When you are the Clemson Tigers and Dabo Swinney, each big non-conference game is like audition. 2 years ago Clemson won the ACC, but got humiliated by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. In many ways the luster of winning the 2011 ACC, was tarnished. Last year’s season opening win over, at the time, a fringe top 25 Auburn squad set the tone for the rest of 2012 and helped put that Orange Bowl nightmare behind them. I wrote last year how critical that game was to proving Clemson was a program on the rise.
The Tigers made huge strides last year, by not losing to a team outside of the top 10, and then of course coming up with the Chick Fil A Bowl win over SEC power LSU. It was a great win. There is no question about it.
Clemson joined Louisville and Alabama as the three teams that benefited most for their bowl wins. Clemson and Louisville start the year in the top 10, and Alabama is pretty much the consensus #1 team.
That said the Tigers have to put the LSU game out of their minds. Yes they should take away alot of confidence from that game, but to prove the program is really moving in the right direction and that the LSU win wasn’t a fluke they have to beat a top 10 Georgia team in Death Valley. There’s not many opportunities for Clemson to recover if they lose.
Consider if Georgia loses and falls to 12-15th in the country, they play South Carolina and LSU at home before the month September is over. Win both even with a loss to Clemson, the Bulldogs are back in the top 10 with only 1 more ranked team the rest of the season after that. That’s sounds like to me the Bulldogs can very much get back in the national title race even with a loss to Clemson. By losing at home to the Bulldogs, the Tigers would drop further and have fewer opportunities to make up ground in the rankings. The Tigers would have to wait nearly 2 months to play another ranked team in Florida State.
It’s what is good and bad about the current makeup of the ACC. Clemson will favored in every ACC game, but only the game against Florida State would give them a push in the rankings. With Louisville joining the ACC, more frequent games with Notre Dame, and the rest of the ACC recruiting better, this won’t always be the case, but it is this year.
QB Tajh Boyd is a senior, WR Sammy Watkins likely is gone after this year, and Florida State is on the road in 2014. Next season doesn’t look like a year where Clemson can make a run at the new 4 team playoffs. This year, there are no playoffs, but there is the national championship game. Clemson will face a near impossible task of getting to that game without beating Georgia. You don’t want to lose an off-season’s worth of work, in one game. Playing Georgia is high risk high reward. It’s what Boise St. did to make themselves a perennial BCS buster. It’s what Florida State did in the 1980s to set the foundation for their 14 year top 5 ranking run. (1987-2000) You get better playing good competition.
Clemson has done that in recent years, they are doing that this year, but they must take advantage of the opportunity in front of them in Week 1.