What are the trap games this year?
At first glance, Clemson's schedule doesn't appear to be all that difficult. In fact, with the exception of maybe two games, the Tigers should be favored to win. Of course, that doesn't mean they will win them all. There is always a game or two that sneaks up and bites head coach Tommy Bowden right in the hip pocket.
Last year, the trap game was Virginia Tech. Looking back, it's easy to see the Hokies were a better team, but at the time, Clemson was No. 10 in the nation and coming off a beat down of nationally ranked Georgia Tech on national television.
Two years ago, it was at Wake Forest, when the Tigers had just finished playing two gut-wrenching games against Miami and Boston College, both of which were losses in overtime. And who will ever forget the loss at Duke following Clemson's win at Miami in the Orange Bowl in 2004. That's still the last Division I win for the Blue Devils.
This year, the trap game looks to be Georgia Tech. Clemson visits the Yellow Jackets following its first road game of the season against N.C. State. There stands a realistic chance that the Tigers could be undefeated heading into Atlanta and it's always difficult to win back-to-back road games.
There is also another trap game -- at home against Wake Forest, which has seemingly been a thorn in the side of Clemson since Jim Grobe took over. After two road games at Duke and Maryland, both obviously very winnable, the Tigers come home to begin the final stretch of their schedule against the pesky Deacs. Getting off on the right foot with a win against the Demon Deacons is imperative for a solid final three games, which includes Boston College and South Carolina.
Can Clemson avoid the dreaded losing streak?
Last season, after a brilliant start, the Tigers closed the year out by losing four of their last five games. In 2005, the Tigers lost three in a row and four-of-six, before winning their last four games. In 2004, Clemson lost four in a row, before rallying to win five of its last six. It always seems to happen to the Tigers, regardless whether it happens at the start, middle or end of the season.
There are two stretches this year that will test the resolve of this team. The first stretch starts on Sept. 22 in Raleigh, when the Tigers play at N.C. State. The Wolfpack should finish last in the division again, but they're always good for an upset or two, just like last year when they beat both Florida State and Boston College. Could it be Clemson this year?
The following week, the Tigers head to Atlanta to face a solid Georgia Tech team. The week after that is a home game against Virginia Tech, which is considered to be the class of the ACC this season.
Five weeks later on Nov. 10, the start of another difficult three-game stretch gets underway as Wake Forest comes to Death Valley.
The very next week is a home game against Boston College, which hasn't lost to the Tigers yet since joining the ACC. And finally, the season-ender at rival South Carolina, which finally snapped a string of loses to the Tigers last year. These two three-game stretches will go a long way in determining just how good, bad or mediocre Clemson will be this season.
Will Wake Forest come back to reality?
In a word, yes. There's no question that what Jim Grobe, who is a fabulous coach, and his band of Demon Deacons did last year was incredible and they deserve all the praise that was bestowed upon them after winning the ACC Championship and finishing with an 11-3 season. But don't expect for them to produce the same results this year, despite the fact that 13 starters return.
The offense, which was solid last year, should be even better this season. Quarterback Riley Skinner, who was thrust into action a year ago due to an injury to Ben Mauck, played like anything but a freshman. Now that he has a year of experience under his belt, he should have better command of the offense. Also returning is senior running back Michah Andrews, who missed all but three games last year due to an ACL injury. The success of the Demon Deacons will fall squarely on the shoulders of the offensive line, which lost two starters. Receiver is also a question with the top two for last season gone.
However, with all that being said, the reason Wake Forest was able to win so many games last year was because the defense played well and kept the team in games. Then the offense usually found a way to win in the end. The ACC Championship Game against Georgia Tech was living proof of that.
Quite frankly, the defense will be no where near as good as last year, which is why Wake Forest will come back to reality. The Deacs lost three of the four starters in the secondary. Up front, they do get back Matt Robinson, who was the team's top lineman in 2004 and 2005, before breaking his kneecap last year. The rest of the linemen are small and there's very little waiting in the wings.
A bowl game is still likely, but they could be playing in Boise or San Francisco this year as opposed to Florida. There looks to be no reason as to why Clemson shouldn't handle them this year. Of course, the same thing is usually said every year.
Will the Florida State game set the tone for the rest of the season?
Without doing much thought, the easy answer could be yes. But in all actuality, what happens opening night will probably have very little bearing on what transpires the rest of the year. Clemson has beaten the Seminoles in three of the last four years, but it hasn't transpired into greatness on the field.
Regardless of what happens this season, the Tigers two cupcake games at home in Louisiana-Monroe and Central Michigan, which means Clemson will enter the N.C. State on at least a two-game winning streak.
So, while it would be nice for Tiger fans to be undefeated going to Raleigh, it really won't have a bearing on the outcome one way or the other. It's too long of a season for the first game to have much stock as two what occurs in the other 11 games. And the argument that it will give them confidence for the other games doesn't hold much water, either. Again, Clemson has beaten the Seminoles three of the last four years and the Tigers had all the confidence in the world when it went to Virginia Tech last year and we all know what happened there. A win on national television would be nice, but it's not the end-all and be-all.
Does Clemson have a better chance of going 6-6 or 10-2?
To be perfectly honest, it's about 50-50. You know that the Tigers are guaranteed at least four wins and it seems rather unlikely that they will go either 6-2 or 2-6 in the remaining eight. But of course, either is possible.
In order to have a 10-win season, there can be no upsets, quarterback Cullen Harper has to perform to his best capabilities and the offensive line has to surprise and be as dominating as last year's line. The young secondary also has to play like veterans. Assuming Clemson loses at home to Virginia Tech, which will likely be favored, that means the Tigers can only lose one more game between going to N.C. State, Maryland, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and playing at home against Florida State, Boston College and Wake Forest. That is a very, very tall order, but not completely out of the realm of possibility.
But just as easy could come the 6-6 season.
If Harper, the line and the secondary all struggle and Clemson could lose at Georgia Tech, Maryland and South Carolina and at home to Florida State and Boston College. This scenario seems just as likely as the previous one.
Just to finish with an eight-win season, of the games against the Wolfpack, Terrapins, Yellow Jackets, Gamecocks, Seminoles, Demon Deacons, Hokies and Eagles, Clemson has to go 4-4 in these eight games, which seems much more probable than going 2-6 or 6-2.
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