Next season marks the final year of the BCS as we know it. In 2014, the National Championship will be determined by a four-team playoff. I’m not staunchly opposed to the move to a playoff, but it will surely make some of the games (see Orange Bowl potentially getting SEC #3) less special and packed with tradition. That being said, Clemson, whose fans are on top of the world at the moment, has a legitimate shot to play in the final National Championship that to be decided purely by the BCS standings. Here are seven reasons why that’s the case.
1. Pre-Season Ranking: Clemson should begin next season well within the top 10. That could be key given the Tigers are not in the uber-respected SEC.
2. Senior QB: After a weak draft projection and the return of Chad Morris, it appears highly likely that Tajh Boyd, the ACC Player of the Year, will return for his senior season. So, we’re looking at Clemson coming into the season as the highest ranked team in the ACC with the best player in the conference, not too shabby.
3. Offensive Identity: After a 6-7 2010 season, Dabo Swinney made the bold move to bring in a largely untested offensive coordinator from Tulsa. He has completely changed the identity of Clemson’s Program. They’ve gone from a decent program that can’t win the big game to a fast-paced offense that wears out their opponents with great skill players. In an article from my favorite Clemson writer, Greg Wallace, Dabo Swinney says:
“It’s a Clemson offense, not a Chad Morris offense,” Swinney told reporters. “When we hired Chad, this is what we wanted to do philosophically. Our first year in 2009, we had dynamic guys like C.J. Spiller and Michael Palmer, Jacoby Ford, it’s well-documented what those guys did. We knew what we wanted to go to, it was just a matter of having the right personnel. It was a matter of who I thought was the best fit for our personnel. We settled on Chad and he’s done a tremendous job.
4. Balanced Schedule: Clemson’s 2013 schedule is picture perfect. It holds no trip to Tallahassee, like 2012, and no trip to Athens, like 2014. The Tigers swap VT with Syracuse and take a trip to Charlottesville. In a weird scheduling quirk ACC rival, Georgia Tech, will play in Clemson in Death Valley for a consecutive year (GT asked for the change so they would never have a season without a home game against either Clemson or UGA). There is a tremendous talent gap after the Yellow Jackets have been saddled with Paul Johnson’s “unprofessional environment” and weak recruiting for four years. FSU, Clemson’s chief conference rival (see what I did there with “chief”?), will be severely depleted after losing stars at QB, RB, DE, and CB to the NFL draft. Additionally, a schedule that boasts UGA, FSU, NCSU, GT, and South Carolina should be tough enough to earn national respect. Eventually Clemson has to beat the chickens from the dumpy part of the state, right?
5. Matured Offensive Line: If you read my season preview, my biggest concern was the offensive line. They exceeded my expectations in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Auburn and only got better as the season progressed. In the finale against LSU, Gifford Timothy went down to injury. Clemson responded to adversity with a second half rally and game-winning drive. They’ll return four offensive lineman!
6. Wide Receivers: Clemson has one of the best receiving corps in the country. DeAndre Hopkins has been named to the 2013 Heisman Watch List, but even he leaves the Tigers will return: Sammy Watkins, Adam Humphries, Charone Peake, and Martavis Bryant. Jaron Brown, who had an epic block against LSU will graduate, but even if the Tigers lose both Hopkins and Brown, I’ll still be exceedingly confident in this group of players.
7. Brent Venables: The Tigers have been churning through defensive coordinators the last few years. Vic Koenning was let go due to philosophical differences with Dabo Swinney. Kevin Steele came in and the defense worsened. Steele was dismissed, and Brent Venables joined the staff with much to improve upon from the 2011 Orange Bowl fiasco. The defense got exposed against FSU, but continued to improve and came through against LSU. I expect further improvement from the defense in Venables second year.
I have my concerns though. Firstly, Andre Ellington’s graduation leaves a hole at RB, but “Hot Rod” McDowell, DJ Howard, and Zac Brooks are more than capable replacements for the speedy back (who fumbled in the last two Clemson bowl games). Secondly, Clemson’s recruiting over the past four seasons has been strong, but not on par with the Alabamas and Floridas of the world. While the Tigers will be extremely talented next year, they certainly won’t be the most talented team vying for the title. Thirdly, Tajh Boyd could stun me and decide to leave early for the NFL. His soft draft projection, down in 6th/7th round territory, coupled with the return of Offensive Coordinator, Chad Morris, seem to make it unlikely, but I suppose it is possible. Finally, Clemson will end the season with the tough task of winning at Williams Brice Stadium. Nobody beat the Cocks at home this year (they lost at LSU and at UF). I can’t fathom another loss to them though, so I’m going to mark it down as a win for now and continue to enjoy Clemson’s victory at the hands of the “other” Tigers who play in the “other” Death Valley.
Now, most experts will likely pick the winner of the SEC to match up with a program like Oklahoma or Notre Dame in the next National Championship, but I believe Clemson has a great opportunity to continue to best program records and find themselves in their first BCS National Championship Game. The seven reasons outlined above along with the winning culture that is being instilled under Swinney’s tenure present a tremendous opportunity for Clemson in 2013. This year’s team was just the fourth 11-win Clemson team in program history. I expect even more victories next season. Start planning your trip to Pasadena!
Feel free to tell me why I’m crazy in the comments section below.
- The Chad Morris-Rich Rodriguez Parallel (tigertracks.com)
- Andy Staples: Clemson looking up after ripping LSU at Chick-fil-A (sportsillustrated.cnn.com)
- Ranking The ACC Football Programs: The Decade Ahead (ryankantor.com)
- Clemson beats LSU with game-winning FG in Chick-fil-A Bowl (cbssports.com)
- Chick-fil-A Bowl: After Big Win, Will Clemson Tigers Key Players Return For Senior Season? (thepigskinreport.com)
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Update: Now they are saying Tajh could be a 3rd rounder, but it still sounds like he will be staying.