Let’s be honest, Clemson’s 2019 schedule is a very favorable one for the Tigers.
Well, there are a couple of reasons.
First off Clemson is head and shoulders more talented than pretty much everyone on its schedule. The Tigers are at a level that only one other program is at right now when it comes to talent and player development, and they beat that team by 28 points in last year’s national championship game.
The second reason is the way the schedule is laid out. Clemson does not have back-to-back road games for a fourth straight year. The last time the Tigers played back-to-back games away from Death Valley was on October 24 and October 31 of 2015, when they played at Miami and at NC State in consecutive weeks. They had no issues disposing either team as they easily beat the Hurricanes, 58-0, and then beat the Wolfpack, 56-41.
Now, just because the schedule is set up nicely, and the Tigers are more talented than anyone else on the schedule, doesn’t necessarily mean they will go undefeated. However, you have to like their chances.
Here is a list of Clemson’s toughest games in 2019, ranked from No. 12 to No. 1.
No. 12, Week 4 vs. Charlotte, Sept. 21, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson: What do we really know about the 49ers? Last year, they went 5-7 and 4-4 in Conference USA. They return five starters on offense and eight on defense. They have a new head coach in Will Healy. They are led by running back Benny LeMay, who averaged 102.3 rushing yards per game in 2018. This is the first meeting between Clemson and Charlotte.
No. 11, Week 10 vs. Wofford, Nov. 2, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson: Granted Wofford in an FCS team, but the Terriers are a perennial power in the SoCon and in the FCS ranks. Athlon has Wofford, the defending SoCon Champions, ranked as the preseason No. 10 team in the FCS under second-year head coach John Conklin. The Terriers are throwing the ball more under Conklin, but they still run the triple-option as well as anyone. Clemson last played the Terriers in 2015, a 49-10 victory.
No. 10, Week 8 at Louisville, Oct. 19, at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Ky.: At one time, this used to be one of the more difficult games on the Tigers’ schedule. But former head coach Bobby Petrino did not do a good job recruiting and developing depth at Louisville and after Lamar Jackson and the other talented players left, the cupboard was left bare and Louisville was exposed. The Cardinals now have a new head coach in Scott Satterfield, who inherits a 2-10 team that went 0-8 in the ACC last season. Though they return nine starters on defense, the Cardinals finished 14th in the ACC in total defense. They return just five starters on offense.
No. 9, Week 5 at North Carolina, Sept. 21, at Kennan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.: Four years ago, the Tigers played North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game. While Clemson has ascended to the top of the college football world, the Tar Heels have fallen to the bottom of the ACC. UNC brought back Hall of Fame head coach Mack Brown, who led the Tar Heels on a great run in the mid-1990s. Brown returns to coaching after retiring from Texas in 2013. Brown posted a 69-46-1 record in his first stint at UNC. However, he inherits a team that has just four starters back on offense and six on defense after going 2-9 and 1-7 in the ACC last year. This will be Clemson’s first trip to Chapel Hill since a 21-16 loss to the Tar Heels in 2010.
No. 8, Week 9, vs. Boston College, Oct. 26, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson: The Eagles return just six starters on offense and three on defense from last year’s team that went 7-5 and 4-4 in the ACC. The good news for Steve Addazio is he returns quarterback Anthony Brown, who has started 22 games at Boston College and All-ACC running back A.J. Dillion, who finished with 1,108 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018 despite missing two games with an ankle injury that hampered him for most of the season.
No. 7, Week 12, vs Wake Forest, Nov. 16, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson: Despite returning just nine starters from last year’s 7-6 team that went 3-5 in the ACC, the Demon Deacons might be one of the more underrated teams in the ACC in 2019. Quarterback Sam Hartman, who played in the first nine games before breaking his leg, had a good sophomore campaign, but Jamie Newman came on in the last three games and played well as a freshman, while leading Wake to wins in two of those games, including a bowl victory. Also returning is running back Cade Carney, who rushed for 1,005 yards and scored 8 touchdowns from a year ago. Leading tackler Justin Strnad is back on defense after he tallied 105 tackles and 8.5 for loss. All-ACC cornerback Essang Bassey is also back. He tied for the ACC lead last year with 16 passes defended.
