Clemson Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2014 Schedule

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

Clemson Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2014 Schedule

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    Vic Beasley
    Vic BeasleyRICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    The Clemson Tigers are one week into spring practice, and it's never too early to start talking about next season.

    Sure, most of the talk around Clemson is, who will replace Tajh Boyd? Or who will step up and fill the void left by Sammy Watkins?

    Fortunately for Clemson fans, head coach Dabo Swinney has filled the roster with talented prospects at every position. 

    The Tigers went 11-2 in 2013 and finished the season with an Orange Bowl win over Ohio State. Clemson's two losses came to national champion Florida State and bitter rival South Carolina.

    Can the Tigers avenge those losses in 2014?

    Here's a game-by-game preview of the Tigers' 2014 schedule from the weakest opponent to the strongest. 

12. Georgia State: Nov. 22

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    Georgia State head coach Trent Miles
    Georgia State head coach Trent MilesChris Jackson/Associated Press

    Poor Trent Miles. The second-year Georgia State head coach has one of the toughest jobs in all of college football: building a winner at Georgia State.

    Miles, who took over a moribund Indiana State program in 2008, had the Sycamores at 7-4 in his final season in 2012. Miles is only the second head coach in the history of the Panthers' young football program. 

    The Panthers were 0-12 in 2013 and expect to struggle again in 2014. The scheduling of this game is a bit odd, as it is the week before the season finale against South Carolina. Consider this a nice warm-up for the Tigers before they face their bitter in-state rivals. 

11. South Carolina State: Sept. 6

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    South Carolina St. vs. Clemson in 2013 when Tigers won, 52-13.
    South Carolina St. vs. Clemson in 2013 when Tigers won, 52-13.Tyler Smith/Getty Images

    These two schools played in 2013, and predictably, the Tigers made quick work of the Bulldogs. 

    Don't sleep on S.C. State, though. After losing to Clemson on Sept. 7, the Bulldogs went on to win nine of their final 11 games. 

    Beating Clemson, however, is not going to happen. After the season opener at Georgia, Death Valley will be happy to welcome the Tigers home. That's not good news for South Carolina State.

    This game will be about getting the offense in sync before Clemson travels to Florida State in two weeks. 

10. North Carolina State: Oct. 4

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    Former Florida QB and future N.C. State signal-caller Jacoby Brissett
    Former Florida QB and future N.C. State signal-caller Jacoby BrissettSam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Dave Doeren had a tough first year in charge of the Wolfpack in 2013.

    Will things be much better in 2014?

    N.C. State had a strong recruiting class and Doeren will welcome Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett into the program as the 'Pack's new starting quarterback.

    The Tigers won last season's matchup, 26-14, in Raleigh. Expect the Wolfpack to make things tough on Clemson in 2014 too. However, N.C. State just doesn't have enough overall talent to threaten Clemson on the road quite yet. 

9. At Wake Forest: Nov. 6 (Thursday)

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    New Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson
    New Wake Forest coach Dave ClawsonLeon Halip/Getty Images

    For the first time since 2000, someone other Jim Grobe will patrol the sidelines for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Grobe resigned in December after a fifth straight losing season. Despite an overall record of 77-82, Grobe did a good job overall for the Deacs' and will be tough to replace. 

    Dave Clawson, formerly of Bowling Green, gets the unenviable task of reviving a program not widely known for its exploits on the gridiron. 

    Clemson will travel to Winston-Salem on the first Thursday in November. Expect the Tigers to have as many fans at BB&T Field as the Demon Deacons. 

8. At Boston College: Oct. 18

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    Boston College led by head coach Steve Addazio
    Boston College led by head coach Steve AddazioDarren McCollester/Getty Images

    The Eagles are always a scrappy bunch and give everyone in the ACC their best shot. But that doesn't always equal team success.

    Second-year head coach Steve Addazio looks to build off last season's momentum where he led BC to a 7-6 record. However, the Eagles lost their quarterback, top wide receiver, best defensive player and overall best player in running back Andre Williams.

    The Tigers will be stout on defense next season. Traveling to Chestnut Hill is never easy, and it won't be in October. But Clemson is still too good for BC to pull off the upset. 

7. Syracuse: Oct. 25

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    Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt
    Syracuse QB Terrel HuntBob Levey/Getty Images

    Quietly, first-year head coach Scott Shafer did one of the better coaching jobs in all of the ACC in 2013. Shafer led the Orange to a 7-6 record, 4-4 in the conference, after replacing Doug Marrone. 

