Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Clemson: More to Accomplish

The last 10 days have been tough as a Clemson fan, beginning with the beat down by FSU and carrying through the sluggish performance at Maryland. And if we, as Clemson fans and alums, feel the malaise, I can only imagine what the players and coaches are experiencing. In fact, I consider myself pretty even keeled - not getting too excited with the highs nor too down with the lows. And yet, here I am with a ting of apathy setting in.

To remedy this, I began thinking about the accomplishments still on the table for this team. And using Kickstarter like tiers, where each tier builds on the previous tier, here are five things this Clemson team can still set their sights on:

Beat South Carolina
Of all the goals left on the table, most Clemson fans would trade the remainder of these goals for a win over their rival.

To be honest, the last four years have not been pleasant, and there's only so many times you can bring up the overall series record or 63-17 without seeming petulant. To end the streak would do wonders for the Clemson fan base along with providing closure to the Tajh & Chad Morris regimes. And Dabo could use a win over Spurrier, if only for the sound bites from both guys.

Other than a Thursday night affair with Georgia Tech, Clemson should begin preparing for South Carolina now. Installing new offensive wrinkles and the defensive gameplan. And the whole team should be remind each other to not give up on the running game like we have in past losses.

One more thought - this is Clemson's year to end the streak. This is most likely the last year of Boyd, Watkins, & Morris all together, and next year Clemson could experience a few growing pains as they break in a new offensive coordinator and talented, but young guys at key positions. On the flipside, this year's South Carolina team is down a tick from year's past. But next year, as their young defense grows up, they could be back to form. Clemson needs a sense of urgency about this year's game they haven't played with in the past.

Earn a BCS at-large bid
In 2011, Clemson garnered their only BCS bid by winning the ACC Championship. For discussion purposes, the 2013 version of that ship has sailed, leaving the BCS at-large bid as the only viable route to the premier bowls.

After doling out the automatic qualifiers, there will only by 4 slots available for at-large teams. Unless something happens to Fresno State or Northern Illinois, or the winner of the AAC surpasses them in the BCS rankings, then one of those two will steal an at-large bid, leaving only three at-large bids for the other conferences to fight over.

Of the three available bids, one will most likely to the SEC, leaving the Pac 12, Big 12, and ACC to battle for the two final bids. If Oregon makes the BCS Championship game, the Pac 12 could easily steal a second bid as a replacement for the Rose Bowl. As long as Stanford or UCLA don't collapse, they should qualify and be available to the committee for selection.

For Clemson to have a chance at an at-large birth, they need accomplish Goal #1 and hope for some Pac 12 or Big 12 carnage behind them. Even then, there is no guarantee they are selected, though I would expect them to be a legitimate Sugar Bowl contender if the SEC Champion plays for the BCS Championship (which it will).

Win 12 games
Clemson has won 12 games in their history exactly once: 1981. And while this team can't equal the National Championship that team won, they can equal their win total. Last year, Clemson crossed the 11 win threshold for the first time since that year. This year, Clemson is looking to add one more win than last year's squad.

For Clemson to reach 12 wins, they must start with the first two goals: beating South Carolina and earning a BCS at-large bid. They also need to need to take care of business this weekend against Virginia and hold off a pesky Georgia Tech team. Even then, Clemson must still win their bowl game, even if they aren't selected as a BCS at-large.

These goals aren't a given, but they certainly aren't out of reach, especially if the previous goals are unlocked.

Finish in the Top 5
If you're seeing a few comparisons to the 1981 team, then you aren't mistaken. That team set a new standard for future Clemson teams to strive for. Unfortunately, in the 30+ years since that season, Clemson hasn't been able to recapture the magic of that year.

However, over the last two seasons, Clemson is beginning to reestablish the bar set by the 1981 team, and this year, Clemson has a chance to accomplish many of the same feats that team accomplished. And as Clemson tastes success, hopefully it breeds more success.

But for this goal to work, Clemson must succeed at each of the first three goals: Beat South Carolina, earn a BCS at-large bid, & win 12 games. Those accomplishments mixed with a few losses by teams in front of them (see Saturday night, Miami for example) should put them in great position to finish in the Top 5.

Dispose of "Clemsoning"
Clemson is starting to see lines drawn in the sand between "Clemsoning" and just not playing well in a big game. Following the Florida State game, many people wanted to throw the "Clemsoning" term around, but as Scott van Pelt penned, that was just low-hanging fruit and it shouldn't be applied in this case.

If Clemson can accomplish each of the above four goals, then they will have defeated their rival, won 12 games, finished in the Top 5 of the final rankings, and have a BCS trophy in the trophy case. In addition, that would make Clemson 23-3 over the past two seasons, or one of potentially only five teams (Bama, Oregon, Ohio State, Florida State) capable of claiming as such.

And if you give a team only three losses (all to ranked teams) over a two year span, then that should be sufficient to forever dispose of the term "Clemsoning".

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