I've been fooled many times.
Talking with a player or coach during a press conference or post-practice interview, I've been convinced one game doesn't make or break a season.
I've been led to believe that no matter how important a single game is in terms of rankings, national exposure or conference stature, it is only as important as the next game on the schedule.
This week however, nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact is, Saturday's game between Clemson and Maryland means everything and then some.
With the Clemson football team off to a 5-2 start, and with both losses coming from within the conference, not to mention the fast start of Boston College and even Wake Forest, the Tigers can ill-afford another ACC defeat.
Another conference loss means another year without a trip to the ACC Championship game.
Another conference loss means the Tigers will be 5-3 headed to Duke before returning home to face the top two teams in the Atlantic Division- B.C. and Wake.
And most importantly, another conference loss likely means another season ending with a trip to mediocre bowl- at best.
While the Tigers took care of business in every way imaginable Saturday against Central Michigan, including scoring 70 points and limiting a somewhat explosive offense to just 14, it was only Central Michigan. Keep in mind that was the same team that lost by 30 points to a team from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
Simply put, a 56-point win over a team that lost to North Dakota State doesn't suddenly cure all your problems.
But Saturday's game against Maryland means everything.
However Clemson wins, then the next week means everything as the race for the Atlantic Division continues for at least one more game.
A loss against Maryland negates that.
A win means everything this team set out to do at the beginning of the season is still there for the taking.
A loss means the only two things left on the table worth mentioning are beating South Carolina in Columbia and upsetting nationally ranked Boston College.
A win means that Tommy Bowden has begun another mid-season turnaround and the Tigers will likely be in position to win the Atlantic Division with wins over Wake Forest and Boston College.
A loss means the Bowden hot seat discussion reaches levels not seen around these parts in four years.
In trying to understand it all, I can only reach one conclusion.
Saturday's game is the season. It's everything. And I won't be fooled by talk that suggests otherwise.
It's a shot at a huge bowl game. It's the chance to compete for an ACC Championship. It's the opportunity to make a statement that Maryland football isn't as good as Clemson football. It's the chance to show this program can take the next step under its current head coach, Tommy Bowden.
Maybe through all of this discussion it is James Davis who has it right.
While certainly he'll subject himself to a certain amount of criticism for "guaranteeing" a win against Maryland, he's 100 percent correct when he said Monday, "If we want to go to the ACC championship game, we can't lose (Saturday). I think our team is going to be there in that game. And in order for us to be in that game, we've got to win the rest of these games on out. No hesitation."
That kind of confidence from a player is refreshing.
It's also somewhat startling because how often do you hear the most important player on a team publicly make those kinds of statements?
At Clemson no less?
Not often at all, if ever.
I've been fooled many times, but I won't be fooled this week and Davis has only fueled that fire with his commentary.
He knows and I know Maryland isn't the most intimidating team on Clemson's 2007 schedule, but this game is intimidating because of the ramifications of what happens if Clemson loses.
And the funny thing is, a win doesn't solve all of Clemson's past, present or future problems. All it does is make next week's game at Duke equally as important as this week's game.
In fact, it's maddening when you think about it because the same pattern will repeat itself the next two weeks after that.
Still, it's still better than the alternative.
And I won't be fooled then either.
I'm Not Fooled
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