Thursday, November 26, 2015

Rivalry Weekend

It's that time of the year again. My house smells of turkey and dressing and that means one's rivalry week in college football. Families, houses, friendships/relationships are divided and put on hold as our favorite teams square off against that "other" team that we love to hate.

This year is shaping up to be a pretty good one overall across the country. There are several match ups that make you go "hmmmm" on this weekend's slate with four games between top 15 teams. Needless to say the CFB Playoff rankings could undergo a significant face lift after the smoke clears late Saturday night.

Florida State travels down to the Swamp to take on the Gators who struggled with FAU last weekend and survived in overtime. Ohio State looks to get back on track after last week's loss to Michigan State at home....funny how the first time they played a legit team this season they came up on the losing side of the scoreboard. I'm just saying. (For the record I think they lose to Michigan this weekend, too)

A banged up TCU squad squares off against Baylor and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State tangle with a playoff position on the line. Finally, Notre Dame has one last hurdle to clear as they travel to Stanford for a showdown out west.

While all those games would warrant my attention Saturday if I were going to be sprawled out on the couch all day, I will instead be taking in a much less appetizing match up as I venture down to Columbia for my seventh straight Clemson-South Carolina game.

The Tigers are #1 in the country and are big favorites in Saturday's game in Columbia but Clemson hasn't won in the midlands since 2007. has been a while. However, this year's Tigers are far better than the past three teams that have made the 2.5 hour trip ride to our feathered neighbors.

11 games through the season and South Carolina still hasn't really settled on a quarterback and the program that has nearly climbed atop the SEC-East just a few seasons ago is now in shambles and in search of a new head coach with the abrupt exit of Steve Spurrier mid season. On paper, one might say Clemson wins this game by 30. But this is a rivalry game and anything can happen.

That being said, if you're looking for an upset, look elsewhere. It hasn't always been pretty but as Dabo himself said, football isn't a beauty pageant. He's a degree. Clemson wins Saturday but how they win will be important. They need to come out early and shut the show down and not allow the Gamecocks to hang around or build confidence that they can do the unthinkable.

It'll help that the game is at high noon which won't allow the dedicated fans that decide to show up too much time know...."get ready" for the game. Now the atmosphere should still be a good one and I expected it to be the most orange Williams-Brice has seen in quite some time but when it comes down to X's and O's I just don't see Carolina being able to outscore Clemson and match them talent-wise for four quarters.

And let's not forget last year's game...Clemson is better on both sides of the ball and Carolina well...let's just say they sure haven't improved much from last year. Even further, Watson played on a torn ACL in last year's game and you would have never known. Scary to think what he can do against this troubling defense that hasn't been able to stop anyone when he's healthy and has several deep-threat options to choose from. If Citadel can move the ball like they did, in theory the Tigers should carve that defense up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

South Carolina could have some early success moving the ball with an offense that likely throw the entire playbook at the Tigers. They might even get a big play on special teams here or there and Cooper will likely find the end zone a time or two. But Deshaun Watson has just been phenomenal this season and the defense has looked like the best in the country at times with a couple of juniors that will likely declare for the NFL after the season ( Lawson and Alexander) and be 1st or early 2nd round draft picks.

On the injury front, RB Wayne Gallman is expected to be back in the mix after sitting out against Wake Forest as is CB Mackensie Alexander who was also roughed up in the Syracuse game and took the day off against WF to recover. LB Ben Boulware is also expected to be ready to go after leaving the Wake game with a stinger in his shoulder.

I'm fortunate enough to have tickets for the big game in Columbia as well as the ACC Championship the following weekend in the Queen City. Looking forward to the opportunity to follow the Tigers on the road and watch them bring home trophies two weekends in a row. My dream of Clemson winning a national title in football is so close I can taste it but regardless of the outcome of the next few weeks, I'm going to do everything I can to enjoy this historic season. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Pick: Clemson 37 South Carolina 21

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Okay, count me in. I'm drinking the Orange Kool-Aid and really starting to believe this could be the year.

I've been around long enough to know to not get my hopes up too soon for my Tigers. Clemson has been on the door step of becoming an elite football program over the past few years. However,  I can now say that looking at the full body of work to this point, I truly believe this team is ready to knock down that door and deserving of that "elite" title.

