Of course, to end the season ranked No. 9 would be more newsworthy, but the fact the Tigers will start No. 9 is also important.
To understand what that statement means, one needs to examine several different scenarios that could unfold during the upcoming year.
From a Clemson perspective, let's say the Tigers go through their conference schedule with just one loss, but then another team from the ACC's Atlantic Division goes undefeated. While that possibility is unlikely given the current track record of the teams within the division, in that circumstance, because the Tigers started with a No. 9 ranking, they'll likely be ranked higher at the end of the year then if they started the season ranked No. 20.
With that being the case, Clemson would then be ranked higher in the all-important BCS Poll in November and would be in a better position to claim an at-large berth in a BCS game even though it didn't even win its own division in the ACC. (Incidentally, the ACC has never had an at-large team in the BCS.)
The same scenario could possibly play out if Clemson had two losses and the division winner had just one or if Clemson made it to the ACC Championship game and lost.
Or, better yet, let's say Clemson finishes the 2008 season undefeated, a perfect 13-0 including a win in the ACC Championship game.
With an unblemished record, the Tigers would naturally be in contention to play in the BCS Championship game. Again, by starting the season ranked No. 9, and even despite the fact Clemson plays a weaker schedule, the Tigers will have a much better chance of playing for a National Championship as opposed to being ranked five to 10 spots lower.
Before you get too excited, keep in mind if three or more teams currently ranked ahead of Clemson are undefeated at the end of the year, the Tigers could be the team that is left out of the National Championship equation- because of their schedule. Also, other teams with tougher schedules could certainly leapfrog Clemson during the season, even if both teams remain undefeated.
However, as we've seen in previous years, the BCS seems to have a magical way of "working itself out" in the last two weeks of the season when it comes to undefeated teams (with apologies to Auburn, of course).
The point is, however, the fact that Clemson starts in the top 10 gives it an advantage over teams below it- whether it loses a game, multiple games, or goes undefeated.
This is why some pundits argue there should be no preseason poll at all. There is a thought the first poll released should occur after a full month of games have been played and be released on or around Oct. 1 to help the pollsters better gauge who is truly worthy of a top 10, top 15 or top 25 ranking.
Still, while it would be nice to end the season ranked in the top 10, starting there isn't too bad of a place either.
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