Before the season even began, The Clemson Insider staff discussed the possibilities of the 2017 season should Clemson come out of September with a 4-1 or 5-0 record.
Unless something of epic proportions happens this Saturday against Boston College, the second-ranked Tigers should come out of the month no worse than 4-1. Though a loss at Virginia Tech would be disappointing to Clemson fans if it should happen, the Tigers would still be in position to win the ACC’s Atlantic Division, play for an ACC Championship and more than likely have a shot at making the College Football Playoff for a third straight year.
However, if Clemson is able to go to Blacksburg, Va., and knock off No. 13 Virginia Tech, then the possibility of making history will be staring the Tigers right in the face.
Two years ago, Clemson (3-0, 1-0 ACC) was in position to be the first team in FBS history to go 15-0, but it fell short of that goal with a loss to Alabama in the CFP National Championship Game. Last year, an unexplainable loss to Pitt in the 10th game cost the Tigers a shot at history, though this time they walked away as national champions with a win over Alabama in the CFP National Championship Game.
Now, there is a long way to go before this Clemson team’s record is written in the history books. Though Dabo Swinney and his Tigers want to take things one game at a time, we (the media and the fans) can look ahead to the possibilities that lie ahead and what could prevent them from winning a second straight national championship.
As of right now, the Tigers have three big hurdles left in the regular season. The first is at Virginia Tech where freshman quarterback Josh Jackson has the Hokies’ offense humming. Virginia Tech, who Clemson beat in last year’s ACC Championship Game, is averaging 40.7 points and 482.3 yards per game through the first three weeks. Also, playing in Blacksburg at night is not an easy task and quarterback Kelly Bryant will have to take care of the ball against a Bud Foster defense that has already forced six turnovers.
Foster’s coverages are not the easiest to solve and they sometimes force quarterbacks to make mistakes. The Hokies, though 10th in the ACC in pass defense (242.7 ypg.), are tied for third in the conference with three interceptions.
The second hurdle will be at home against Georgia Tech, where again another freshman quarterback is playing well. The Yellow Jackets once again lead the ACC in rushing at 372.5 yards per game and TaQuon Marshall ranks second in the conference in rushing yards at 137.0 yards per game.
Marshall ate up Tennessee’s defense in the season opener as he ran for a school record 249 yards and scored a school record five touchdowns, while running the Jackets’ triple-option offense. Granted Clemson has shut down Tech’s triple option the last three years under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, but it’s always challenging especially when playing new players on defense.
The third and final hurdle will again be at home and again Clemson will face a freshman quarterback. With Deondre Francois out for the season, the Seminoles will turn to James Blackman to guide the offense. The Seminoles, thanks to a defense that is much improved this year, should still be in the title hunt when they visit Clemson on Nov. 11 for what should be, like it always is, the championship game for the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
Should the Tigers survive in all three of these games, and stay healthy, then they should come out of the regular season undefeated, playing for not only a third straight ACC Championship, but a third straight trip to the CFP and even more.
Granted, there is a long way to go in the season and we are only four weeks in, but it can happen, and it is never too early to start talking about it.