Hey, after yesterday's 58-0 win at Miami ( the Canes' worst loss in program history) I think it's more than fair to say that the Tigers are a serious contender for running the table this year. They've improved each week and look to be just as stout on defense as last year's squad which lost 9 starters and was the #1 defense in the country. They have passed all of the tests to this point and it doesn't take a Clemson fan to look at the remaining five games and see the Tigers should win each of them.

I've always dreamed of seeing my Tigers recognized as a national power and winning another national championship but always knew deep down we just weren't quite at that level yet. Things have changed though and I think this team and coaching staff has what it takes to make this a very special year in Tigertown. There is just something different about this group. You can just sense that this team is on the brink of a very special season.

Say what you want about the schedule but Clemson has taken care of business and made strides each week. People are already downplaying the win at South Beach but lets be real. Teams don't just go on the road and beat historically relevant Power-5 schools like Miami on the road like that. 58-0? Are you kidding me? And to be honest it could have been much worse than that, with a 42-0 lead at halftime most of the first-team guys were already done for the day as the teams hit the locker room. Miami has struggled this year but it was more of Clemson being that good rather than the Canes being that bad.

Clemson is playing like a ticked off team on a mission. They are looking solid in all phases of the game and playing really, really good football. The Tigers haven't exactly received the respect they deserve thus far and they are showing the entire nation how they feel about it and using that disrespect as fuel to play even more motivated and at a higher level. With a #3 ranking heading to next weekend I'll still expect several experts and others to have us on upset alert...for like the fifth straight week. (Rolls eyes)

The Tigers are ranked 4th in total defense after Saturday's shutout which saw Clemson hold the Canes to 93 yards of total offense in the second half including a total of 53 yards rushing on the day. We had guys like Van Smith--who wasn't even listed on the 2 deep- depth chart--knocking people's heads off and bringing down an interception. Smith had 6 tackles, a tackle for loss and a interception in "garbage time" Saturday against some of the Canes first-team players.

Guys flying to the ball and laying the wood like the Clemson of the old days, its really fun to see these boys play right now. The Tigers success has all started up front. They have dominated in the trenches on both sides of the ball leading the way to an dangerous offense that has proven it can beat you through the air or on the ground. Deshaun Watson is finding his groove after a so-so start to the season and with weapons like Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, Jordan Leggett, Charone Peake, and Ray Ray McCloud among several others in his arsneal...there are literally home run threats all over the field for Clemson

Obviously Clemson has to win out but looking at the rest of the schedule, the Tigers will be the favorite in the remaining five games as well as the ACC Championship (assuming they make it there---REGARDLESS of who the Coastal Division winner is) Anything can happen and nothing is promised but the Tigers have also proven they don't lose to unranked teams anymore. It is a pretty favorable path from here on out if you are the Tigers.

The FSU showdown lost a little luster with their Michigan State/Auburn-ish finish against Georgia Tech but looking back at that game as well as the Noles' game against Miami compared to Clemson's games against those same opponents, the Tigers at home are a clear favorite against FSU. Never mind the fact that Clemson is simply due for a win over the Noles after losing the last three including last year's heart breaker in Tallahassee....a game where the Tigers seemed to just gift wrap the game for the Noles if you go back and watch the film.

I'm drinking the orange kool-aid but also know how to stay realistic. That being said, why not Clemson? They've played as good as anyone. Strength of schedule hurts but have you seen Ohio State's cupcake menu? They don't even play a real game until they meet Michigan State Nov. 21 and then the regular-season finale against Michigan at the Big House. Even more concerning, they haven't exactly been that impressive so far this year and still shuffling through quarterbacks through week 8. Make no mistake they are still a great team (I think?) but they haven't really played like it so far.

Utah's blowout loss to USC throws them out of the playoff conversation completely and Baylor and TCU,  square off on Nov. 27 at TCU. That leaves no time for recovery for the loser with the game being so late in the season and in theory means Clemson would move that much closer to that top four. With Baylor QB Seth Russell possibly done for the season with a broken bone in his neck, that changes things drastically for the Bears so you never know how that will turn out. We should know more about his condition Monday afternoon.

