Ranking Clemson's 2015 opponents


by - Senior Writer -
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Death Valley will play host to Clemson's three toughest opponents in 2015 (Photo by Joshua S. Kelly)

The 2015 Clemson football schedule was recently released, and as I mentioned in an earlier article the schedule drew a mixed reaction from fans.

There are those who think John Swofford took over the Clemson part of the schedule himself, sitting at home and grinning devilishly while trying to make sure the Tigers don’t get a spot in the ACC Championship Game. On the flip side, most fans get – at least I hope so – that Clemson has reached a point as a program that the schedule doesn’t really matter. As Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby.”

Clemson’s schedule has two very winnable games at home to start the season, a short week to prepare for a trip to Louisville, 16 days to prepare for Notre Dame. The Notre Dame game begins a stretch of three straight home games, and then the Tigers close the last half of the season with four road trips and home games against Florida St. and Wake Forest.

The funny thing about the schedule – at least as I see it – is that Clemson would be favored right now to win all 12 of those contests. With that in mind, I took a look at the Tigers’ 12 opponents and ranked them. It’s all open for discussion and things will change between now and the time each game is played, but here is how the schedule breaks out in my eyes. Keep in mind, this isn’t about the importance of the game. It’s merely an exercise in taking a look at the teams on the schedule and ranking them best to worst.

1. FLORIDA ST.

2014 record: 13-1.

Returning starters: 4 on offense, 7 on defense.

Recent result with Clemson: 23-17 Seminoles in Doak Campbell Stadium.

Last season’s final RPI: 4

The game: Nov. 7th at Clemson

The outlook: Florida St. may be a little down next season, but no other team on the schedule comes close. The winner of this game seems to always have the inside track to the ACC Championship Game, and this year might not be any different. The gap in talent between to the two programs is closing, and Deshaun WatsonDeshaun Watson
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is back while Jameis Winston is gone. But the Noles are still one of the five most talented teams in the country, if not in the top two or three. They are dangerous even if I’m playing quarterback.

2. NOTRE DAME

2014 record: 8-5.

Returning starters: 9 on offense, 10 on defense.

Recent result with Clemson: Clemson beat the Irish 16-10 in South Bend on November 17th, 1979.

Last season’s final RPI: 44

The game: Oct. 3rd at Clemson

The outlook: The Irish are talented and bring back 19 starters from a team that defeated LSU in the Music City Bowl. Head coach Brian Kelly has told everyone this will be his most talented team to date, and we should know plenty about the kind of team Kelly has when they arrive in Clemson: The Irish open up at home against Texas, travel to Virginia, host Georgia Tech and UMass without a break in the four weeks leading up to the game against the Tigers. This one should be fun, and it’s sure to be sold out.

3. GEORGIA TECH

2014 record: 11-3

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 8 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: 28-6 Yellow Jackets in Bobby Dodd Stadium

Last season’s final RPI: 8

The game: Oct. 10th at Clemson

The outlook: I can make the case that Georgia Tech should be ranked ahead of Notre Dame, and these teams could even tie for second place or even switch places because it’s that close. Tech returns solid quarterback Justin Thomas, but unlike the Irish they have to replace critical starters at more than one position including four of their top five running backs and top two receivers . As it stands right now, however, the Jackets could be the favorite to win the Coastal division, and a loss here puts Clemson in a position of having to beat FSU in November if it all plays out the way we think it could. This one is a big one.

4. LOUISVILLE

2014 record: 9-4.

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: 23-17 Tigers last season in Memorial Stadium

Last season’s final RPI: 21

The game: Sept. 17th at Louisville (Thursday night)

The outlook: The Cards lose DeVante Parker, Lorenzo Mauldin and almost the entire secondary but have Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons ready to play. Like Clemson, their defense may go through some growing pains in the season’s first month, and they are missing some important offensive pieces as well. But both quarterbacks return, they are at home on a Thursday and Bobby Petrino – for all his flaws as a person – is one heckuva football coach.

