For much of the off-season, the conversation in regards to Clemson’s schedule has centered on the defending national champions’ early dates with Auburn, Louisville and then the Nov. 11 battle against Florida State.
It is understandable why all three of those games headline the Tigers’ schedule. Auburn, because it has traditionally been a power in the SEC, is an important non-conference game for the résumé’ while Louisville and Florida State games are ACC Atlantic rivals and the outcome of those two games could impact the outcome of the division.
However, there is another game that could have a big impact on the season, and few people around the country are talking about it this preseason. On Sept. 30, Clemson will journey into Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va., to take on Virginia Tech in a rematch of last year’s ACC Championship Game.
“It means a lot to us,” Virginia Tech wide receiver Cam Phillips said this past week at the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte, N.C. “I know it definitely means a lot to me just because of how we lost in the ACC Championship. I think it’s an opportunity for revenge, so I speak for, I think, the whole staff and the team when I say we’ll be ready for them.
“We’re not going to take them lightly at all. Like you said, they are the defending National Champions. But I think it will be a great opportunity to show our growth in the season. I believe it’s, what, the fifth game of the season, so it’ll be a nice test for us to see where we are.”
It will be a big test for Clemson, too. Though the Hokies have some holes to fill on offense with the loss of quarterback Jerod Evans, wide receiver Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges, they return eight starters on a defense that should be much improved in 2017.
Not a small task for a Clemson offense that will have a new quarterback on the road in an environment like Lane Stadium while trying to figure out Bud Foster’s complicated schemes and coverages.
“They’re a tough football team, and even tougher up there,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We have been up there a couple times. That’s a really, really difficult place to play, and will certainly be a big challenge for us early.”
The last time Clemson played in Blacksburg was in 2011, a 23-3 victory. The Tigers also played Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game that season and then again in 2012 in Death Valley. Clemson won all three of those meetings.
In last year’s ACC Championship Game, the Hokies were driving for the game-tying touchdown in the final minutes when cornerback Cordrea Tankersley intercepted Evans for the second time in the game deep in Clemson territory to seal the Tigers’, 42-35, victory.
Swinney wasn’t surprised at all by the Hokies’ success last season and he feels the program is only going to get better under second-year head coach Justin Fuente.
“I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Fuente. He is a great football coach, and I almost hired him myself (as offensive coordinator) in 2011,” Swinney said. “I knew that he was destined for great things, and when he got that Virginia Tech job — in fact, I told the AD, I saw him at one of the meetings, I said, ‘Man, you think you hired a good guy, but I’m telling you, you hired a great football coach.’ He’ll do a heck of a job at Virginia Tech and with the great resources they have there and with the passion of their fan base, I wasn’t surprised at all.”
–Photo Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
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