The stage is set for the Tigers to run the table and win it all this year. They just have to stay healthy and focused. I would love to see Clemson take on Alabama or a rematch of the 2014 Orange Bowl and face Ohio State again. A 2013 rematch of the Chic-Fil-A Bowl against LSU would also be intriguing. While the experts and other "haters" continue to put the Tigers on upset alert each week, they continue to win and play solid football. Works for me, though. Clemson's offense showed out against Boston College racking up 400 yards passing over the nations top defense and still dropped in the polls. That didn't sit well with the Tigers and it showed yesterday.

I feel bad for anyone who gets in the Tigers way at this point. While they will get every one's absolute best shot from here on out, there aren't many teams in the country that can beat Clemson when they are at their best. Furthermore, outside of FSU, Clemson has played its toughest games already as far as the regular season is concerned. The scary part? Even after yesterday I still don't think we've seen the Tigers play their best. Yesterday was one of the most dominating performances I've witnessed but there were still points left on the field and some things to clean up heading to the next game.

As far as I'm concerned, Clemson has been in the playoffs since week 1 and now just has to keep winning. I'm trying to not get ahead of myself too much ( did I mention I already have tickets to the ACC Championship?) but it is hard to not be excited about what Dabo Swinney is doing with this program right now.

To all my fellow Tiger fans I just want to say I hope you are embracing the moment. This is shaping up to be a very special year in Clemson and as a life-long fan I must say it truly is a great time to be a Tiger fan. I've seen some of the best and worst of this program in my 23 years of life and it is absolutely thrilling to see how far we've come in just a few years under Coach Swinney. The best is yet to come but don't forget to enjoy the here and now in the meantime. Oh, and pass the sugar.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Its Back: Weekly Pick 'Em

It is somehow already week five and we have a few tasty appetizers on the weekend slate leading up to the main course which will feature #6 Notre Dame and #12 Clemson in rain-soaked Death Valley. SportsCenter on the Road will be there, ESPN's CollegeGameday will be there...yours truly will be there. It should be quite a good time in good ole Clemson South Cakalaky. Lets to pickin'!

Texas @ #4 TCU

I feel for Charlie Strong and the Longhorns. I really want him to do well but it just hasn't looked so great so far. After coming up just one point short against California, last week it looked as if Texas was going to pull the upset over Oklahoma State. All they had to do was execute a punt and have their defense get on last stop. However, that simple punt turned into disaster and set up the Cowboys in prime field position and they went on to kick the field goal and pick up the narrow victory. TCU just barely escaped defeat to the hands of Texas Tech themselves in a "Defense Optional" game with the Red Raiders. A tipped pass on 4th down in the back of the end zone fell into the hands of Aaron Green with :23 seconds left in the game. I want with everything in me for Texas to pull the shocker Saturday but its just not going to happen. Or will it? Its been a strange season so far.....

The Pick: TCU

Texas Tech vs #5 Baylor

I"ll keep this one short and sweet. If you are looking for a good defensive game, don't even bother watching a single snap of this one. As I write this, the over/under is set at 88 and I''d honestly be surprised if there is anything less than 100 scored between these two explosive offenses. Anyways, I went with TTU last week to knock of TCU and they let me down. So naturally I'm mad at them and picking again the Red Raiders this week. Also I'm still slightly salty about the beat down former TTU QB and current head coach Kliff Kingsbury laid on my Tigers back in the 2002 Tangerine Bowl. 

The Pick: Baylor

#11 Florida State @ Wake Forest

Wake Forest might be the most underrated trip/stadium in the ACC. I had an absolute blast up there last year for a Thursday nighter. However can't say much about the actual team. Really haven't seen either of these two play yet but in this case, it doesn't really matter. FSU gets it done. Next?

The Pick: Florida State

#3 Ole Miss @ #25 Florida 

I still haven't figured out Ole Miss has done it but in the meantime I'm happy for Swag Kelly....(that's Rebel QB Chad Kelly to most of you) However, as good as he has been and has the potential to be...I think Kelly is still the same guy and I"m just waiting for him to show the rest of the nation why Clemson let him go in the first place. As for the game, I think the Gators ride the momentum and find a way to get it done in the Swamp Saturday. Florida is 4-0 and cracked the top 25 after knocking off the Vols for the 11th straight game last weekend. The Gators have a solid defense and I think they use that as fuel for the big upset in Gainesville. 

