Schedule Preview: Clemson

North Carolina will square off against Clemson for the first time in the Butch Davis era when the Tigers roll into Chapel Hill on Oct. 9. The defending Atlantic Division champs have won three straight and five of the last six meetings against the Tar Heels.

Overview: It appeared as though Dabo Swinney's first full season as Clemson's head coach in '09 might go down in flames. The Tigers suffered respectable losses at No. 15 Georgia Tech (30-27) and against No. 15 TCU (14-10) before choking away an opportunity at ACC doormat Maryland (24-21) in early October. The result was a 2-3 record for a team that many thought would challenge Florida State for the Atlantic Division title. But Swinney weathered the storm and the Tigers reeled off six straight wins in impressive fashion to claim the division crown before falling to archrival South Carolina (34-17) in the season finale in Columbia. Georgia Tech prevailed, 39-34, over Clemson in arguably the best ACC Championship Game to date, spoiling the Tigers's hopes for their first conference championship since 1991.

Red-shirt sophomore Kyle Parker single-handedly returned Clemson to legitimate ACC contender status in '10 when he announced his intentions to play football this fall after baseball talks with the Colorado Rockies broke down on July 20th. Offensive coordinator Billy Napier was already dealing with the departures of 2009 ACC Offensive Player of the Year C.J. Spiller and wideout Jacoby Ford, so the possibility of losing Parker would have been devastating for a unit that ranked 74th nationally in total offense (363.4 ypg) last season.

The Tigers will now return seven starters, including four linemen in a front that boast 88 career starts. Jamie Harper (418 yards, 4 TD, 5.2 ypc) is a hoss at running back that will step into Spiller's shoes and provide a different look in the offensive backfield. Wide receiver Xavier Dye (14 catches, 236 yards, 3 TD) and tight end Dwayne Allen (10 catches, 108 yards, 3 TD) will be called upon to replace Ford and Michael Palmer's production as Parker's favorite targets.

Second-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele only returns six starters to a unit that finished '09 ranked 20th in total defense (314.3 ypg) and 25th in scoring defense (20.4 ppg), but he has the luxury of welcoming back seven of his top nine tacklers. Cornerback Marcus Gilchrist (107), linebacker Brandon Maye (103) and safety DeAndre McDaniel (102) all broke the century mark in tackles last fall, and defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins (69 tkl, 10 TFL) and defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (58 tkl, 8 TFL, 3 sacks) serve as the cornerstone for arguably the top defensive front in the ACC. If there was a weak spot for this defense in '09, it was run defense. The Tigers allowed opponents to churn out 151.5 yards per outing, but having to face Georgia Tech's top-five rushing offense twice helps to skew those statistics.

Quotable: "We try to have nice balance in all aspects. That's a big part of our game in being able to create explosive plays from our running game. … We had some of our best plays last year [off] play-action." – Swinney

Matchup to Watch: No offense to LSU's Jordan Jefferson or Rutgers' Tom Savage, but Kyle Parker will likely be North Carolina's toughest quarterback matchup in the first half of the season. The red-shirt sophomore signal-caller not only tossed 20 touchdowns during his rookie season, but he also proved agile on his feet in rushing for 135 net yards and a touchdown. The Tar Heel defense has struggled in recent years defending legitimate quarterback options – see N.C. State's Russell Wilson (20-of-27 passing, 259 yards, 4 TD) and Florida State's Christian Ponder (33-of-40 passing, 295 yards, 3 TD) in '09 – and Parker will present an equal challenge in '10, especially behind one of the top offensive lines in the country, led by second-team All-ACC left tackle Chris Hairston.

Solid Contract Work: When Swinney agreed to becomes Clemson's permanent head coach in December '08, his initial contract included a clause which guaranteed that he would be paid the average of the ACC's 12 coaches if the Tigers appeared in the ACC title game. Twelve months later, Clemson was playing for the conference championship and Swinney's salary jumped from $800,000 to a guaranteed $1.75 million annually.

Remember Me? There always seems to be at least one recruiting story each year that defies logic and leaves fans scratching their heads about the actions of a highly-touted high school kid. Dwayne Allen filled that role leading up to National Signing Day '08. The Fayetteville, N.C. product committed to Georgia in December '06, prompting Terry Sanford High School football coach Wayne Inman to tell that "Dwayne is not one of these guys that needs the spotlight of recruiting. He is wholeheartedly committed to Georgia." His star tight end would prove otherwise, however, as he started visiting other schools only two months later. When asked several times over the next year if he was still committed to Georgia, Allen would only say, "No comment." After a sitdown with Georgia head coach Mark Richt in September to discuss the situation, Allen essentially re-committed to the Bulldogs, but that didn't stop the 6-foot-4, 255-pounder from officially visiting North Carolina, Florida State and Clemson in January '08. The Tar Heels were led to believe Allen was ultimately going to sign with them, but after indicating that Clemson was his leader on Sept. 3, he announced that he was going to fax his LOI to Georgia on Feb. 4. But two days later – on National Signing Day – Allen ended the circus by faxing his LOI to Clemson.

2010 Schedule
Sept. 4  North Texas
Sept. 11 Presbyterian
Sept. 18 @ Auburn
Sept. 25 OPEN DATE
Oct. 2   Miami, Fla.
Oct. 9   @ North Carolina
Oct. 16  Maryland
Oct. 23  Georgia Tech
Oct. 30  @ Boston College
Nov. 6   N.C. State
Nov. 13  @ Florida State
Nov. 20  @ Wake Forest
Nov. 27  South Carolina

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