It's a dangerous thing to pick a team as streaky as Clemson to finish in the Top 20, or to compete for the ACC Championship...but after awhile, things just have to start going their way. Tommy Bowden certainly hopes so anyway.
In 2005, the Tigers beat Texas A&M on a last second field goal, lost to Miami in 3OT, lost to Boston College in OT the next week, lost at Wake Forest 31-27, lost at Georgia Tech 10-9, and still had enough to blast Florida State by 21 points in the Bowden Bowl, beat South Carolina, and win their bowl game. Last year, the Tigers lost to Boston College again in overtime on a missed extra point, then ripped off six straight, starting with another Bowden Bowl W and ending with a 31-7 thrashing of Georgia Tech on October 21 to move them into the Top 10. They scored first in a Thursday night encounter with Virginia Tech at Blacksburg. And then everything went south.
Led by the example set by VT's defense, which surrendered only 166 yards of total offense and forced Will Proctor to try and beat them, opposing defenses started taking away James Davis and CJ Spiller. It worked in Blacksburg to the tune of 24-7. It worked the next week when Maryland made them kick field goals all game and beat them 13-12. It didn't work as well for South Carolina, but the Gamecocks made up for it with offense and won 31-28. And in what seemed like an obvious upset alert in the Music City Bowl, Kentucky took them down 28-20 in a game that wasn't that close. Clemson started the season 7-1, and finished it 1-4. This is one of the more manic depressive teams in college football over the last five years. And it may not get better in 2007.
Will Proctor is gone, which has its positives and negatives. Junior Cullen Harper will get the first shot at replacing him, but the good news for him is that both Davis and Spiller are back in full force. The two combined to help Clemson run for 217.8 yards per game, which was fifth nationally. However, they'll have to rely even more heavily on them in 07, with Chansi Stuckey and four offensive linemen also gone. And being that the Tigers open with Florida State, that could be trouble.
The defense is an interesting piece. A balanced six return - two on the line, two LBs, two in the secondary. Gaines Adams, who helped beat Wake Forest almost single-handedly last year and is now featured on Sundays, will be the biggest loss. The late tailspin made people forget how good this team was/could've been last year on both sides - the defense, despite getting beat up by South Carolina and Kentucky, still finished 13th nationally in total defense. In an anybody-can-win-it ACC - especially in Clemson's Atlantic Division - the defense should be more than capable of doing its part to get Clemson where it wants to go.
The Tigers also must replace kicker Jad Dean, who finally graudated after playing something like 30 years for the orange and purple.
In the Atlantic Division, where it appears that NC State and Maryland will be bringing up the rear, any one of Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, and Wake Forest can easily win. The biggest threats in the entire conference probably reside in the Coastal.
2007 Clemson Schedule
09/03 - vs Florida State (Monday)
09/08 - vs Louisiana-Monroe
09/15 - vs Furman
09/22 - at NC State
09/29 - at Georgia Tech
10/06 - vs Virginia Tech
10/13 - off week
10/20 - vs Central Michigan
10/27 - at Maryland
11/03 - at Duke
11/10 - vs Wake Forest
11/17 - vs Boston College
11/24 - at South Carolina
Final Analysis: Obviously, the Bowden Bowl opener is critical for both teams. Should Clemson hold serve at home and continue its recent success against Papa Bear, the Tigers can breathe easy until a brutal two game stretch against GT and VT. A split of those games against Coastal Division foes will mean that Clemson can still control its own destiny coming down the stretch with Wake and BC. And as much as the game with SC matters to the fanbase, being that it's not an ACC affair, the two preceeding it are much more important.
As stated, it's borderline stupid to pick a team with a bipolar track record to win a title, but I'm taking Clemson to win the Atlantic Division in 2007. I think the division will ultimately come down to the November 17 game with Boston College, which is played in Death Valley. BC has beaten Clemson in overtime in the past two seasons, so once again, surely Clemson is due. I like the Tigers to beat FSU again and split the GT/VT games, beat Wake and BC, which would be enough to win the division. And then, I like the ol' tailspin again - I hesitate greatly to pick against Spurrier, and I don't think Clemson is good enough to beat what should be a great Virginia Tech team in the ACC Championship. Either way, it'll be 10 wins, a division title, and a fairly decent bowl, which should be enough to satisfy Tommy Bowden and his critics, at least for now.