Editor's note: SeldomUsedReserve's Marty Coleman hits on perception and just how big the opener is for Clemson in this week's blog...
Over the years I’ve learned not to make too much of the opening game of the season. While the opener can be a harbinger of the season ahead, often times it has little relevance to the ultimate fate of a team.
Two years ago Clemson struggled with Troy and actually trailed 16-13 at the half in the opener before finding their stride and outscoring the Trojans 30-3 in the second half.
The Tigers followed that up by barely beating FCS foe Wofford, and yet somehow catapulted to an 8-0 record and top 10 ranking.
In the 2012 opener the Tigers struggled with what turned out to be a horrid Auburn team before settling for a 26-19 victory, yet went on to an 11-2 season and a victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Often it’s difficult to tell on opening day if you are looking at a team that’s knocking the off-season rust off or a team that’s going to struggle all season.
But in 2013 the opening game matters for Clemson.
The current method of determining a champion in college football leaves little room for error and a loss on opening day typically means the end of national title dreams except for teams in the SEC. This means for a team like Clemson a win on opening day is imperative, especially against Georgia. Perception matters in polls, with analysts, coaches and anyone else who may hold the 2013 Clemson Tigers' fate in their hands.
Listening to voices outside of the Clemson bubble has allowed me to observe the way Clemson is perceived on a more national basis. Everyone hears ESPN, but not everyone hears what the guys in Dallas, Austin, Baton Rouge, or even LA think of Clemson.
It’s a mixed bag at best. For every compliment (“great comeback over a good LSU team”), there’s at least one backhanded compliment (“yeah, but Les Miles blew that game”) or an outright shot at the Tigers (“Clemson’s good, but I don’t trust Dabo Swinney”, or “I saw West Virginia score 70 on this group”).
They’re still talking about the Orange Bowl from 18 months ago. Perception matters.
For every step forward there’s been at least one back. The 2011 ACC Championship was followed with the embarrassment of the Orange Bowl. The 10-1 start in 2012 was marred by a fourth consecutive loss to South Carolina.
On Saturday night in Death Valley, Clemson has an opportunity to change the perception of the program.
With a win there’s a real possibility Clemson could be 6-0 and sitting in the top 5 when Florida State comes to town on October 19th. If that were to happen the matchup with the Seminoles would be preceded by 6 weeks of positive energy and publicity surrounding the team and the Chick-fil-A Bowl will not only be legitimized, it will become part of the narrative of this season and the Tigers will have beaten two consecutive “brand name” SEC teams.
If Clemson loses Saturday, the Chick-fil-A Bowl will be seen as an outlier between losses to South Carolina and Georgia and it’ll be the “same old Clemson”, the LSU victory was luck, the ACC can’t play with the SEC and Clemson beat a whole bunch of nothing teams while losing to the good teams.
Opportunity knocks for Clemson on Saturday, and provides a chance to exorcise the demons. For Clemson in 2013 there is a profound, monumental difference between 1-0 and 0-1.
Elite teams are not judged by the pounding they hand out to Duke or Wake Forest. Elite teams are judged on how they perform in big games.
Check out four keys to the game here