Well, Here We Go Again
I guess it is funny the difference a year can make. Last year I had an uneasy feeling that the 2006 football season was not going to be as grand as many of you felt it was destined to be. My 8-4 prediction in an article last year (with losses to FSU, Wake, VT, and GT) was greeted as if I were the biggest fool to ever prognosticate a Clemson football season.
So while I was off on who we would lose to, my relative pessimism for the overall record was spot on. I say relative because 8-4 was not a dire prediction of doom, but it was much worse than the budding optimism of the Internet world that felt Clemson was closing in on a conference championship.
So we fast forward 365 days and we are now embarking on a new football season with some new cast members along with some veterans that will be looked to for leadership.
All of these players and coaches operate under the cool demeanor of head coach Tommy Bowden, entering his 9th year in Clemson and once again dodging the imaginary bullets commonly known as the hot seat.
I don?t believe that good things always happen to good people. The great man upstairs is not looking down on Tommy Bowden searching for ways to reward him for his dutiful service to Christianity. God has way more important things on his plate than Clemson football.
But it is undoubtedly difficult to ignore that Bowden?s built a lifetime?s worth of positive mojo for doing the right thing during his previous 8 years at Clemson. There is not one single area of concern when it comes to how Bowden runs this program. His players graduate, stay out of trouble, and are held accountable when they goof up.
Bowden treats Clemson fans well when he meets them in person, works countless hours without publicity in helping various charitable organizations, and speaks to groups needing guidance and inspiration as a man that has done things the right way throughout his life and coaching career.
Bowden has steadily improved the talent pool of players at Clemson, creating a situation where personnel losses to graduation are greeted with equally or more talented players with slightly less experience filling the gaps.
If there were a coach in America that deserves a break, or a ball to bounce in his favor, it is certainly Bowden. That being said, I think the dire straights that many feel Bowden is seemingly heading towards in 2007 has been overstated. While many feel Bowden must win a specific amount of games this year to keep his job in Clemson, I find it hard to imagine a scenario where Bowden is not back at Clemson in 2008.
The easy thing for fans to do is to give specific ultimatums on how many games a coach has to win to keep his job. But great organizations don?t operate under ultimatums. Any decision based on pure black and white is careless and against what great organizations do.
So Bowden and this Clemson football team will stroll into 2007 with plenty of question marks, but plenty of reasons for optimism.
I could give you a position by position outlook for the Tigers heading into the opener against Florida State. But you have had your fill of that type of analysis in this offseason as you have tried to wash away the bitter memory of the final five games of 2006.
So instead of position by position analysis, I suppose I?ll speak in general terms. I think we have a good football team that is going to have a special year. I?m usually the one that is downplaying grand expectations, so I?m stepping out of my box with the warm and fuzzy feelings I type to you. You need only to read my preseason article here on Tigernet last year and the responses to it to understand that I don?t spout sunshine if I feel we are in for a cloudy day.
I most certainly had a queasy feeling last year was going to be a let down. Call it a premonition, gut feeling, or simple luck. I correctly felt the championship hopes were not going to be fulfilled in 2006.
I have the opposite feeling right now, despite an almost unanimous feeling from the media ?experts? that this is going to be an average football team.
While injuries and an uncertain quarterback situation could certainly make this season an average one, the opposite could also hold true if we have a little luck.
If we get some quality snaps from whomever gets under center and if we can avoid the countless injuries that plagued the 2006 team beyond recognition, I think this just might be the type of year that those giving Bowden ultimatums will feel meets standard.
The media have certainly downplayed the Tigers? chances. But the media, by and large, don?t follow the program close enough to truly have a pulse on how things may shake out. And to be quite honest, Bowden?s teams seem to play better when their backs are against the wall. Not being ranked or picked to the win the conference is almost a blessing in disguise.
So what will happen?
I think Clemson beats Florida State on Labor Day night for reasons that I will post in the Donor?s Den of Tigernet at the end of this week. Louisiana Monroe will offer little resistance, and Furman will be a tough game to win big. But Clemson will stroll into Raleigh 3-0 and will face a coach that has given nothing but headaches to Tiger teams during his days in Chesnut Hill. But Clemson will beat O?Brien this year because he has so much to undo from Amato?s mess, and the Tigers win a squeaker and head to Atlanta 4-0 and full of optimism.
