Ranking the difficulty of Clemson's 2023 schedule

Ranking the difficulty of Clemson's 2023 schedule


Ranking the difficulty of Clemson's 2023 schedule


Clemson’s 2023 football schedule was unveiled Monday, one that includes another Labor Day matchup to get things started, a marquee ACC home opener in September and back-to-back road games heading into a late non-conference tilt with Notre Dame.

Which games will be the toughest for the Tigers in their quest to not only repeat as ACC champions but also end their two-year College Football Playoff absence?

The Clemson Insider is taking a crack at ranking the most challenging games on the Tigers’ schedule based on where each game is being played, the caliber of opponent and each team’s personnel as of today. The games are listed in descending order starting with the most difficult.

Florida State

When: Sept. 23

Where: Memorial Stadium

Why: When the ACC preseason poll is released in the summer, FSU figures to be the team that most view as Clemson’s biggest threat in the league. And for good reason. The Seminoles turned the corner in the third year of the Mike Norvell era, winning their final six games of the 2022 season for the program’s first 10-win season since 2016. FSU got a massive boost heading into the offseason when one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks, Jordan Travis, announced he would be returning for his senior season in Tallahassee. FSU also has significant contributors returning to a defense that finished in the top 3 in the league in points and yards allowed, so the Seminoles have the look of a team that will be a real ACC contender. Assuming both teams remain relatively healthy heading into this Week 4 matchup, it could be a heavyweight fight – and perhaps the first of two meetings between Clemson and FSU next season.

Notre Dame

When: Nov. 4

Where: Memorial Stadium

Why: The Fighting Irish handed Clemson its most lopsided loss of the 2022 season. And with some high-profile additions to the roster, Notre Dame doesn’t figure to be an easy out next season either. The headliner is former Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman, who, barring any injuries, will face Clemson yet again next fall as the Fighting Irish’s triggerman after transferring last month. Hartman has been one of the country’s top signal callers two years running and lit up the Tigers last season to the tune of 337 yards passing and six passing touchdowns. Hartman and his receivers should also benefit from a running game that pounded the Tigers into submission a season ago. The Fighting Irish have multiple starting offensive linemen returning as well as their top two backs, Audric Estime and Logan Diggs. There’s no more Michael Mayer at tight end, and the defense has some key pieces to replace, including sack leader Isaiah Foskey on the edge. But Notre Dame should still be a formidable team coming to Clemson in November.

South Carolina

When: Nov. 25

Where: Williams Brice Stadium, Columbia

Why: Clemson will have to go try to win this one on the road, and it’s not a given considering the Gamecocks beat the Tigers in Clemson last season to end Clemson’s seven-game winning streak in the series. Carolina is losing some important pieces, namely leading rusher Marshawn Lloyd, tight end Jaheim Bell and star defensive end Jordan Burch. But perhaps Shane Beamer’s biggest recruiting coup was having Spencer Rattler return for another season to lead the offense. The Gamecocks’ quarterback had a field day against Clemson last season, throwing for 360 yards and a pair of touchdowns in that win, and he’s got back his leading receiver, Antwane Wells Jr. Clemson will be trying for its fifth straight win in Columbia, a streak that started in 2014.

North Carolina

When: Nov. 18

Where: Memorial Stadium

Why: UNC has a bunch of work to do defensively after finishing last in the ACC this past season in points and yards allowed, and it won’t be easy given some of the attrition the Tar Heels have had, including the transfers of star defensive backs Storm Duck and Tony Grimes. But UNC has arguably the best quarterback in the league returning, and that will always make the Tar Heels dangerous. UNC won nine games last season and reached the ACC title game in spite of its defense thanks in large part to Drake Maye, who ranked in the top 5 nationally in passing yards and passing touchdowns and 18th in passer efficiency. He’s back for his junior season, though he’ll have to find a new go-to target with All-American receiver Josh Downs heading to the NFL. Maye and the offense may have to do even more to keep UNC in ACC contention again next season, but he’s a next-level talent that automatically puts this game in the top half of this list.

NC State

When: Oct. 28

Where: Carter Finley Stadium

Why: NC State managed to navigate star quarterback Devin Leary’s season-ending injury and still win eight games a season ago. Now Leary has transferred to Kentucky, but the Wolfpack have replaced him with another ACC signal caller in Brennan Armstrong. The former Virginia quarterback arrives in Raleigh following a down year in 2022, but Armstrong is reuniting with new NC State offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who helped coach Armstrong to a prolific 4,000-yard passing season in 2021 when the two were together at Virginia. If the duo finds that magic again next season, NC State may not experience much of a dropoff, particularly with some key cogs (star linebacker Payton Wilson being one) returning to a defense that finished second in the ACC in points allowed. Clemson’s last trip to NC State resulted in a double-overtime loss in 2021, so don’t expect anything about this one to be a cakewalk.