The Pick: Florida 

#8 Georgia vs #13 Alabama

Before Alabama fans fire Nick Saban they should probably wait until after Saturday. I get it, Alabama overall hasn't been your typical Alabama team in the (very) recent past. They were exposed against Ole Miss as Chad Kelly tore the Bama defense and secondary to shreds two weeks ago. Alabama doesn't really have a reliable and proven quarterback. While UGA's Greyson Lambert looked great in the second half against Vandy and destroyed South Carolina and Southern University lets not forget that many of those were high-percentage, short throws and they weren't exactly against the best defenses in the world. Bama will be tougher...or at least one would think. The game is in Athens which is obviously a big advantage but I think the Dawgs might be better off if Alabama was still undefeated. Saban and company are literally playing for their season so they will not back down easy and will give UGA everything they have. I just don't think it will be enough. Nick Chubb is a bad, bad dude and Sony Michel ain't too shabby, either. Chubb will likely break Hershel Walker's record for consecutive 100 yard games this weekend. Pretty good company to be part of.

The Pick: Georgia 

And finally.....

#6 Notre Dame @ #12 Clemson

So many story lines in this one. These two teams haven't played since 1979 (a 16-10 Clemson win in South Bend. Before that? A top 15 showdown in Death Valley between Joe Montana and Steve Fuller. That game was won by the Irish, 21-17. Notre Dame's Deshone Kizer will have his hands full as will Clemson's Deshaun Watson. ND has a solid linebacking corp although I think Clemson's defense is a little bit better overall. If the Tigers can get the running game going and find someone (likely Wayne Gallman) getting nice chunks of yards early, I like Clemson's chances. Outside of special teams, the battle up front between Clemson's offensive line and ND's defensive line will decide it. Ammon Lakip is back in the line up after his suspension for a summer DUI/cocaine possession charge.

You can't forget to factor in the crowd noise and Kizer's first real road test. It will be a wet and cool game in Death Valley which could mean the chance for a big night on the ground for both teams. I can count on one hand the number of times I've gone on the record to pick against my Tigers. The last time was in 2013 when the Tigers went to Columbia to face the Gamecocks. Before then? it was LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. If this game were played on the road or at a neutral site I might feel different but I think with it being a primetime home game in Death Valley....along with all the trash talk from ND players this week, the boys in Orange get it done and protect the home field...which might flow right into Lake Hartwell by the time the final whistle blows if the models for Hurricane Joaquin are correct. 

The Pick: Clemson

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The time is now

By: Christopher Hall 

Clemson vs Notre Dame. We've been talking about this one since the schedule was released way back in January. Almost eight months to the day. I remember clearly how everyone hinted how big this game could be. Watson vs Golson...Death Valley....Under The Lights...potentially another ESPN CollegeDay experience. Well folks, with the exception of Mr. Everett Golson--who delayed his trip to Clemson a few more weeks--we got our wish. 

It simply doesn't get much better than this. No matter if you are a coach, player, fan of either team or just a innocent bystander or lover of college football, if this game doesn't get your juices flowing...well...I really don't know what to tell you. 

There is plenty on the line Saturday night. From just the national exposure and spotlight angle, to the recruits that will be in attendance and of course, and most importantly, the playoff implications and national stage to make a statement.

It all hangs in the balance Saturday night when the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame venture into Clemson’s Memorial Stadium aka Death Valley to take on twelfth-ranked Clemson in a battle of unbeatens. The two squads have met twice on the gridiron heading into this week's showdown with both teams winning on the opponent’s home field.

The most notable clash between the two schools occurred on November 12, 1977 when a pair of top 15 football teams met in Death Valley. A fifth-ranked Notre Dame football team led by Joe Montana, defeated a 15th-ranked Clemson team led by Steve Fuller, 21-17. The Fighting Irish went on to win all the marbles that season.
And just like this year, there was no shortage of talent on the field that day. An unheard of 36 players in that game went on to play in the NFL.