The Yellow Jackets were no match for the electricity of Game Day and Homecoming last year in Clemson. But Tech is a good team that owes the Tigers a punch in the stomach, and Georgia Tech will do just that, leaving Clemson 4-1.
I think Virginia Tech is the best team in the ACC, and they will prove it in Death Valley on the first week of October by downing Clemson in a close one. Central Michigan comes in with some mid-major hype, but a Clemson team on a two game losing streak will be in dire need of a win and will get it in a hard fought game.
The season will turn for better or worse on October 27th in College Park, Maryland. The Terrapins are always tough at home, and Ralph Friedgen seems to cause more trouble for our coaching staff than just about any coach in the conference. This is the prototypical Clemson loss that throws the ACC Championship hopes out the window. That could certainly happen again this year. But as I said from the outset, my gut keeps telling me that this is going to be the year where the typical Clemson loss at the most inopportune time simply does not happen. Clemson wins at Maryland; the ball is now ready to roll.
The Tigers will avenge the nightmare loss to Duke in Durham two years ago and will hit a two game home stretch against Wake Forest and Boston College with the fate of the Atlantic Division in our own hands. This is not unfamiliar territory, as Clemson has fallen on the sword with the fate of the Atlantic Division in balance the last two years. But Clemson beats Wake and then beats a Tom O?Brien-less Boston College Eagles to finish the conference slate at 6-2. Clemson will win the tie-breaker over FSU or Wake or Boston College?one of which will also finish at 6-2. Clemson is headed to Jacksonville, with a brief stop in Columbia to face the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks have some buzz this August, pumping up the feathered faithful with dreams of SEC Championships now dancing in their heads. Spurrier himself seems to be pumping the laughing gas out of the hype machine.
I think the Gamecocks are poised for a major letdown. The schedule is not set up for a legit run this year by Spurrier?s troops, and the letdown will be eerily similar to Clemson?s let down last year after the back to back losses to Virginia Tech and Maryland. The Gamecocks will march into the rivalry game with a modest 6-5 record and another 4th place SEC East finish. The disappointment will still be on their tongues and Clemson slips out of Columbia with a win.
That leaves a 10-2 regular season for Clemson. That?s right, I said it. 10-2.
Virginia Tech will be in Jacksonville and beating Clemson twice will certainly not be an easy task. But the Hokies are good enough and well coached enough to do it and I suspect they will. VT goes to the BCS and Clemson heads to the Gator Bowl.
I?ve never let my heart or my orange colored glasses cloud my predictions on the season. I try to look at it rationally and objectively. Some will see 10-2 and say that is an irrational pick with little to no objectivity.
But make no mistake about this fact. There are good players at Clemson. In many cases, very good players. These players were the reason multiple assistant coaches turned down offers to take promotions at other schools. Those assistant coaches believed in Tommy Bowden. But, maybe more importantly, they believed in these players. That?s a message that has not been discussed enough by outsiders and many Tiger faithful when looking at this team.
We?ve found a way to step into every pot hole imaginable over the past three years. Our coaches and players have learned from those shaky steps and I believe we have finally learned how to win that elusive late season game this year. We learn how to get over the proverbial hump.
We won?t be ACC Champions this year, at least by my best prognostication. But we will take a big step forward by winning the Atlantic Division and playing in Jacksonville. And if you can get to Jacksonville, the reality is that anything can happen on any given day to allow you to play on college football?s biggest stage.
And we?ll be much happier this offseason than we were last. While I?m certainly no Nostradamus, I do feel really good about this team. It?s a feeling I have not had about the previous two teams, even when I sat in the minority last year while writing my pre-season prognostication.
I probably sit in the minority again this year, and that is ok. Time will certainly tell. But don?t be the least bit surprised if this team is one of the best stories in college football this year. It?s a book that was half way finished last year before we let it slip away.
Time to add another chapter towards that completion.