    The Orange could be even better in 2014. Talented quarterback Terrel Hunt returns, and Shafer, a terrific defensive mind, will have the Orange better on defense next season.

    Clemson will face the Orange in late October, which will give the Tigers plenty of time to break in the new offensive weapons on offense. The Tigers won last season's matchup, 49-14.


6. North Carolina: Sept. 27

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    Junior quarterback Marquise Williams
    Junior quarterback Marquise WilliamsChuck Burton/Associated Press

    UNC was good in 2012 in Larry Fedora's first season in charge. Last season, though, the Tar Heels did what they normally do in football: Leave you wanting more. 

    The Tar Heels are a talented bunch, and many felt they'd take a big step forward in 2013. They didn't, but that could change in 2014 with the return of junior quarterback Marquise Williams. Williams took over as the starter after Bryn Renner was lost for the season.

    The experience gained last season will serve the talented Williams well in 2014. He is the perfect quarterback to run Fedora's spread offense. 

    This will be a tough matchup for the Tigers, but fortunately, it will take place in Death Valley. 

5. At Georgia Tech: Nov. 15

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    Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee
    Georgia Tech QB Vad LeeMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Tigers meet the Yellow Jackets late in the season, and it will be Clemson's last road game.

    And it will be a tough one.

    Clemson dominated the Jackets in 2013, throttling them, 55-31, but things could change in 2014.

    GT's talented junior quarterback, Vad Lee, runs Paul Johnson's triple-option offense to perfection. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have his hands full in this one. 

4. Louisville: Oct. 11

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    New (old) Louisville coach Bobby Petrino
    New (old) Louisville coach Bobby PetrinoAndy Lyons/Getty Images

    Imagine if this matchup would've happened one year ago? It would have featured Heisman-contending quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd facing off. 

    Instead, you have two programs in transition. With the Tigers, it is more of a situation where they are just reloading. For Louisville, they not only lost Bridgewater, but head coach Charlie Strong too.

    Enter former coach Bobby Petrino. 

    Petrino, whose been seemingly everywhere and mired in scandal, returned to Louisville where he coached from 2003-2006.

    Petrino will succeed with Louisville once he finds a quarterback.

    This will be a tough matchup for the Tigers. 

3. South Carolina: TBA

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    South Carolina running back Mike Davis
    South Carolina running back Mike DavisStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Did you ever think a Steve Spurrier-coached team would be built around defense?

    That's seemingly been the case with South Carolina over the last few years. The Gamecocks were good on offense, but they were better on defense.

    That may not be the case in 2014. The Gamecocks lost quarterback Connor Shaw but fortunately have an experience senior ready to step in with Dylan Thompson. South Carolina also returns top running backs Mike Davis, Shon Carson and Brandon Wilds. 

    The 'Cocks won last season's matchup in Columbia. This season, the bitter rivals end the season in Death Valley. 

2. At Georgia: Aug. 30

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    Georgia running back Todd Gurley
    Georgia running back Todd GurleyJoe Robbins/Getty Images

    Last season's opener against Georgia was one of the most exciting games in a season full of them. The Tigers prevailed, 38-35, thanks in large part to Boyd and Sammy Watkins. 

    Georgia's defense was also extremely young in 2013. That won't be the case in the 2014 season opener when the Tigers travel to Athens. The 'Dawgs return almost everyone on defense and will be led by first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who left national champion Florida State to join Georgia. 

    The Bulldogs will also have to replace a record-setting quarterback. 

    Expect this one to be a defensive battle, a stark contrast from one year ago. 

1. At Florida State: Sept. 20

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    Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston
    Heisman Trophy winner Jameis WinstonStephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Last season's battle between Clemson and FSU was billed as the biggest in ACC history. The actual game didn't live up to the hype, as the Seminoles rolled into Death Valley and embarrassed the Tigers.

    In 2014, Clemson will travel to Tallahassee. 

    Jameis Winston returns under center for Florida State. However, the 'Noles will lose several starters from an outstanding defense. 

    Unfortunately for the rest of the ACC, FSU is loaded with talent. This is undoubtedly Clemson's toughest matchup in 2014, and if the Tigers can upset the 'Noles, they can win the ACC.