While most expressed the usual optimism that comes with a new season - optimism buoyed by the vast number of experienced players returning for Tommy Bowden's 10th season - there remained that nagging little voice in the back of their collective heads. The voice that simply would not go away.
The voice saying, "What happens if..."
Well, it happened. The Tigers were completely, totally and undeniably dominated by an Alabama team that is supposed to be a middle of the pack SEC squad. Supposed to be. But honestly, Nick Saban's team looked light years ahead of schedule in the first game of his second season in Tuscaloosa.
When fans and pundits began breaking down this game weeks, even months ago, most of the orange-clad contingent hoped for an electrifying coming-out party for this team. Or, at the very least, a game which was competitive from start to finish; one in which you fight tooth and nail to the very end and take your chances.
Instead, the Tigers got what my friend and Hall of Fame broadcaster Marty Brennaman calls a GOFBW - a Good Old-Fashioned Butt Whipping.
And let's face it. The final score of 34-10 makes the game sound closer than it really was.
Entering my 10th year covering this program, the only two games I can think of which come close to this type of domination by the opposition were the 38-3 homecoming loss to North Carolina in 2001, and the 55-15 embarrassment at the hands of Texas Tech in the 2002 Tangerine Bowl.
Zero net rushing yards. Allowing over 41 minutes of possession time. 'Bama converting 11-of-17 third down opportunities. It goes on and on.
So the question now is quite simple:
Can the Tigers regroup?
There are plenty of examples of teams which have suffered similar losses only to bounce back with great seasons. The most recent and nearest example is Virginia Tech, humiliated at LSU early last season but recovered and won the ACC Championship.
And let's face it. One week may be a small sample size, but it's additional fuel to a fire that's been burning for several years now. The ACC is a conference lacking the star power - both in teams and individual players - of the SEC or the Big 12. It's a conference in which Clemson still will be recognized as the best team.
It's a conference ripe for the picking, and one the Tigers should win.
But what you should do and what you actually accomplish are different things entirely. The fact of the matter is that despite the true statements being bandied about this morning concerning all of the above, there is now perhaps more doubt than ever in the minds of many of the Clemson faithful.
Bowden said in his Sunday teleconference that while he was surprised at how easily his team was whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, he wasn't ready to concede that his team lacks toughness.
Maybe in the final analysis of Week One everyone - including yours truly - didn't give Alabama enough credit.
Were the players among those committing that sin? We may never know.
But one thing is certain. When your toughness - your manhood - is questioned, fairly or unfairly, it should light a fire inside that burns with an unbridled rage.
It will be worth watching how this team, and coaching staff, responds moving forward.
Can Clemson Regroup?
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