For Clemson, beating Auburn at a neutral sight is no simple task.
That mission gets significantly harder without Sammy Watkins.
Watkins, the All-American wide receiver from a year ago, was suspended for possession of marijuana and will miss the first two games of the season against the Tigers and the Ball State Cardinals.
When every game is a playoff game for teams seeking to qualify for a BCS Bowl, this is a huge blow for Clemson.
Speaking of BCS bowls, the Tigers will definitely begin the 2012 campaign with a huge chip on their shoulder. West Virginia, the weak representative from an even weaker conference, received the Big East's automatic BCS berth against Clemson, the heavy favorite.
At the end of 60 minutes though, it was Clemson who looked overwhelmed. They lost the Orange Bowl 70-33.
So entering 2012, Clemson, the 14th ranked team in the nation, has much more to prove than your average top-25 team. Can they shake off the rout that ended last season? Can they survive a tough SEC test without their best wide receiver?
Tajh Boyd will play a major role in answering both of those questions.
The Clemson quarterback was one of the best to ever put on a Tigers uniform, in 2011. Through the air, he accumulated 3,828 yards and tossed 33 touchdowns, all while leading his team to a 10-4 record. But after a hot start faded into a failed bowl game, he's destined to prove he's not a one-year wonder.
If Boyd can lead the Tigers to two wins without Sammy Watkins, the September should get easier, but only for a week. After a home game versus Furman, Clemson will travel to Florida State for a showdown with the seventh-ranked Seminoles.
It's only the first month of the year, but September will likely determine Clemson's fate. Two losses in the first month would all but eliminate them from BCS contention, but two huge wins would skyrocket the Tigers up the polls and into the national spotlight.
After the Florida State game, the Tigers have a good chance at running the table and going undefeated in the ACC. Although Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are both formidable opponents, they have the advantage of playing both at home.
If Clemson escapes September, mark your calendar for November 24th. South Carolina comes in to play the Tigers with huge implications on the line.
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