The countdown is on to Clemson football first in Athens (Georgia) and then back in TigerTown on Sept. 6 (S.C. State).
We’re counting down the Clemson schedule – by strength of schedule – with a quick profile, team I.D. and prediction.
North Carolina returns to TigerTown, where they look to set the trap after the Tigers’ trip to Tallahassee.
Clemson Countdown to Kickoff
12) S.C. State
11) Georgia State
10) Wake Forest
9) N.C. State
6) Georgia Tech
4) North Carolina Tar Heels
Plays Clemson: at Memorial Stadium, Sept. 27, time TBA.
2013 Record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC, fifth in the Coastal Division).
Coach: Larry Fedora (49-29 career record).
Offense (2013 ranks): Spread (Scoring offense: 43, 32.7 PPG; Yards per play: 48, 5.9; Field position advantage: 30).
Defense (2013 ranks): 4-2-5 (Def. yards per play: 39, 5.3; Scoring defense: 43, 24.5 PPG; 3rd down defense: 67, 39.8%).
Advanced stats: Success Rate – 48 (44.9%); Points per trip inside the 40 – 38 (4.6); Adj. line yards – 52 (103.1); Def. Success Rate – 58 (42.2%); Def. points per trip inside the 40 – 33 (3.9); Def. adj. line yards – 71 (98.1).
Returning starters: Offense – 8; Defense – 7; Kickers – 2;
1. Fed-Spread year 3 - Much like Chad Morris’ first run, UNC had a top-15 total offense in Larry Fedora’s debut season, but unlike Morris and the Tigers, that success wasn’t sustained in a tumultuous ’13 campaign which saw a senior QB go down to injury (Bryn Renner) and a late-season run (6-1 finish). As a sophomore, quarterback Marquise Williams was efficient in his first major playing time: 1,698 passing yards, 7.8 yards per pass, 15 TDs to 6 INTs and leading UNC in rushing (536 yards/6 TDs). He loses a first-team All-ACC left tackle (James Hurst), but has his selection of skill position weapons to make defenses think.
2. Defense doldrums - In a season officially recognized as 0-5 for UNC (eight vacated wins), the Tar Heels had a top-10 defense in 2009. The next season? Top-30. The next season? Top-50. Then No. 64 last year. Point being, they’ve steadily declined in overall yards, despite top-40 showings in yards per play the last two years. The 4-2-5 scheme is in search of new playmakers on the d-line and secondary, which doesn’t exactly to lend to a big jump in production on this side of the ball.
3. Strong in that other phase - UNC has ranked in the top-15 nationally in Phil Steele’s special teams rankings the last two years. They return one of the ACC’s active leaders in yards per punt (Tommy Hibbard, 43), punt return yards (Ryan Switzer, 502) and kick return yards (T.J. Thorpe, 1,348).
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-3 ACC).
(Way too early) North Carolina pick: 41-27 Tigers.
Analysis: North Carolina has the talent to trip Clemson up the week after the Tigers tangle in Tallahassee. The track record says otherwise, on both sides. Since 2011, Clemson is 6-0 the week after a top-25 matchup with a 18-point margin of victory – and should it come to it, they are 6-1 coming off a loss. UNC is 0-4 against ranked opponents under Fedora and 0-for-its-last-8 as a program (the last ranked win came at Florida State in 2010, 37-35). Basically, Clemson takes care of business, while the Tar Heels haven’t proved they can win these type of games yet. UNC finished the 2013 season’s second-half by winning 6-of-7 and they’ll need that kind of momentum to start ACC play 1-0.
Next up: 3) South Carolina Gamecocks – Will the Tigers stop the streak?