By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
Four games into the schedule, Clemson’s season still has nearly as much chance of knocking the cue ball off the table as it does running the rack.
This isn’t only about Indians and Chickens. There are teams ahead in better position to bite Clemson on the butt, and instead of California Dreamin’ you’ll be stumbling around Disney World with a blank stare and mouse ears like a Mohawk wondering what happened.
My four-year old nephew in Ohio didn’t need some radio schmuck with an inflated ego to explain that Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina were the big targets. You shouldn’t either.
What he could not appreciate was the potential for trouble during this week’s trip to Syracuse or a three-game stretch of conference games between FSU and USC. Since August you have read here that Maryland, Virginia and Georgia Tech will define this season. Nothing has happened the first month to change my opinion.
Those of the mind that Syracuse should be a breeze because of Clemson’s most recent experience in the Georgia Dome ought to check with your doctors for a dose of reality. Half of the 71,228 in the Georgia Dome in January were Clemson fans. The Carrier Dome seats 49,250 and hardly any will be friendly.
Since there’s a potential for aesthetic confusion – orange in Syracuse isn’t a color or fashion choice but a lifestyle – it may be a good idea for the few Clemson fans that make the journey to style in purple (I’m just sayin’). This may also be a perfect juncture to encourage Clemson fans on the fence to make the trip. It’s a beautiful drive through the Pennsylvania mountains into central and upstate New York. Gettysburg wouldn’t be an inconvenient diversion, and Cooperstown is 90 minutes from Syracuse.
But we digress.
Consider some of these numbers culled from this week’s NCAA stats:
Boston College is the nation’s least penalized team and 22nd in turnover ratio under first-year coach Steve Addazio. Those are pertinent measures for a team with a senior quarterback rediscovering itself.
There’s not a team in the ACC with a statistically better start than Florida State. The Noles are fourth nationally in scoring, averaging 51.3 points per game, 14th in total defense and 17th in scoring defense. Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke rolled into one precocious package, ranking second nationally in passing efficiency and is in the conversation with Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, tied for seventh in touchdown responsibility. The ACC can go ahead and anoint him Rookie of the Year, and he may be Tajh Boyd’s main threat to repeating as conference player of the year.
Maryland shapes up as a the most obvious darkhorse with the game in College Park a week after FSU. These guys are about leaving an impression in their last season in the ACC. Though the Terps are 4-0, keep in mind that the opponents were FIU, Old Dominion, UConn and West Virginia. UConn fired its coach today. Nevertheless Maryland is sixth in total defense, eighth in pass efficiency defense and third in scoring defense. Quarterback C.J. Brown, who bedeviled Clemson two years ago, is 9th in passing efficiency and 12th in rushing touchdowns. Stefon Diggs is 36th in all-purpose yardage. William Likely is second in kickoff returns averaging 36.8 yards. And Marcus Whitfield is among the leaders in sacks and tackles for loss.
Virginia seems to be a precise caricature of itself over the past decade, 16th nationally in total defense despite a 59-10 loss to Oregon. Clemson has not played well in Charlottesville for a while. In the back of my mind is the memory of a game that was uglier than roadkill.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn Georgia Tech ranks 10th nationally in rushing yardage, but ninth in scoring and 29th against the pass seem improbable until it’s understood that the numbers are distorted by that 70-0 win over Elon to open the season. The schedule further illustrates Georgia Tech’s potential to make a run in the ACC Coastal. Games with Miami, BYU, Syracuse, Virginia and Pitt precede the Jackets’ date in Death Valley, and quarterback Vad Lee is a better passer than Tech has seen since Reggie Ball.
Beyond that are games with The Citadel and South Carolina, topics for later should Clemson survive the conference gauntlet. If the Tigers get through the 11th game undefeated and their BCS rating holds, confidence and the sense of purpose should propel them through Columbia like Sherman on a beer run.
Then the season comes down to a trip to the ATM at BofA stadium in Charlotte.
You better hope Clemson hasn’t overdrawn its account.