Clemson in 2004. That's right it's Wake Forest.

The Deacons, who completely embarrassed the Tigers in Winston Salem, will now offer up the perfect season opening opponent for Clemson.

"Maybe we can slow down Wake Forest with six months to prepare, because we couldn't last year with just a week of preparation," said Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden.

"This will be the first time we have opened with a conference game since I have been at Clemson, and that will add even more significance to the first game."

Being a season opener is a great cause of excitement. Being the conference opener at the same time adds to that excitement. And being against a team that embarrassed you a year ago is the final icing on the cake.

Expect an electric atmosphere in Clemson for the season opener.

Tomorrow, I will rank the away games from most intriguing on down in Part II of previewing the games on the 2004 schedule.

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