Burns: Prepare for the Tigers to blow it

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C.J. Spiller needs 140 all-purpose yards to become the fifth player in NCAA history to reach 7,000 for a career.
C.J. Spiller needs 140 all-purpose yards to become the fifth player in NCAA history to reach 7,000 for a career.

Go ahead, doubters – doubt. Stand by reservation. With Clemson on the brink of reaching the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game for the first time, it’s more fun if you don’t believe, according to a study by Ohio State University professors.

The study will appear in the December issue of the Journal of Communication.
The Tigers will appear in Tampa early that month after a feast on the white meat of the schedule Saturday against Virginia. Or, perhaps it’s better to expect they’ll blow it.

Researchers studied college students as they watched the Ohio State Buckeyes play the Michigan Wolverines in 2006, when the teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, with the winner to play for the national championship. Ohio State won 42-39 in dramatic fashion. Students from the rival schools and Michigan State University were surveyed throughout the contest.

Fans who were the most passionate felt the most joyous after feeling dismal.

“You don’t want to be in a great mood during the whole game if you really want to enjoy it,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study. “We found that negative emotions play a key role in how much we enjoy sports.”

Maybe it is worth preparing for disappointment. Remember, Clemson fans, we’ve been here before, one win from a shot at the first league crown since 1991 – against Boston College in 2007, against Georgia Tech in 2000. You know how it goes – defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory, by one play.

Now is not the time to abandon skepticism.

“When people think about entertainment in general, they think it has to be fun and pleasurable, but enjoyment doesn’t always mean positive emotions,” said study co-author Prabu David. “Sometimes enjoyment is derived by having the negative emotion, and then juxtaposing that with the positive emotion. Obviously, winning helps people enjoy a game, but we’re finding that it doesn't help to have a game where you have positive feelings the whole game – negative feelings are an important part of enjoying a game.”

Maybe they help the enjoyment of a season, too. I still wonder how Clemson lost to Maryland. How could Clemson lose to Maryland? Virginia beat Maryland 20-9 at College Park, Md.

“You need the negative emotions of thinking your team might lose to get you in an excited, nervous state,” Knobloch-Westerwick said. “If your team wins, all that negative tension is suddenly converted to positive energy, which will put you in a euphoric state.”

I’d keep holding my breath, Tiger fans, waiting for the losing shoe to drop.

Lies and statistics

The numbers don’t always add up.

Clemson (7-3, 5-2 in ACC) won the first 29 games of the series with Virginia (3-7, 2-4) but is just 7-8-1 since 1990. The Cavaliers have won eight of 11 games while holding Clemson under 200 yards rushing, though last year the Tigers won while rushing for only 56. If Clemson rushes for 200 Saturday, they’ll win by more than two touchdowns.

The Tigers ran for 254 yards and threw for 200 in a 43-23 win over NC State last week. Freshman quarterback Kyle Parker completed 12 of 18 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception and seemed to perform better than ever. He’s the leader of a stable of signal-callers that includes Willy Korn and Tajh Boyd and stands as Clemson’s most talented, ever.

Al Groh’s first ACC win as Virginia’s coach is Virginia’s only win over a ranked team in Memorial Stadium. It came in 2001, 26-24 on a lest-second touchdown pass when the Tigers were ranked No. 19 in the nation by the Associated Press. The Tigers are currently ranked No. 18 by the AP and No. 19 by the USA Today coaches poll.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney turns 40 years old Friday. Extra points and field goal attempts have aged him five years the last two weeks.

Saturday’s game will be the last in Death Valley for 19 seniors, nine of whom are starters. Heisman hopeful C.J. Spiller, speed merchant Jacoby Ford and defensive terror Ricky Sapp are among them. The group will leave big voids to fill. They’ve been ranked at some point each of their four years, been to bowls each year and ushered the transition from the Tommy Bowden era to Dabo’s day – not to mention led a squad to win five games in a row and head for a title rematch with Georgia Tech.

Over the last five games, Clemson has averaged 42 points and 425 yards per game. The Tigers have gained at least 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing two games in a row. Clemson is 52-0-1 with at least 200 yards of each.

Coordinator Kevin Steele’s defense ranks in the top 25 in the nation in 10 different categories. The Tigers lead the nation with 20 interceptions so far this year. They’re 12th in the nation in pass defense and 14th in total defense. They lead the nation in the number of three-and-outs forced per game, 5.8, according to researchers at the Ohio State Buckeye sports information office.

Spiller may have earned an invitation to New York already, but gaining another 164 yards on the ground to reach 1,000 yards rushing would help his Heisman contention. He needs 140 all-purpose yards to become the fifth player in NCAA history to reach 7,000 for a career. He needs 48 to reach 2,000 for this year, and he needs 103 to set the ACC season record.

Hater’s game

Virginia’s Groh, who touted his NFL experience over his ACC coaching peers when he was hired, according to The New York Times:

“I remember Bill Parcells said, 'With all due respect to the college game, the difference between the two is the difference between checkers and chess.”

Maybe Parcells will hire you and your son, former Cavaliers offensive coordinator Mike Groh, to play tiddlywinks, if you’re looking for a job in a couple of weeks.

Postgame shake

Times are tough for the bow-tied sons of Thomas Jefferson. Football is a rough business. Winning talks; thousands of fans have walked. Many of the ones left have chanted “Groh must go!” in the stands. Groh is wrapping up his fourth losing season. The pergolas cast cold shadows these days, when Cavs turn on their own. Anyone who’d discourage coeds from wearing sundresses, as Groh did in favor of UVa-orange T-shirts, ain’t right in my book. If he’s looking for a job soon, I hope he doesn’t get in the way of recently fired Memphis coach and former Clemson coach Tommy West.

Here’s hoping Groh’s sent away from Clemson with a handshake and class – by being out-classed. But I’m trying not to expect it.

Other Columns by Michael Burns

- Burns: Young blood makes tight ends sexy

- Burns: It is more than it is

- Burns: C.J. Spiller is Clemson’s best, ever

- Burns: I hate it when Tommy Bowden is right

- Burns: Watch it the old-fashioned way

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