Alright, let’s get into it.
- September is BRUTAL. Absolutely brutal. Three preseason top 25 teams in Auburn, Louisville, and Virginia Tech – two of those on the road. But this is one of a million things that make Dabo so great. He’s not remotely scared of challenging his team and playing the best teams in the country. It’s part of what made Clemson’s eight year climb to the top of the mountain so satisfying. They sequentially knocked off the best programs in the country. From Auburn to Miami to Georgia to Notre Dame to Oklahoma to LSU to Florida State to Ohio State, all the way up to big bad Bama. Dabo looked every elite program in the country in the eye and punched them in the mouth. We’re not afraid to play anyone. Any place any time. And sure two of these games are conference games and the other was predetermined so this wasn’t actually Dabo saying “make our schedule hard”. I just wanted to get that little rant in there.
- That defense will be ready to play on a National Championship level from day one. Yes, the losses of Carlos Watkins, Cordrea Tankersley, and Ben Boulware will hurt. But each of the last three years this team has lost first round defensive talent and only gotten better. They’re still absolutely loaded on that defensive line with Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, and Clelin Ferrell, and Venables has proven beyond a doubt to be the best coordinator and developer of talent on any side of the ball in college football.
- Short of maybe just Deshaun Watson, the biggest reason Clemson has been able to establish itself as a perennial top tier program is the talent and depth they’ve established at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. It’s the core reason Alabama has remained at the top so long. They lose first round picks and it’s just next man up. And while I’m not so insane as to say Clemson has reached Bama’s level on that front, they’re the closest of any program in the country. Coaching, Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line. Those are the four pillars – the foundation. And Clemson has as strong a foundation as any team in the country.
- Speaking of Quarterbacks… Clemson has the top QB recruit in the country in Hunter Johnson coming in this year (AND, by the way, the number one recruit of any position coming in the year after that in QB Trevor Lawrence). Of course it will hurt to lose Deshaun – not just as the Quarterback the last three years but as the leader and face of the program. But we can take solace in the fact that Clemson will be filthy rich in QB talent for years to come.
- In regards to QB play this season… it’s good to be starting out with a cupcake before that Auburn-Louisville back-to-back. Because with either Johnson or super inexperienced Kelly Bryant stepping into the shoes of the greatest quarterback in the history of college football (don’t @ me), it at least gives them a chance to get a game under their belt before facing two Top 15 teams back-to-back
- Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, Artavis Scott, and Wayne Gallman are all gone. That stinks. But Johnson or Bryant will still have a bevy of talent in Deon Cain (who had a sneaky great Championship game with a couple of very important catches, including the 43-yarder that finally got the offense going in the second quarter), Ray Ray McCloud, Trevion Thompson, the No. 1 WR recruit Tee Higgins, and oh yeah that guy that caught the National Championship winning touchdown, Hunter Renfrow. Plus a stable of talented backs led by C.J. Fuller and Tavien Feaster.
- The ACC is really, really strong. Sure, bowl season is not the best way to judge a conference. But a 9-3 record does speak volumes in regards to the growth and depth of this conference. The top is well established. Clemson is… Clemson. I mean we’re the best team in the country, with apologies to this Finebaum caller. Florida State is an absolute powerhouse. And Bobby Petrino has grown Louisville to be a national program with the reigning Heisman winner (even though he wasn’t better than Deshaun, and lost to Deshaun, and sucked down the stretch, and that Heisman looks like a goddamn joke after what Deshaun just did, but hey I’m not bitter). But the growing middle tier of the conference is what makes it so impressive. North Carolina and Virginia Tech are top 25 programs. Miami is well on it’s way back to prominence under Mark Richt. NC State and Pittsburgh are on the rise. Georgia Tech is still a problem for anyone they play. And even Boston College and Wake Forest lifted themselves to seven-win seasons. To the traditional College Football fan those names might not scare you. But I’d but this conference as a whole against anyone in the country. The SEC is Alabama, a big gap, LSU and Auburn, and trash. The Big 10 has an elite top four, then a massive drop off. And don’t even think about bringing up the Pac 10 or Big 12 in this discussion. Top to bottom the ACC is as good as it gets
If you’re looking for a way-too-early 2017 season prediction? Well yes, I’m here to give it to you. It’s 15-0.
That September is brutal, yes. Going 5-0 there with a Freshman Quarterback would be a HELL of a statement. But I have no reason to doubt Dabo. The foundation is all there, and the defense will be great enough to carry the offense through any growing pains they might encounter.
Dabo guided the Tigers to the top of the mountain. He did absolutely everything you’d ever ask of a man and more.
It was a deliberate, steady climb. There was nothing fraudulent about it – they skipped no steps here. It didn’t happen too fast and it didn’t happen without the right amount of failure along the way. They learned from their mistakes and improved upon them. They learned what worked and what didn’t. And all the while the kept on climbing their way up.
It was the perfect climb. One that, in the process, helped build the perfect foundation to remain at the summit.
Now we’ll see what life is like at the top.
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