The college football regular has ended for most conferences, and now is a time to review, reflect, and for those involved rest, and then quickly refocus. At the start of the season both myself and a guest blogger made predictions, one of us was close and the other spot on. We’ll take a look at that, as well the keys this season and moving forward.
For the first time since Clemson’s 1981 championship season, the Tigers won 10 regular season games, yet somehow the season feel empty. Influential Clemson tweeter, @DannyFordIsGod, shared an article calling it an “empty circle” that started in the GA Dome against an SEC team and will end in the GA Dome against an SEC team. Looking at the season schedule, you see that Clemson only played two ranked opponents and lost to them both.
To be fair, I have to give the Tigers a lot of credit for winning the games they are absolutely supposed to win. In my preseason predictions I took the stance that our weak offensive line would lead to inconsistency and we would lose to either Virginia Tech or Wake Forest. Beating GT, VT, and Wake Forest (Thursday Night ESPN Game) all in a row seemed like an impossible task given our struggles against GT and on Thursday nights, and nobody would’ve said those team would be a combined one game under .500 (and will fall to two games under .500 after GT loses to FSU).
Reviewing my original predictions…
I had Clemson finishing 9-3 and 2nd place in the ACC Atlantic, only one game off. I picked Clemson to lose to Auburn, FSU, and one of the two in the quick turnaround VT/Wake Forest week. I’m going to unilaterally give myself a pass for missing the Auburn game. I didn’t think they’d be world beaters, but I certainly thought they’d be one of the better teams on our schedule. As low as the ACC sunk this year, maybe they still are one of the tougher games on the schedule, but you get my point, which is to say that we all thought they’d be much better than they ended up. Clemson did not beat anyone as good as the 2011 Auburn Tigers this season.
As far as the FSU pick, neither team wins road games in that rivalry so it was an easy pick. As for beating both VT and Wake Forest, I credit Dabo and the growing maturity of the squad for not allowing a let down. I’ve become accustomed to ridiculous Clemson losses to the likes of Boston College (2010) and Maryland (2009) so to beat the teams we’re supposed to beat was a change.
Finally, I had picked Clemson to defeat Columbia behind an offensive line that had all season to gel and get stronger. I thought the O-line would be a major problem, and for the whole of the season, it really wasn’t, but the difference in the ACC and SEC was exposed in a big way against Columbia. Clemson scored no less than 37 in games against non-SEC teams. Against Auburn, a team that would end the season at 3-9 and looking for a new head coach, they scored just 26 and then in the tragedy against Columbia they scored only 17. Jadeveon Clowney had 4.5 sacks in the game, a Memorial Stadium record, and a number that eclipsed the amount of A’s than he received in high school (Not really. I have no idea how many A’s he earned in Rock Hill, but he did get a 500 on the SAT). I’m not sure what to attribute that to, because FSU has a defensive line as good as any, but there is something about SEC teams that isn’t just ESPN hype.
Also, bookus of credit is owed to guest blogger and preseason predictor, Jon Tomevi, who was 12/12 in his predictions, putting us at 10-2 with losses to FSU and Columbia. I think I’ll just ask him who’s going to win each game rather than buying season tickets next year.
In the preseason prognostication, we said that Clemson needed to avoid the trap game (check!) and get production from Corico Wright, Dalton Freeman, and Brandon Ford (check, check, and check). The thing we didn’t realize was just how bad our defense really was, and how long it would take for Venables to fix things. The 20 yard run on 3rd and 19 by South Carolina will mark their low point in a game where the offense inexplicably abandoned them amidst drop after drop from Hopkins and Watkins. Clemson led the ACC with six All-ACC players, but only one was on the defensive side, and even he (R. Hall) was on the second team.
Looking forward, I imagine the Tigers will face LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl with Florida going to the Sugar Bowl and Alabama and Georgia splitting the National Championship and Capital One Bowl. If I’m right, I think it could get ugly. If you can’t beat South Carolina at home, at night, with an amazing crowd and everything in the world to play for, how the heck are you going to beat LSU in an uninspiring neutral site game? I wouldn’t want anything less though. Beating Mississippi State would provide nothing more than false hope and illusions of national title contention. Gimme LSU and a wake up call (screaming that “those ACC wins over GT and Maryland don’t mean squat, and you still have a long ways to go”) or a big win and reason to believe that next year is going to be special, and it really could be. 2013 starts with UGA, a team that at the moment, is just one win away from a National Championship berth. It’s quite possible that Clemson could return almost all their star players and be improved next year. It’s also possible that Tajh Boyd, DeAndre Hopkins, and Chad Morris could all be gone next year.
From the time I became a Clemson fan, my goal for the program was to win the ACC, and I was THRILLED when we finally did it. Now, that goal has moved up a notch, to winning a BCS bowl. We won’t accomplish it this year, but I believe next year, barring key departures, Clemson could have an undefeated ACC regular season (but that does not mean they will beat UGA or Columbia) and have another shot at the Orange Bowl, and the last real shot before the BCS playoff blows up the system and requires a recalibration of goals.
Until then, Go Tigers!
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