Clemson came back to win in South Bend just two years later, 16-10. It was just the second time in the last 40 years (1940-79) that Notre Dame's seniors lost their last home game. Billy Lott scored a touchdown late in the game to give Clemson the win and help overcome a 10-0 deficit. (Thanks to TigerNet for that tidbit) This weekend, another quarterback sporting the Clemson #4 jersey will try to defeat the Irish. 

Although I hate to be the one to bring it up (as I myself had erased it from my memory), I don’t think I have to remind anyone about what happened the last time ESPN’s CollegeGame day made Clemson, SC its’ home for the night. 

Just two years removed from that debacle, there are several players that were on the sidelines that night that will again be in the midst this weekend. You can bet your money that those guys are eager for a little redemption and to make up for the events that unfolded that night in front of a national broadcast.

I haven’t read into it much but I hear that the ND players have been very vocal about their feelings heading into the game and been talking a fair amount of noise. It’s football and I’m not complaining but I’d be careful if I were ND. Games are won the field not in the press conference room or locker-room during the week when the media surrounds you. Irish Head Coach Brian Kelly told the media earlier this week he thinks his players will be ready for the noise Saturday night….well duh! What else would he say?

But I think there isn’t a person on this planet I have to prove to that Death Valley will be an absolute mad house this weekend. Sure, ND fans apparently travel well and they’ll make their presence felt among the 85,000 plus in orange but this could very well be a record-setting night in attendance and crowd noise. 

Make no mistake about it. This isn’t Virginia. It will be a sold out, relentless crowd and from the looks of it, the defense this year can be every bit as good as it was last year…ya know, when it was the top defense in all of college football.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I were an opposing coach, Death Valley would not be where I want my sophomore quarterback (Deshone Kizer) making his first big time start on the road. Saturday night will be one for the ages. With the new job in Tennessee I don’t get many weekends off and usually spend my Friday nights on a sideline somewhere covering a high school football game. However, the stars have aligned and we have a bye week Friday which means I’ll be rolling into town sometime Friday night.

The search for a golden ticket is still on and while in all my years of Clemson games I’ve never been without a ticket when I needed one….we’ve also never had a game THIS big in Death Valley, either. Still, I’m confident I will find my way into the stadium before kickoff Saturday night.
I feel like I’m rambling now so I’ll hurry up and get to my closing statement. 

The Tigers have been knocking on the door of making the jump from being a good team to becoming a GREAT team the past few seasons.
In 2011, we poured the orange kool-aid into a 20-year drought without an ACC Championship in Tigertown. Last year, we finally got the monkey off our back and beat those pesky Gamecocks after five straight. On top of that, not many programs have a bowl game winning steak as impressive as Clemson’s (LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma).

All that is great don’t get me wrong but none of it really matters come 8:05 Saturday night. The table is set and its time for the Tigers to take care of business. There is a HUGE opportunity for the taking and if Clemson wants to take that next step, they have to find a way to get it done against the Irish.

Sure, this isn’t a conference game so the Tigers ACC title dreams remain strong regardless of what happens. But a win could be the springboard not only for a colossal season within the conference, but beyond.

We all have a part in making Saturday a historical day in Clemson, South Carolina. I have a feeling Dabo and Company will have the boys fired up and ready to play and it's on us (the fans) to do our part and show up early and loud to make every offensive snap for the Fighting Irish hell on earth.

Do whatever you have to do in the hours leading up to 8 PM to get yourself ready to be CLEMSON LOUD for 60 minutes. If that means going to Gameday and then napping until 4 PM, do it. If that means drinking a fifth of Wild Turkey, have at it. Whatever it takes. Clemson can’t afford to wait until Georgia Tech or FSU to make a statement…the table is set and the food is ready. The dinner hour is upon us, so lets eat! The time is now.

