What might be the most important week of the early spring sports schedule is off to a pretty good start.
Counting Sunday as the first day of a new week is as good a way as any of turning the page from past to future, especially in regard to the Tiger baseball team, which – for the third straight Sunday, and this time against the second-ranked defending national champion – rallied from a multi-run deficit and salvaged the final game of a weekend series.
Both Clemson and South Carolina – which claimed series bragging rights by the margin of an improbable 11th-inning catch on Friday - will move on from here, roll up their sleeves and dive into what promises to be difficult conference schedules for both.
Perhaps - as almost happened last spring – they’ll meet again.
For now, the Tigers – the preseason pick to win the Atlantic Division - will kick off their ACC schedule with a home series against North Carolina, which is the Coastal Division and overall ACC favorite.
The ACC seemingly doesn’t have much of a feel for late-season drama, as the conference office just dealt the same kind of hand to the Clemson and Florida State football teams in matching up the Tigers and Seminoles in September rather than November next fall.
That’s just one of the many mysteries that accompanied the belated release of 2012 ACC football schedule.
Overall, Clemson fared pretty well on the scheduling front – a conveniently-placed mid-season open date, no obvious Auburn-FSU-Virginia Tech murderer’s row sequences, and a stretch-run homestand. The biggest oddity is the Thursday night game at Wake Forest, which came after Clemson officials finally agreed to play a Thursday night home game. Go figure.
On the basketball court, Sunday’s news could have been better; but from a big-picture point of view, it’s hard to be anything but pretty well pleased with an 8-8 ACC finish, capped by a furious road rally that very nearly knocked off one of the ACC’s top teams.
It’s important to remember both how far this team has come since Christmas in Hawaii, and – as Greg Wallace pointed out in his coverage of the FSU game – that on Sunday “Clemson saw a little of its present and a lot of its future.”
Brad Brownell’s program is a work-in-progress, and we’ll be saying the same thing next year about a team comprised of two seniors, no juniors, five sophomores and five (or six) freshmen.
But there are now two strong seasons of evidence that Terry Don Phillips picked a winner in his most recent major-program hire.
Clemson fans will be keeping an eye on the ACC tournament this week (where the Tigers, who went into the weekend with a long shot at a top-four seeding and first-round bye, ended up with a tough opener against Virginia Tech), as well as the baseball series against North Carolina, and even the NCAA indoor track meet, where Lawrence Johnson’s Tigers will make a run at favored LSU for the women’s national championship.
But the hearts of most Tigers will be on the football practice field, as Dabo Swinney’s team begins preparations for the 2012 season.
Spring practice has usually already started by now, but Swinney pushed back the schedule a week to allow new defensive coordinator Brent Venables time to evaluate his personnel and put together a preparation plan.
There’s high interest any time the Tigers start over with a new coordinator; but perhaps even moreso this year, given the success of Chad Morris’ offensive overhaul last spring.
Venables says he’s going into the spring with a clean sheet – no returning starters, with all jobs up for grabs.
Meanwhile on the offensive side of the ball, Morris is determined to install the rest of his package, fully arming the Tigers to take advantage of their playmaking ability.
We’ll be closely following those storylines, and more, over the next month.
From the vantage point of an ordinary March Monday, it looks like a good week ahead.