Clemson Football: 4 Games That Could Ruin Tigers' 2014 Season
Now that fall practice has begun, the official countdown is on for the Clemson Tigers' trip to Georgia on August 30.
Can the Tigers repeat last season's success, when they defeated the Bulldogs 38-35 in one of the nation's most exciting games of opening weekend?
Clemson has three straight 10-win seasons, but it will be difficult to reach that mark in 2014. Not only is the schedule tougher, but the Tigers are also replacing a big portion of their offense. Senior Cole Stoudt should successfully replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback, but will it be too late?
Fortunately for Clemson, only three teams on the schedule return last year's starting quarterback. That plays into what should be one of the team's strengths this fall: a ferocious pass rush.
Who are the toughest opponents on Clemson's 2014 schedule? Here are four teams that could get in the way of Clemson reaching another 10-win season or challenge for the ACC title.
The Bulldogs should be a much different team from last season. Record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray is gone, and senior Hutson Mason is the man under center. That may not be a bad thing, though. Unlike Stoudt, Mason has started games before and played well.
While the Tigers lost some of their top offensive playmakers from last season, Georgia returns several, making Mason's job easier.
The biggest difference for Georgia this year will be an experienced defense. The 'Dawgs return seven starters from a defense that got better as the season wore on in 2013.
Unfortunately for Clemson, the timing couldn't be any worse. Having to head to Athens on opening weekend while breaking in several new starters may be too much to overcome.
Clemson played host to Florida State last October in what some considered to be the biggest game in ACC history.
That sentiment proved not to be true, as the Seminoles trounced the Tigers 51-14 in one of the country's most disappointing games. Furthermore, that game was played in Death Valley.
This season, the Tigers must head to Tallahassee.
To make matters worse, Clemson gets FSU in the season's third week.
While the 'Noles lost several talented players to the NFL, they still return seven starters on offense and six on defense. This year's game may not be as lopsided as the 2013 version, but it will be tough for the Tigers to leave Doak Campbell Stadium with a win.
Yes, North Carolina.
While the Tar Heels may be perpetual underachievers, they always have loads of talent. The 2014 version is no different.
Last season, UNC returned senior Bryn Renner at quarterback and got off to a 1-5 start. Sophomore Marquise Williams took over, and the Heels finished 7-6 on the season after winning six of their final seven games.
Williams returns this season and is perhaps the most talented quarterback in the ACC not named Jameis Winston. He is a perfect fit for head coach Larry Fedora's spread offense.
Clemson has won four of the past five meetings dating back to 2002. This season, the teams meet on September 27, one week after Clemson's trip to FSU.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they get UNC at home.
If only the Tigers could beat South Carolina. That's something Clemson fans seem to say year after year. The Gamecocks have won five straight in the series—all by double digits.
Will it be any different in 2014?
The 'Cocks lost quarterback Connor Shaw but otherwise return eight starters on offense. Dylan Thompson brings plenty of experience as a first-time starter with three career starts on his resume. He has plenty of weapons, too.
South Carolina loses Jadeveon Clowney on defense, but it should still be pretty solid on that side of the ball.
This fall, the Gamecocks will come to Death Valley. Will that make a difference?
If Clemson finally beats its in-state rival, that would be a major coup for head coach Dabo Swinney.
The verbal barbs between Dabo Swinney and USC coach Steve Spurrier continued this summer when Spurrier was asked about Swinney's comments that a team from South Carolina finally won a BCS bowl, per Chris Low of ESPN:
We've never even been to [a BCS bowl], I'll admit to that, although we beat them about every year. They get there and we don't. That's just the way it is. The SEC can only send two teams and the ACC sends two. We've got too many good teams going. That's just the way it's worked out. He's correct. But would you call the Orange Bowl a BCS bowl? They won the national championship there in 1981. I asked Danny [Ford, Clemson's former coach], 'Have they completely forgotten about you and your team in '81?' He said, 'I think they have.
College football needs more rivalries like this. Unfortunately, we must wait until November 29.