Beat the Leprechauns!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Thursday Night Preview: Clemson @ Louisville

#11 Clemson (2-0, 0-0) vs Louisville (0-2, 0-0) 

Preview: Last year's game was decided on a 4th down goal line stand right in front of the iconic Hill packed full of screaming Tiger fans in Death Valley. I've been to plenty of games in my lifetime but that was quite possibly a top three for me when it comes to noise level in Clemson. While I'm sure there will be a fair amount of Orange in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium,  Louisville fans will surely try to return the favor this year and turn up the volume on the Tigers. We'll see how long it last. We saw last year that noise doesn't seem to get to Deshaun Watson too much (Athens, Tallahassee) so I expect him and the Tiger offense to be ready to rock and roll. UL has yet to settle on a QB yet which makes it difficult for Clemson to prep for but the defense has been lights out through the first two games. ( Yes, I know it was FCS's Wofford and App State but nevertheless the boys in orange have come ready to play.) Despite losing six players to the draft, UL is no pushover on defense, either....contrary to the first two weeks. Keep in mind that Watson went down with a hand injury early in the game against the Cardinals last year and Stoudt had to come in and take over.....Thursday night road games are never easy but if the Tigers show up and execute, this one could be over midway through the third quarter. Dabo Swinney's squad will look to make it 30 straight wins over non-ranked opponents...that puts them in pretty special company.

Keys to Victory: 

1. Fast Start 
If I'm Dabo and Clemson wins the toss, I'm taking the ball and likely taking a shot downfield as soon as the opportunity presents itself....if that's the first play from be it. Along with the fast start we must get the running game established early on to set the tone for the night. Things were sluggish early against App State...can't allow that to happen Thursday night. Gotta come out swinging on both sides of the ball and all that starts by winning the battle in the trenches and putting the pressure on the Cardinals early. 

2. Protect, Protect, Protect!!!!!
Like I touched on in key #1, the offensive line has to perform better than it did last week in the early going. The Cardinals are going to bring pressure and try to get inside Watson's head and throw the offense out of sync. It's as simple as know it is coming. It will be interesting to see how Freshman OT Mitch Hyatt performs in his first road game. All reports have been positive about "Mr. Blindside" but how will he react in a hostile, high-pressure environment for the first time? The entire line will have to anchor down and give Watson time to get the ball to his play-makers and open running lanes for Gallman, Davidson, Dye and company. 

3. Keep the "Special" in Special Teams

Win the field position battle and if/when we have to kick a field goal, we have to knock it through the upright. This is will be the last game without Ammon Lakip who is out finishing up his suspension after a DUI and cocaine possession charge from over the summer. Don't give the Cardinals any confidence or allow them to hang around by making something happen on special teams. Winning the special teams battle will be key. A big punt return/kickoff/muffed punt could swing momentum in either direction and go a long way in deciding the winner. 

Bottom Line: Lets be honest, six or seven years ago this is a game that Clemson would probably lose. But much has changed over the past few seasons. While it may not be the prettiest win ever, I think the Tigers go into Papa John's Cardinal Stadium and leave with a win and about 20 large pepperoni and cheese pizzas for the road. Look for your upset bid elsewhere and cue the "fire Petrino" shouts from Louisville fans as the Cardinals fall to (0-3) on the season. 

The Pick: Clemson 31  Louisville 23

Thursday, August 13, 2015

2015 Season Preview: Clemson

Season Preview: Clemson

Clemson Tigers

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
Record: 61-26 (6 Seasons)
Last Year's Record: (10-3, 6-2), defeated Oklahoma in Russell Athletic Bowl, 40-6

Review of 2014 Season- Other than JT Barrett and Cardale Jones up in Columbus, Ohio not too many other QBs made a bigger splash on the national scene than Deshaun Watson last season. Talk about game-changers and you have to mention #4. Clemson literally had the best defense in the nation last year and combined with an explosive offense, the Tigers made it difficult against their opponents in 2014. They came up short on the road at FSU in a game where they made so many mistakes, to be frank, they honestly didn't deserve to win. Had the #1 team on the ropes but couldn't ever deliver the final blow to finish them off. The Tigers finally got back on track against arch-rival South Carolina and ended the season with quite an eyebrow raising thumping of Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl is one of the most dominating performances against a respectable opponent that I can remember seeing out of Clemson in quite a few years. Dabo Swinney with newly appointed Co-Offensive Coordinators Tony Elliot and Jeff Scott along with Defensive Coordinator will look to make even greater strides in 2015.

