Ranking Clemson's 2009 schedule

It's that time of year again - with the start of preseason camp essentially one month away, it's impossible to avoid preseason rankings any longer. Today CUTigers takes a look at the 2009 schedule, from the easiest game to the toughest.

#12. COASTAL CAROLINA: It's the first matchup ever between the Tigers and Chanticleers on the gridiron, and simply put, it won't be close. It's the perfect entrance to a tough November that features a home tilt with Florida State and a quick trip to Raleigh to face the much-improved Wolfpack. You never like to call a game a "tune-up" but that's exactly what this one is as the Tigers take a break from conference play in what should be the most "comfortable" win of the 2009 season.

#11. VIRGINIA: Clemson squeaked out a 13-3 road win last year in a physical game that kept the Tigers' bowl hopes alive but this year promises to be much different. By the time these two teams square off in late November, Al Groh will likely already know this will be his last year in Charlottesville as his team emotionally checks out of the season. The Cavaliers lack the firepower on offense and simply aren't the same team that reached the Gator Bowl two seasons ago. 11 starters return (5 - offense, 6- defense) in 2009, but again, by mid-November this team will have packed it in.

#10. MIDDLE TENNESSEE: It was just one year ago the Blue Raiders upset Maryland, the same team that accelerated the resignation of Tommy Bowden by rallying from a 17-6 halftime deficit to beat the Tigers 20-17 in Clemson. While the Tigers will be heavy favorites for their 2009 season opener, expect Middle Tennessee to hang tough for a half- and that's more than Virginia will do later in the season. 16 starters return for longtime Clemson assistant and now Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill, including 10 on offense.

#9. BOSTON COLLEGE: If you are looking for a team to take a major nose dive in the Atlantic Division rankings this year, look no further than the Eagles from Chestnut Hill, Mass. While seven starters return on both sides of the ball, the firepower is gone. No more Matt Ryan. No more Andre Callendar. Brian Toal, B.J. Raji and Ron Brace are all gone as well. Even head coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who claimed two Atlantic Division Championships during his two years with the Eagles, is also gone. Clemson ended its yearly jinx against Boston College by defeating the eventual Atlantic Division champs last season on the road and now this year the Tigers get the Eagles at home. The fact this one is at home puts it before Maryland in our rankings.

#8. AT MARYLAND: The road team has won the past four games in this series, including the Terps' surprise come-from-behind win inside Death Valley a year ago. This year Maryland returns senior quarterback Chris Turner but just nine starters return overall- which is the lowest number in the ACC. Can you say, "revenge?"

Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe defeated Tommy Bowden's Tigers last year 12-7 in Bowden's last game as Clemson's head coach.
#7. WAKE FOREST: It seems as though Riley Skinner will return for his 17th season this year Winston-Salem, and he'll also have a host of offensive weapons at his disposal. The problems come on defense where the Deacs have to replace two high-round draft picks in LB Aaron Curry and CB Alphonso Smith. Last year's 12-7 loss at BB&T Field should seem like a distant memory by the time this one is over as the Tigers take care of business.

#6. AT SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks lost their leading receiver in school history, one of the best tight ends in the country and a handful of playmakers on defense ... and now they are supposed to be better in 2009? I don't think so. Until South Carolina proves it on the field, don't believe the hype ... especially when it comes to playing the Tigers. Sure, its' a rivalry game and South Carolina has played the Tigers extremely close under Spurrier in Williams-Brice, but that's only good enough of a reason to land the Gamecocks in the middle of the pack when ranking Clemson's toughest games.

#5. AT MIAMI: Predicting how good or bad the Hurricanes will be by the time the Tigers travel to Land Shark Stadium (that's right - Land Shark Stadium) is difficult to do when you consider the brutal start to their schedule. Miami opens its season on Labor Day night at Florida State before traveling to Georgia Tech for a Thursday night tilt, followed by another road trip to Virginia Tech before hosting National Championship contender Oklahoma. The atmosphere will surely be lacking but Miami has enough talent to win the Coastal Division if it can avoid self destruction early on. Simply put, 15 starters return this season for a program that is hoping Randy Shannon (12-13) isn't as bad as he appears to be through his first two seasons as a head coach.

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is 1-3 against arch rival Clemson since arriving in Columbia before the 2005 season.
#4. AT N.C. STATE: Are you buying into the hype that is N.C. State? Is the Pack truly "back?" We'll soon find out but one thing seems certain, N.C. State is starting to resemble the tough, fundamentally-sound teams head coach Tom O'Brien had at Boston College for all those years and now it has one of the top returning quarterbacks in the league in Russell Wilson to boot. Believe it or not,the ACC's Atlantic Division championship could be awarded to the winner of this game. 14 starters return for State this season, although the Pack faithful have to cringing at the injuries (broken leg, collapsed lung) suffered by all-world LB Nate Irving in a car wreck last week.

#3. TCU: The Horned Frogs from Ft. Worth could be the best team the Tigers see all season. Fortunately, they get to see them up close and personal in the friendly confines of Death Valley. TCU featured the No. 1 defense in the nation a year ago (giving up just 217 yards per game) but was also formidable offensively, setting school records for total offense and point scored. While just four starters return from that defense, the Horned Frogs will be bolstered by a couple of junior college transfers and had some fairly good talent sitting on the bench last year as well- so there won't be much of a drop off. Overall, this team isn't as talented as Florida State, but its better-coached.

Florida State certainly appears to be on its way "back" but the 'Noles have struggled mightily in their last three trips to Death Valley, losing by an average score of 28-14 in all three contests.
#2. FLORIDA STATE: Florida State certainly appears to be on its way "back" but the 'Noles have struggled mightily in their last three trips to Death Valley, losing by an average score of 28-14 in all three contests. The Tigers even won their last game in Tallahassee in 2006 before losing 41-27 last season. This year Florida State will be a tough draw as many are predicting the 'Noles to win their first Atlantic Division Championship since 2005. Eight starters return on a much-improved offense led by the somewhat reliable Christian Ponder while five are back on a defense that should be stout once again. Pending what happens against Georgia Tech, this Nov. 7 matchup could easily be the most difficult of the year, but for now it falls No. 2 on our list.

#1. AT GEORGIA TECH: It's not so much the Yellow Jackets are the most talented team the Tigers will face in 2009, but the fact the game is being played on the road, on a Thursday night, in the second game of the season against Georgia Tech's wackadoo offense makes this one a tough draw. Also, remember Clemson has struggled mightily at Bobby Dodd Stadium in recent years, failing to score a touchdown (at least one that counted) since 2003. For whatever reason, Georgia Tech has had the Tigers' number- especially outside of Death Valley. A win here sends expectations for 2009 through the roof while a loss isn't necessarily the end of the orange and white world. By the way- 18 starters are back for Paul Johnson's crew this season and when Clemson finally scores a touchdown this season, don't you just have the feeling there will be a couple of yellow flags to wipe it off the board?

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