Those one or two plays can also dictate who wins a championship and who heads to Nashville or Charlotte to play in a mediocre bowl game.
What if ... Aaron Kelly catches a 45-yard touchdown pass from Cullen Harper in 2007 against Boston College?
What if Charlie Whitehurst hits Chansi Stuckey for the game-winning touchdown against Miami in 2005?
Seasons, bowl games and even head coaching careers change dramatically on the outcome of one or two big plays.
CUTigers.com begins the tantalizing game of "What if?" right here:
THE GAME: No. 15 Clemson vs. No. 18 Boston College - Nov. 17, 2007
THE PLAY: With just under a minute remaining and No. 15 Clemson trailing No. 18 Boston College, 20-17 in a de facto Atlantic Division championship game, Cullen Harper dropped back to pass before hitting Aaron Kelly in perfect stride on what should have been a game-winning 45-yard touchdown pass. Unfortunately the ball slipped right through Kelly's arms as he crossed the goal line falling down for a harmless incompletion. Clemson would go on to attempt a 54-yard field goal which was no good as time expired.
WHAT IF: Aaron Kelly catches the pass? In the short term, Clemson would go on to beat Matt Ryan and pesky Boston College to claim its first-ever Atlantic Division Championship. The Tigers would play Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and lose a heartbreaker, likely ending up in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, where they would have played the same opponent they played after losing to B.C. - Auburn.
In the long term, the win solidifies Tommy Bowden's job for two more years, meaning he survives a tough start to the 2008 season and is likely still Clemson's head coach today. Meanwhile current head coach Dabo Swinney would likely have been promoted to offensive coordinator after Bowden elected to fire Rob Spence after the 2008 season ended.
THE GAME: Clemson vs. No. 13 Miami - Sept. 17, 2005
THE PLAY: Facing a third-and-10 with 19 seconds left and the Tigers driving for the go-ahead score, Charlie Whitehurst was looking for Chansi Stuckey breaking wide open in the left corner of the end zone. The problem was Stuckey took an extra second out of his break and Whitehurst faced heavy pressure from all sides. The end result was an incompletion on what surely would have been the game-winning touchdown. The Tigers would kick the game-tying field goal before going on to lose in triple-overtime, 36-30.
WHAT IF: Whitehurst connects with Stuckey? Clemson would have then defeated nationally ranked Texas A&M, won at Maryland in come-from-behind fashion and beaten No. 13 Miami to start the 2005 season. The Tigers would have likely carried that momentum into another win the following week against B.C., instead of losing 16-13 in overtime and started the season 6-1 and ranked inside the top 15. Clemson also would have likely claimed the ACC's Atlantic Division that season as well and appeared in the first-ever ACC Championship game against No. 5 Virginia Tech.
THE GAME: Maryland vs. No. 19 Clemson - Nov. 4, 2006
THE PLAY: Fresh off a stinging Thursday night loss at Virginia Tech, but still clinging to legitimate Atlantic Division championship hopes, Clemson found itself on the wrong end of a 10-9 score with time winding down at home against Maryland. After completing a 71-yard pass to Thomas Hunter from Clemson's own 1-yard line on third-and-19, the Tigers appeared to have scored the game-winning touchdown on a four-yard burst by James Davis. Problem was just 10 men were on the field at the time, forcing the refs to call an illegal formation. The touchdown was called back, forcing a 22-yard field goal by Jad Dean. Maryland promptly went right down the field and connected on a game-winning field goal as time expried to win 13-12.
WHAT IF: The Davis touchdown had counted? Maryland would have then needed a touchdown to win and still likely would have come close to getting it given how Clemson's defense struggled to get off the field the second half of the season. Still, the Tigers would have likely held on to win, which would have sent them to the ACC Championship game against Georgia Tech. Chances are Clemson would have beaten the Jackets for a second time to claim its first ACC Championship in 15 years. The Tigers then advance to the Orange Bowl to face Penn State.
THE GAME: Clemson vs. No. 13 Miami - Oct. 24, 2009
THE PLAY: Facing a third-and-11 from the Miami 26-yard line and trailing 37-34 in overtime, the Tigers needed a big play to either keep the drive going, or give kicker Richard Jackson a close shot at tying the game on fourth down. On a play that was literally drawn in the South Beach sand by Jacoby Ford, Kyle Parker drilled a 26-yard touchdown pass to the senior wide out to give Clemson a thrilling 40-37 win at No. 10 Miami.
WHAT IF: Ford doesn't come up with an inside move to fake out the Miami defensive back and the pass falls incomplete? Richard Jackson is then brought on the field to attempt a lengthy 43-yard field goal just to tie. Chances are Miami goes on to win the game and the Tigers fall to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the ACC. Clemson then fails to advance to the ACC Championship game, but still likely plays Kentucky in the Music City bowl. Go figure.
THE GAME: Clemson vs. Boston College - Sept. 9, 2006
THE PLAY: In a game in which there were five or six plays that could have clinched the win for Clemson, an overturned interception proved to be the most costly. With just over five minutes left to play, Clemson safety Michael Hamlin appeared to have intercepted future first-round draft pick Matt Ryan at the B.C. 14-yard line when he ripped the ball away from Kevin Challenger on a high pass across the middle. Clemson was awarded the football on what appeared to be a bang-bang play. However replays, which seemed to show nothing close to conclusive evidence Challenger had possession before hitting the turf, overturned the ruling. B.C. would go on to tie the game in regulation on that same drive before winning in double overtime, 34-33.
WHAT IF: Hamlin's interception was not overturned? Clemson then defeats B.C. 24-17 and starts the 2006 season 8-0 and ranked inside the top five teams in the country before losing to Virginia Tech in late October. The Tigers also win the Atlantic Division and defeat Georgia Tech for the second time in 2006 to claim their first conference title in 15 years. Again Clemson advances to the Orange Bowl to face off with Penn State. Arguably, this loss or the loss to Maryland the same season proved the most costly to Clemson football in the last decade considering how winnable the ACC Championship game would have been and the ensuing BCS appearance that would have followed.
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