Key Losses-DE Vic Beasley, DT Grady Jarrett, LB Stephone Anthony, OG David Beasley, WR Adam Humphries 

Key Returners- QB Deshaun Watson, RB Wayne Gallman, WR Artavis Scott, WR Mike Williams, DE Shaq Lawson, CB Mackenzie Alexander

Returning Starters: Offense-7; Defense-3

2015 Schedule-

September 5th        Wofford
September 12th      Appalachian State
September 17th      Louisville* (Thursday Night)
September 26th      OPEN
October 3rd            Notre Dame*
October 10th          Georgia Tech*
October 17th          Boston College
October 24th          Miami
October 31st          North Carolina State
November 7th        Florida State*
November 14th      Syracuse
November 21st      Wake Forest
November 28th      South Carolina*

#- Home games in BOLD
*-denotes key game

Schedule Analysis- 
Overall as a fan of the Tigers I'm "okay" with how this year's schedule is set up. The two opening games should, in theory, be blowouts and allow the offense and defense to get a little momentum and back into season mode. Unlike the last two years opening with UGA and having so much on the line, this year's opener will be more relaxed and allow the chance for some of the younger guys and second and third team guys to get some early season reps. That should pay off down the road. The Louisville game is a big one and could be extra tricky especially when you add in the Thursday night road game factor. Last year's game (minus a Watson) came down to a Tiger goal line stand in on The Hill end of the stadium. I point that out because I don't think many understand how loud that place was pre-snap before that play. Still, I see Clemson being the favorite and taking care of business on the road Sept. 17. The early open date hurts a little but being well rested and extra prep for what could be a College Gameday showdown against Norte Dame can only help the Tigers. GT will be a challenge but they get the Jackets at home along with Florida State the first week of November where payback for the last few years will be in order. The Tigers will be due for a win over the Seminoles. Finally, Clemson will head back down to Williams Brice in hopes of making it two in a row over the Gamecocks and the first win in Columbia since 2007.'s been that long.

My Thoughts-

Yes, the defense lost 8 starters but for those that follow the program closely you'll know that's not as clear cut as what you see on paper. Many of this year's starters saw significant playing time last year (LB Ben Boulware and DE Shaq Lawson to name a few) and have the experience in big time moments of big time games already under their belts. 8 of the 11 played at least 200 snaps last season. Most of the hits to the defense came up front on the defensive line but the secondary has the potential to be among the nations best which will help out the defensive line and hopefully make the QB hold on to the ball longer than he'd like. If Mackenzie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and company can hold their ground it will only help the guys up front. The loss of Korrin Wiggins to an ACL injury hurts but next man in line. Tigers should be fine as long as they can stay healthy moving forward.With seven returners on offense and an assumed healthy Deshaun Watson under center along with newcomers such as wideouts Deon Cain and Ray Ray McCloud, #4 will have plenty of options and help around him to move the ball down the field.

Bottom Line- 
Cautious optimism. You'll hear me saying this throughout the season. This could be a very, very special year in Tigertown. The pieces are in place and lined up for a very successful run towards an ACC Championship and contend for a playoff spot. One game at a time and as long as they stay focused at the task at hand, they should be perfectly fine. One major area of concern however is the offensive line. A lack of depth makes even one injury upfront detrimental to the Tiger's future. The loss of Isaiah Battle at left tackle hurts, but reports out of camp have been positive in regards to the stability of the offensive line. At first glance, it seems like the Tigers could be favored in each game this year. If the bowl game against Oklahoma was any indication, the offense will be just fine without former Offensive play-caller--Now Head Coach at SMU--Chad Morris this year as Tony Elliot and Jeff Scott take over the driver's seat of this offensive locomotive. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables has told the media he likes what he's seen out of his squad thus far. The sky is the limit in 2015. Clemson has been knocking on the door of going from good to great and its time to smash that door down in 2015. The time is now.

