CLEMSON — The past week was one of the slowest on the sports calendar.
Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game – one of the more pointless exercises I can think of – dominated the week’s discussion, with Wednesday and Thursday marking the only days of the year where none of the major four professional leagues – MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL – were in action.
That lull will be filled this week.
Tuesday, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney holds his media golf outing, the unofficial beginning of college football season. The ACC Kickoff is set for next Sunday and Monday in Greensboro, and Clemson opens preseason practice Aug. 3.
It’s the perfect time for what has become an annual tradition: my way-too-early, not-so-serious look at how Clemson’s season will unfold. Last year, I pegged the Tigers for an 8-4 regular-season record: they did me one better, going 9-3.
Sept. 1 vs. Auburn in Atlanta: A year ago, this was Sammy Watkins’ national coming-out party. Watkins went for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 10 catches as Clemson handed the defending national champs their first loss in over a year. This time around, it’s not known when Watkins will come out; his status for the game remains in question following a May arrest on drug charges; Swinney said last month that it is likely he’ll miss at least some game action as punishment. That, plus the fact that Clemson’s Chad Morris is the only coordinator to return from 2011’s game, makes this a tough call.
I think Clemson’s offense, despite an unproven line, will still be too tough for Auburn’s defense. Clemson 27, Auburn 20.
Sept. 8 vs. Ball State: The Cardinals were a surprise last year, finishing 6-6 in former Elon coach Pete Lembo’s first season. However, they lack defensive playmakers and give up points in bunches, which is a major problem against the Tigers’ prolific offense. Clemson 45, Ball State 21.
Sept. 15 vs. Furman: Don’t sleep on Furman. The Paladins gave Florida a wake-up call last November, bolting to a 22-7 second-quarter lead in The Swamp. Florida rallied for a 54-32 win, but Furman won’t be intimidated by Death Valley. Clemson let SoCon foe Wofford hang around last fall, and there’s danger in a similar outcome this fall. Clemson 35, Furman 17.
Sept. 22 at Florida State: Here’s the toughest road test of the season. In 2010, the Tigers lost a 16-13 heartbreaker in Tallahassee on Dustin Hopkins’ 55-yard field goal at the final gun, and rebounded for a thrilling 35-30 win over FSU in Clemson last fall with FSU starting quarterback E.J. Manuel sidelined. The Seminoles boast one of the nation’s best defensive lines, and it’s tough to favor Clemson’s rebuilt O-line in such a hostile environment. Florida State 27, Clemson 17.
Sept. 29 at Boston College: Clemson has won only one of its last three trips to Chestnut Hill. Two years ago, Kyle Parker channeled Brett Favre – and not in a good way – in a 16-10 defeat. The Tigers belted BC at home last year, but Alumni Stadium is always vexing. Still, without NFL first-round pick Luke Kuechly and top all-time leading rusher Montel Harris, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles being much better than they were a year ago. Clemson 33, Boston College 14.
Oct. 6 vs. Georgia Tech: Kevin Steele never figured out Paul Johnson’s flexbone offense, going 1-3 in his Clemson tenure. Now, it’s Brent Venables’ turn to solve the puzzle. Venables faced much more spread than option, but his players have plenty of experience. If the Tigers can avoid the silly turnovers that plagued them on the Flats a year ago, here’s thinking Venables will have a smile on his face by game’s end. Clemson 27, Georgia Tech 21.
Oct. 20 vs. Virginia Tech: Andre Branch gave Virginia Tech’s offensive line and Logan Thomas fits last fall. Andre Branch is now playing in Jacksonville. Score one for the Hokies. However, the Hokies did not show the aptitude to stop the Tigers’ fast-paced offense last fall. Given that this game is at home, expect Clemson’s dominance of Frank Beamer to continue. Clemson 24, Virginia Tech 17.
Oct. 25 at Wake Forest: The toughest turnaround of the season – the Tigers have lost their last three ACC road Thursday night games, at Virginia Tech in 2006, Tommy Bowden’s last game at Wake in 2008 and at Georgia Tech in 2009. A far less talented Clemson team belted Wake here two years ago, but the Demon Deacons took the Tigers to the wire last November before Chandler Catanzaro’s Atlantic Division-clinching kick. Expect another nailbiter here, with Clemson ending its Thursday hex. Clemson 27, Wake Forest 24.
Nov. 3 at Duke: The Blue Devils’ press box adjoins a medical office. Their visitor’s locker rooms are among the ACC’s worst, and Wallace Wade Stadium , by this time, will be nothing more than a diversion before Mike Krzyzewski cranks up Blue Devil basketball next door. If Clemson is focused, this will be easy. Clemson 45, Duke 14.
Nov. 10 vs. Maryland: Last one out of College Park and away from Randy Edsall, turn out the lights. The Terrapins gave Clemson fits a year ago, but Venables should have a plan to defend mobile quarterback C.J. Brown. Clemson 37, Maryland 17.
Nov. 17 vs. N.C. State: This was one of Clemson’s more disappointing days of the ACC title season. With Watkins and left tackle Phillip Price sidelined with injuries, the Wolfpack whipped Clemson on both sides of the ball to take the Textile Bowl back for the first time in eight years. Expect a tightly contested game, but if Clemson is healthy, it’ll take a much-needed win and fill the hole in its WestZone trophy case.
Clemson 21, N.C. State 17.
Nov. 24 vs. South Carolina: Historically, Clemson has dominated South Carolina, but that hasn’t been the case recently. South Carolina has won three straight, including last season’s 34-13 rout, the first time that’s happened since 1968-70. Steve Spurrier has a quarterback he can trust, a defense opponents fear and, by November, a healthy Marcus Lattimore at tailback. Clemson will be trying to avoid its first four-game losing streak to USC since the 1950s, but unless an unproven offensive line takes big steps forward, I don’t see it happening. South Carolina 24, Clemson 17.
That leaves Clemson with a regular-season record of 10-2, but the in-division loss to Florida State could haunt the Tigers in their quest for back-to-back ACC titles.