Clemson vs. Clemson

There's just one team the Tigers need to worry about beating when looking ahead to the 2008 season.

I've always enjoyed a good round of golf, you know.

Even though I'm not a good golfer in comparison to many of my friends, I still enjoy a round every once in a while, whether it's with a group or even by myself.

And while I'll be the first to admit it can be frustrating to slice the ball in the woods five or six times a round, there's something about being outside, enjoying the outdoors and getting away from the computer screen that is extremely appealing this time of year.

Golf is also a mental game.

In fact, it may be THE mental game in all of sports.

For a golfer of my stature, addressing a shot that requires a masterful 5-iron hit over water to get to the green is something that leads me to much internal debate.

Do I have enough club? (The answer is no by the way). Do I inhale or exhale during my backswing? (Usually this question is posed by a fellow golfer walking from the cart towards the fairway.) And finally, am I going to do what I always do with my irons and hit is 200 yards straight up in the air? (Yes, I always do.)

And that's all through the course of just one shot. Naturally, you can imagine what kind of mental anguish the other 98 shots are going provide through the course of my round.

It's Roy vs. Roy. A battle of myself vs. myself. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I don't.

Sound familiar?

If you are a Clemson football fan, it should.

Going back to the start of the 2005 season, ask yourself how many times Clemson has been truly been beaten by its opponent?

Re-read that statement one more time and allow it to sink in.

Starting with the Texas A&M game in 2005, the very first game played by James Davis, ask yourself how many times Clemson has truly been beaten by a better team?

The Tigers finished 8-4 that season, losing two home games in overtime to Boston College and Miami, as well as a four-point loss at Wake Forest and one-point loss at Georgia Tech.

All four games were winnable but all four featured plays that, quite frankly, weren't made by Clemson.

In a sense, especially the last three seasons, it's been Clemson vs. Clemson. The Tigers have been talented enough to win each game on their schedule, but mental mistakes or ill-timed plays have proven to be the difference.

In 2006, Clemson again lost to Boston College in triple overtime before a late season swoon featuring a series of heartbreaking losses transformed a potential BCS season to a December bowl game against Kentucky.

Again, close home losses that came down to last-second field goals against South Carolina and Maryland proved to be the Tigers' unraveling.

In 2007, it was more of the same, big plays not being made in close losses to Boston College, Auburn and Georgia Tech.

In fact, just one school could make the argument it was clearly the better the team when it faced Clemson since 2005- Virginia Tech. In 2006, the Hokies thumped the Tigers 24-7, five days after Thunder and Lightning lit the college football world on fire in an 31-7 win over Georgia Tech.

That night, Virginia Tech was the better team.

The next year, a series of special teams gaffes and turnovers spotted the Hokies a three-touchdown lead before Clemson rallied in the second half to make the score semi-respectable.

But still, Virginia Tech was the better team.

Outside of that, in the last three years, Clemson's losses have more to do with Clemson than anything else. (And the true diehard fans would suggest the 2007 loss to the Hokies was due more to Clemson's play than Virginia Tech's.)

That's not trying to downplay the effort and execution made by other teams, because obviously the fact that Jon Tenuta generally had a sound defensive scheme at Georgia Tech and Boston College has out-executed the Tigers late in games since joining the league, means something.

But a closer inspection of each of those games reveals nearly every time the Tigers had a chance to win and even win comfortably before mental mistakes proved too much to overcome.

Last year it was nine dropped passes, four missed field goals and a fumble on a punt return that killed the Tigers in a loss at Georgia Tech. It was also the dropped touchdown pass to Aaron Kelly against Boston College, or 1st-and-Goal from the 2-yard line that only produced three points.

It was missed field goals against Auburn.

The year before it was a touchdown called back due to a useless penalty against Maryland or an ill-timed turnover against South Carolina.

You get the picture. More times than not, it's been Clemson beating itself more than anything else.

And the thing is, it should get even more interesting this year when you examine a number of factors concerning this team and the rest of the league.

The Tigers have been so close for so many years, what happens when that one more play is needed to beat Boston College or Wake Forest on the road this season? Does Aaron Kelly catch the game-winning touchdown pass? Does James Davis score on a touchdown run that isn't called back due to a stupid penalty? Does Mark Buchholz make the 47-yard field goal?

The bottom line is given the fact that literal inches have separated Clemson from playing in ACC Championship in each of the last three seasons makes the 2008 season even more Clemson vs. Clemson.

Also, given the fact it's 10 years into Tommy Bowden's head coaching career makes it even more Clemson vs. Clemson, as every call or non-call and every play is scrutinized to the 15th degree after a loss. That's not to suggest Bowden is on the proverbial hot seat, because he just signed a contract extension earlier this year, but he's not oblivious to the fact a conference championship is THE expectation for 2008.

And ... given the ACC is still down in terms of what many expected it to be after expansion makes it even more Clemson vs. Clemson.

It's already been said many times, "If the Tigers can't win it a year when the rest of the league is down and clearly they are the best team ... then what?"

But truthfully, you'd rather be in the position of having the talent to win the league rather than not. You'd rather have your program to the point Bowden has built it, than not.

You'd rather have the expectations that go along with this year's returning talent, than not.

I'd rather hit the 5-iron over water for a chance at eagle rather than par.

Yet once again it all comes down to the internal battle.

Just like on the golf course where it's myself vs. myself, hole after hole, this year it's Clemson vs. Clemson, game after game.

If the Tigers can overcome the mental mistakes and oh-so-close missed opportunities of past seasons, look out. If not, it's Clemson vs. Clemson again the following the season.

On the golf course? Well, that's a different story, and fortunately it's one I don't have to tell (even though you probably already know the outcome).

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