Regular season Prediction: 10-2

Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 Season Preview: South Carolina

Season Preview: South Carolina 

South Carolina Gamecocks

Head Coach: Steve Spurrier
Record: 84-45 (10 Seasons)
Last Year's Record: (7-6, 3-5), defeated Miami in Duck Commander Bowl, 24-21

Review of 2014 Season- 
You can expect there to be some drop-off when you lose a guy like Conner Shaw on offense and Jadeveon Clowney on defense along with each supporting cast. But I don't think Gamecocks fans were ready for the sorry excuse for a defense that took the field for much of the season last year. After three double-digit season win totals, South Carolina flirted with a losing season last year. All of the sudden, the Gamecocks looked more like the team we are all more accustomed to in 2014. I don't know, but maybe it was a bad omen to raise a over-sized banner of Steve Spurrier on the outside of the stadium before he has even brought the program its first SEC title. Just maybe. Other places hang banners for Championships. In Columbia, apparently a Capital One Bowl win and beating your rival five times in a row is just as worthy of a feat. To each his own.

Key Losses-QB Dylan Thompson, RB Mike Davis, WR Damiere Byrd, DL J.T. Surratt

Key Returners- RB Brandon Wilds, WR Pharoh Cooper, WR Shaq Roland, DT Gerald Dixon, Jr., LB Skai Moore

Returning Starters: Offense-7; Defense-8

2015 Schedule-

September 3rd        North Carolina (Bank of America Stadium-Charlotte, NC)
September 12th      Kentucky
September 19th      Georgia*
September 26th      UCF
October 3rd            Missouri
October 10th          LSU*
October 17th          Vanderbilt
October 31st           Texas A&M
November 7th        Tennessee*
November 14th      Florida*
November 21st      The Citadel
November 28th      Clemson*

#- Home games in BOLD
*-denotes key game

Schedule Analysis- 
Just like the Bulldogs, South Carolina's season will be made or broken by the month of October and the first week of November. They will be tested in the road trips to Missouri, Texas A&M and Tennessee. The East division of course continues to be inferior to the West....but that means it's up for grabs. The Gamecocks have to go back to Athens this year and bringing an inexperienced QB between the hedges with limited proven playmakers early in the season is a tall, tall task. Just ask Clemson about it last year. Not to mention UGA's defense which should be stout. Spurrier's group will have a three game home stand to close the season ending with a battle with their friends, eh...I mean "enemies" from the upstate. They'll be looking for revenge from last year's 35-17 loss to a one-legged Deshaun Watson and his supporting cast of Wayne Gallman and Artavis Scott and the nations best defense.

My Thoughts-

As expected, last season was somewhat of a rebuilding season with the departure of the best QB in school history, Conner Shaw. Thompson held his own as the Gamecock's new starter but a lack of reliable and proven help sometimes made things difficult. Tied with a just a flat out horrible defense and a handful of fourth quarter meltdowns and blowing leads against Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee, things got flat out ugly at times. But with Spurrier on the sidelines you can never really count out his team. Speaking of which will this be his last year? Or maybe he has another 10 years in the tank? Who knows. The HBC himself can't seem to make up his mind. His current contract runs through 2018, though for what its worth. Things should be better this fall but they have to find a new quarterback again. It looks like that will be Conner Mitch. Mitch threw a whopping 6 passes last season. I think I threw more than that in the parking lot of the fairgrounds last year before the game against UT.  He will likely beat out junior walk-on Perry Orth and freshmen Michael Scarnecchia for the starting role.

Bottom Line- 

The good news is that South Carolina's defense literally can't be much worse than it was last year and should be greatly improved this fall. The addition of Co-Defensive Coordinator Jon Hoke to assist Lorenzo Ward along with a handful of new defensive linemen in their most recent recruiting class should help. Of course, they will lack experience but definitely should be pointed in the right direction after finishing the 2014 season ranked 92th in total defense. It also has been reported that the Gamecocks will change to a 4-3 base system instead of the previous 3-4 and 4-2-5. My biggest question outside of the QB situation is who will step up and be that #2 and #3 guy on offense behind Cooper. Sure you can run wildcat and even some read-option with #11 to get him involved in various ways, but he can't do it all alone. Someone else will have to emerge as a reliable option. Cooper flew under the radar last year but opposing defenses will key in on him this year and in theory, things should be a little more difficult for him this time around. Regardless, he'll continue to make big plays but just how many? And will it be enough? Expect some more growing pains in the midlands this year.

Regular season Prediction: 7-5