5. SOUTH CAROLINA

2014 record: 7-6

Returning starters: 4 on offense, 8 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: 35-17 Tigers in Memorial Stadium last season

Last season’s final RPI: 55

The game: November 28th at South Carolina

The outlook: I struggled over whether to put South Carolina in this spot, or the Miami team that they beat in Shreveport in the bowl game or an NC State team that won eight games. The truth is that South Carolina needs to replace some key pieces on the offense (and that includes finding someone to play quarterback). For all of the hope on the defense, I don’t get the feeling most people think it was youth and inexperience that led to all the troubles – they are just not very good. Now they aren’t very good and a year older. But it’s still Steve Spurrier and it’s still a rivalry game, and that counts for a lot. They also have the dangerous Pharoh Cooper and some other skill players to look out for. So they are five.

6. N.C. STATE

2014 record: 8-5

Returning starters: 9 on offense, 5 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: 41-0 Tigers last season in Memorial Stadium

Last season’s final RPI: 42

The game: Oct. 31st at N.C. State

The outlook: The Wolfpack won eight game last season, but didn’t really beat anyone until the win over UCF in the bowl game. However, they got better as the season progressed and return one of the conference’s most exciting quarterbacks in Jacoby Brissett. Under Dave Doeren, the steps to getting better have been incremental, but they are getting better and have put some nice pieces in place through recruiting.

7. MIAMI

2014 record: 6-7.

Returning starters: 5 on offense, 6 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: 30-21 Hurricanes in Memorial Stadium in 2010

Last season’s final RPI: 66

The game: Oct. 24th at Miami

The outlook: Miami’s loss to South Carolina put them at 6-7 and it means that head coach Al Golden is firmly on the hot seat. The Canes have recruited well, but somehow always find a way to not put it together on game day. They also lose talented back Duke Johnson, who was the main cog in the offense. The second-best rookie quarterback in the conference last season (behind Deshaun Watson) was Miami’s Brad Kaaya, and it will take Kaaya and a nice 2014 recruiting class beginning to step forward if the Canes wanna take that next step.

8. BOSTON COLLEGE

2014 record: 7-6

Returning starters: 3 on offense, 6 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: 17-13 Tigers in Alumni Stadium

Last season’s final RPI: 57

The game: Oct. 17th at Clemson

The outlook: Steve Addazio is a good coach at a school that cares more about hockey than they do football. Last season they had a big win over Southern Cal and were competitive across the board, but they lose all five starters on the offensive line and quarterback Tyler Murphy. Could be another bit of a rebuilding year at Chestnut Hill.

9. SYRACUSE

2014 record: 3-9

Returning starters: 8 on offense, 3 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: 16-6 Tigers last season in Memorial Stadium

Last season’s final RPI: 102nd

The game: Nov. 14th at Syracuse

The outlook: We all know it’s really, really loud and really, really hot in the Carrier Dome, right? I am sort of kidding, and we are now to the point in the schedule where you can flip a coin as to who is better. But I liked what I saw out of Syracuse in a few games last season, and even though three wins is lackluster they still were competitive in a lot of games. Can they take that next step? That’s the question that will determine the job status of Scott Shafer.

10. APPALACHIAN ST.

2014 record: 7-5

Returning starters: 10 on offense, 10 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: Clemson won 23-12 in the 1997 season opner

Last season’s final RPI: 79

The game: September 12th at Clemson

The outlook: I have App St. in this spot – ahead of Wake – because the Mountaineers return 20 starters to a team that won its last six games last season. The Mountaineers didn’t play anyone from a Power Five conference last season, but should be competitive with some of the big boys next year.

11. WAKE FOREST

2014 record: 3-9

Returning starters: 9 on offense, 7 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: 34-20 Tigers at BB&T Field last season

Last season’s final RPI: 116

The game: November 21st at Clemson

The outlook: Wake Forest just isn’t very good right now and I don’t see them getting a lot better by next season. It’s the week before the rivalry game at South Carolina, and Wake is the perfect opponent.

12. WOFFORD

2014 record: 6-5

Returning starters: 11 on offense, 8 on defense

Recent result with Clemson: 35-27 Tigers in 2011 in Memorial Stadium

Last season’s final RPI: 201

The game: September 5th at Clemson

The outlook: Wofford isn’t the same program they were when they last stepped onto the field in Death Valley. The Southern Conference has undergone a major makeover and the Terriers are struggling to keep up. It’s the opener, and the hard thing for Clemson will be stopping Mike Ayer’s option offense.


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