No. 6, Week 1, vs. Georgia Tech, Aug. 29, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson: With Georgia Tech bringing in a new coaching staff and a new offensive system, some might think this game should be ranked lower than No. 6 on this list. However, the unknowns are what will make this game a little more difficult for the Tigers. After 11 seasons of readying for Paul Johnson’s triple offense, Clemson now has to see how the Yellow Jackets do in a more traditional spread-offense that throws the football and uses tempo. It will be an adjustment and the Tigers will have to react to Geoff Collins’ offense and style. By the way, Georgia Tech returns four starters on offense and three on defense from last year’s 7-6 team that went 5-3 in the ACC.
No. 5, Week 14, at South Carolina, Nov. 30, at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.: Yes, the Gamecocks had the most offensive success of anyone that played against Clemson last year. South Carolina returns seven starters on offense, including quarterback Jake Bentley, who lit the Tigers up for 510 yards and 5 touchdowns in last year’s game. However, the Gamecocks lost star wide receiver Deebo Samuel to the NFL. They do return wide receiver Bryan Edwards who has 163 receptions in his career. On defense, South Carolina has just five starters back from a unit that struggled to stop anyone. They will be improved on the defensive line, but once again depth is an issue and with the schedule the Gamecocks have it could become an even bigger issue by the end of the season.
No. 4, Week 3, at Syracuse, Sept. 14, at The Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.: I know some people think this is going to be a trap game for Clemson and a lot of people think the Orange can contend with Clemson in the ACC Atlantic. The problem for Syracuse is the best quarterback it has had since Donovan McNabb, Eric Dungey, has graduated. And history has shown in the times Dungey missed games due to injury in the last four years, the Orange struggled for the most part (see last year’s Notre Dame game). Syracuse does return seven starters on defense, including defensive end Alton Robinson. They will help as the offense, under new quarterback Tommy Devito, gets its feet wet. The Orange has given Clemson the most trouble the last two years, but in each occasion, the Tigers lost their starting quarterback.
No. 3, Week 11, at NC State, Nov. 9, Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.: The Wolfpack does have to replace seven starters on offense, including three-year quarterback Ryan Finley and wide receiver Kelvin Harmon. But NC State returns eight starters on defense and has a favorable schedule at the beginning and at the back end of the schedule to roll off some wins. Granted the Tigers have won 14 of the last 15 games in the series, including the last seven, but going to Raleigh is always a tough game for the Tigers and this year will not be any different. This game could be for the Atlantic Division title when the Tigers make the late trip to Raleigh.
No. 2, Week 7, vs. Florida State, Oct. 12, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson: It might be surprising that this game is No. 2 on my list, but let’s be honest, no one outside of Clemson in the ACC has as much overall talent as the Seminoles. The ‘Noles do return 14 starters from last season, which was a major disappointment under head coach Willie Taggart in his first year. FSU had its first losing season since 1976 and did not go to a bowl game for the first time since 1981. The Seminoles are 12-13 the last two seasons. However, with 8 starters back on defense, a new offensive coordinator and the return of running back Cam Akers, things are looking up for the Seminoles in 2019. If they can knock of Boise State and win at Virginia early in the season, the Seminoles could come to Clemson, following a bye week, with a 5-0 or 4-1 record and playing with a lot of confidence.
No. 1, Week 2, vs. Texas A&M, Sept. 7, at Memorial Stadium in Clemson: The Aggies are without a doubt the Tigers toughest opponent in 2019 and it would not surprise me at all to see them come to Death Valley and give Clemson fits. Texas A&M returns seven starters on offense, including quarterback Kellen Mond, who looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate against Clemson last year. Head coach Jimbo Fisher is very familiar with Clemson and defensive coordinator Brent Venables due to his days at Florida State. Fisher knows how to use his tight ends and running backs to give Clemson’s defense issues. The problem for A&M might be keeping up with Clemson’s offense. The Aggies have to replace seven starters from a defense that led the SEC in rushing defense a year ago. This has the making of a shootout in Death Valley in Week 2.