When: Sept. 4 (Monday)

Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham

Why: It might be surprising to see the Blue Devils – yes, the football version – this high up the list, but Duke’s inaugural season under head coach Mike Elko was, by Duke’s standards, a raging success. The Blue Devils finished with nine wins and went 5-3 against ACC foes after going winless in the conference in 2021. And Duke has its most critical piece returning in quarterback Riley Leonard, who’s morphing into an NFL prospect if he’s not there already. Leonard finished in the top 5 in the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns and passer rating this past season, and Elko’s defense – it’s his background as a longtime defensive coordinator – figures to improve under his direction. Still, this is a game Clemson should win, but the Tigers will have to do more than simply show up on the road on Labor Day night.


When: Oct. 21

Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens

Why: Mario Cristobal’s debut season as the Hurricanes’ coach left a lot to be desired as Miami won just five games and went 3-5 in ACC play. But injuries had a lot to do with that, and Cristobal, who has a reputation as an ace recruiter, is quickly supplementing what’s already on the roster with a higher level of incoming talent. Star quarterback Tyler Van Dyke was limited to nine games last season with a shoulder injury, and he wasn’t even able to finish all of those. Miami’s offense figures to be better with a healthy Van Dyke back in the fold, though he’ll be playing for a new offensive coordinator after Josh Gattis was recently relieved of his playcalling duties after just one season on the Hurricanes’ staff. Miami has also hit the transfer portal to address some needs on both sides of the ball as part of the nation’s No. 7 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite. Clemson will be rested for this one coming off its bye week. 

Wake Forest

When: Oct. 7

Where: Memorial Stadium

Why: When it comes to the importance of the personnel it’s losing, perhaps no team in the ACC has been more affected by roster attrition than Wake Forest heading into next season. Not only did the Demon Deacons lose Hartman to the transfer portal, but veteran defensive end Rondell Bothroyd, a team captain and all-ACC caliber player, is now at Oklahoma. Meanwhile, star receiver A.T. Perry declared for the NFL Draft. So did a host of other defensive starters, including leader tackler Ryan Smenda Jr. That’s a ton of production to replace for Wake, which struggled to keep up during its last visit to Clemson two years ago when most of those players were on the roster.


When: Sept. 30

Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse

Why: The Orange have their share of significant contributors to replace off last year’s 7-6 team, including one of the ACC’s top running backs, Sean Tucker, as well as multiple defensive starters that have moved on from the program. But Syracuse does have quarterback Garrett Shrader returning for a third season as the starter. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound dual threat will look to build on a season in which he showed vast improvement as a passer (65% completion rate). And the Carrier Dome can be a tricky place to play. Just ask Clemson, which was upset there in 2017 and needed Syracuse to miss a field goal at the end of regulation to avoid overtime in its most recent trip there in 2021.

Georgia Tech

When: Nov. 11

Where: Memorial Stadium

Why: Tech is ushering in a new era under head coach Brent Key after winning just 14 games in Geoff Collins’ four years at the helm. There’s a lot of work to do to get things turned around there, and losing quarterback Jeff Sims (transfer to Nebraska) doesn’t help. The Yellow Jackets haven’t won in Clemson since 2008.

Florida Atlantic

When: Sept. 16

Where: Memorial Stadium

Why: FAU will be an intriguing team to monitor at the Group of Five level next season after hiring former Houston and Texas coach Tom Herman to lead its program. But the Owls simply don’t have – or, at least, shouldn’t have – the firepower to keep up with a team as talented as Clemson. FAU is just 15-18 over the last three seasons after going 5-7 in 2022. 

Charleston Southern

When: Sept. 9

Where: Memorial Stadium

Why: This is Dabo Swinney’s annual nod to an in-state Football Championship Subdivision opponent, which will get a lucrative payday in exchange for making the trip. The objective here is for the Tigers to be able to empty their bench in a game where they should be able to name their score against a CSU team that went 2-8 last season.

Dear Old Clemson has added the Tiger Sack Pack to our online store.  Save by getting the Two Pack of signed cards from two of the nation’s top defensive ends, Myles Murphy and Xavier Thomas.

Now there is a new way you can support Clemson student-athletes. Purchase collectibles from Dear Old Clemson and the proceeds with go to support Clemson student-athletes. 



The Clemson men’s basketball program has picked up a commitment from a transfer guard. Jake Heidbreder announced his commitment to the Tigers on Wednesday night. As a sophomore at Air Force in 2022-23, Heidbreder (…)

More The Clemson Insider