Ranking the Away Games

The 2004 schedule was released last week and talk of the upcoming season is beginning to grow at a steady pace. In Part II of my series of looking at the Clemson schedule I will focus today on rating the away games from most intriguing to least intriguing.

In Part I two days ago, I took an in-depth look at the Clemson home games in 2004.

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 road trip, including anticipation of the game, quality of the town the team plays in, the mystique of the stadium, quality of opponent, recent results with the opponent, and time of the year the game is played.

The 2004 away schedule is topped by some big time trips to cities the Tigers rarely play in. Clemson will also play in some stadiums that they have not played in over 20 years. All of which makes the 2004 away schedule as exciting as any I can remember.

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

#5 Duke
November 13th, 2004
There is absolutely nothing intriguing about going into the empty caverns of Wallace Wade Stadium (Capacity 33,941) the week after a trip to Coral Gables and the week before the South Carolina game. Yet, that is what the Tigers will have to do in mid-November.

Duke has always been the worst road trip in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and that has not changed in the 25 years I've been following Clemson. Tommy Bowden has never lost to Duke while at Clemson, although the game 2 years ago was as much of a nail biter as one could want from the Blue Devils.

This game will be scary because of the two teams that surround this contest on the schedule, but in my humble opinion, that adds little to this lackluster football game.

#4 Virginia
October 7th, 2004
The Tigers will make the trip to Charlottesville for a Thursday night clash with Virginia at the mid point of the season. Virginia, similar to Maryland, will be pre season ranked it the top half of the ACC. Therefore, this game will be very significant for the Tigers regardless of the fact that the game will be nationally televised.

The Carl Smith Center has been expanded to 60,000 seats and offers one of the most scenic drives one can take to a football game. The fact that the game is on Thursday will limit the number of Tiger fans that travel, but those that do will be treated to a nice trip.

If Virginia would take football seriously, this would be a more prestigious match up. The stadium is big, the football team is good and well coached, yet the fans don't care. And if the Cavalier fans don't care, it's hard to get overly fired up about this game.

#3 Florida State
September 25th, 2004
Having whipped the Seminoles in Death Valley last year, the luster of beating FSU has diminished slightly. Don't get me wrong, beating the Seminoles in Doak Campbell Stadium (Capacity 82,300) for the first time since 1989 would be sweet. In addition to the satisfaction, it would be a huge jump start for the Tigers if we have any hopes of contending for an ACC Championship.

FSU has great fans and great tradition, which makes for a fun trip under any circumstances. But the Seminoles have worn Clemson out some many times recently in Tallahassee that the Tigers are due for something good to happen in the state capital of Florida.

The flaming spear aside, this is one place that everybody must attend a football game at least once in their lifetime. Florida State treats football much like Clemson does…with passion but respect. Many have stated over the years that Clemson and Florida State fans are about as similar as any in the southeast, and most that have attended games in Tallahassee would attest to that.

#2 Miami
November 6th, 2004
It is hard to imagine a better place to visit in early November than South Beach in Miami, Florida. And thankfully, Clemson fans will get the chance to absorb sunny Miami when the weather is turning cold in the upstate of South Carolina.

Clemson will return to the Orange Bowl (Capacity 72,319) for the first time since 1982 when the Tigers defeated Nebraska for the National Championship. Now that Miami is a permanent fixture in the ACC, the trip to Coral Gables every couple of years will offer Clemson fans a mini-vacation in the warmth of south Florida.

Oh yeah, in addition to the surroundings of the Miami area, Clemson will get to play one of the premier programs in college football on game day. Larry Coker has pushed the Hurricanes to the top after he took over for Butch Davis. Having an opportunity to beat Miami has the kind of upside that beating a Florida State, or Southern California, or LSU.

Had Miami not been invited to the ACC and this game simply being a home and home series might have pushed this game to the #1 road game in 2004. But, because you are going to get to go to Coral Gables every other year makes it a close 2nd.

Texas A&M
September 18th, 2004
Clemson will take on the Aggies and their famous 12th man at Kyle Field (82,600). Clemson last played in College Station in 1974, falling to the Aggies 24-0.

This game is the most intriguing road trip of the 2004 season for several reasons. First, Texas A&M has a great tradition and is very recognizable for their "12th Man" niche. College Station is in Texas, which is a part of the country that Clemson rarely travels anywhere near to. Their fans bleed college football, not unlike Clemson fans.

But the biggest reason this is a can't-miss game for Clemson fans is that it may be a once in a lifetime game to attend. God willing, you will have a chance to go to Coral Gables or Tallahassee or Charlottesville again in your lifetime because Clemson will travel to those towns every two years or so.

You do not receive such luxury with this trip to College Station.

It has been 30 years since Clemson last played there, and it may be at least another 30 more before it happens again. And for that reason alone, I have picked the Texas A&M game as the most intriguing of the 2004 road schedule.

From the "Yells" issued by the "Yell Leaders," to the Texas A&M band, to just the overall atmosphere of a football game at Kyle Field- this is a game you simply don't want to miss.

So make your reservations today for what promises to be an outstanding road schedule in 2004.

Editor's Note
I can't let this article go without chiming in on two places in College Station that you must have a bite to eat at this fall. For all you Clemson fans making the trip out to see the A&M game, make sure you stop and eat at Free Bird's (the best burritos in America) and Layne's (same thing with their chicken fingers). You can thank me later.

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