What Next?

If you're trying to rationally explain the first five games of the 2005 season, now is the time to sit down, take a step back, and stop.


Because there is no rational explanation. There is no "one thing" that points to the fact why this team is 2-3.

Yes, it's easy to look back to a specific play against Miami, a dropped pass against Boston College or an interception against Wake Forest. But thinking in those terms doesn't tell the entire story.

The reality is, the 2005 season for the Clemson Tigers is much more complicated than that.

In fact, it's a series of events that have led to Clemson's three losses in its first five games of the year. It's first quarter lapses, missed opportunities on offense, missed assignments on defense, the lack of big play being executed with the game on the line, special teams miscues, and yes- even unusual play calling and bad luck.

But what makes this year even more painful is the fact that every single game has come down to the final three minutes of regulation or overtime, or even worse - the final play of the game.

If you're an optimist, you could legitimately make the argument that this team could be 5-0, ranked in the top 10 and aiming for the Atlantic Division crown. If you're a pessimist, well, it's the exact opposite - the team could be 0-5 and on the threshold of the unthinkable.

Still, at 2-3 and coming off a road loss to Wake Forest, this team finds itself in a familiar position - with its back against the wall.

In 2003, it was a 45-17 loss at Wake Forest that set into motion a four-game winning streak, including wins over two top ten teams in Florida State and Tennessee. After starting the year 4-4, Clemson turned around what looked to be a disappointing year with the most stunning turnaround in school history.

It almost happened again in 2004.

After starting the year 1-4, the Tigers won five of their last six games, including a 24-17 overtime win at Miami and another romp over South Carolina to become eligible for the sixth time in six years under Tommy Bowden.

But unlike 2003, the "complete" turnaround never came to fruition. The one loss during those last games - at Duke, really hurt. So did Saturday's loss to Wake Forest.

How can a team go from beating the likes of Florida State, Tennessee, Miami, and Texas A&M during the last two years and lose to Wake Forest (twice), and also Duke?

It's obviously hard for the fan base to accept, especially with so many in attendance in all of the above-mentioned road upsets.

Unfortunately, the road doesn't get easier from here on out.

Clemson travels to N.C. State to face the Wolfpack 10 days from now in Thursday night game that will be nationally televised on ESPN. Two weeks later, the Tigers travel to Atlanta to face nationally ranked Georgia Tech, and don't forget about a home game against Florida State - a team that has yet to lose a game this year.

So what next? What happens now? Where does this team go from here?

Three weeks ago, some would have believed this team was going to march through the 2005 schedule undefeated. Some would have believed that the hiring of Rob Spence as offensive coordinator and Vic Koenning as defensive coordinator were two of the best moves of the Tommy Bowden era.

Three losses later, what do you believe?

The reality is, this team probably isn't going to march through the rest of this year's schedule without a loss. The reality also is, this team will likely be in contention to win the rest of the games it plays this year.

The key to the 2005 season becomes translating "staying in contention" into wins.

"Staying in contention" worked well in the first two games of the season. Don't get yourself beat early, get better as the game goes along, and find a way to win in the fourth quarter.

"Staying in contention" didn't work so well the last three weeks. Clemson didn't get itself beat but was clearly unable to execute at a high level with the game on the line. And that goes for both sides of the ball.

It happened against Miami in triple overtime, it happened against Boston College in overtime, and unfortunately, it happened again Saturday in the fourth quarter against Wake Forest.

The first two losses are somewhat understandable as both teams are nationally ranked and considered to be in the upper echelon of the ACC.

The last loss is not.

And now, with six games left in the season, the Tigers find themselves again at the crossroads.

So what next?

Your guess is as good as mine.

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