Down in the Desert
Prepare yourself. This may open a wound that has not fully healed. Oh. And do not worry. You are not alone. But think back to January 11, 2016. Prior to the National Championship game in Arizona, Clemson was 14-0 and still riding high after another domination of Oklahoma.
Then the tide turned on Clemson.
As the clock ticked towards zero in a game against Alabama, it was clear that winning the title would have to wait until next year. 14-0 became 14-1. Clemson’s great season came to painful end. And Alabama claimed yet another championship. While the season came to an end, a dynasty did not.
Clemson opened the 2016 season with high expectations. The thought was that the Tigers would be able to dominate early and make another run at the playoffs. With a few games where Clemson made some mistakes and got the very best from the teams that they were playing, the media and the fans began questioning if Clemson was the real deal. Then there were games where Clemson looked like there would be no team to actually challenge them. After a couple of close wins and then a loss at home against Pittsburgh, Clemson still controlled their path to the ACC Championship and the playoffs.
Saturday night in Orlando was a special one for Dabo Swinney and the Clemson Tigers. The last time Clemson won two ACC Championships in a row, Reagan was the president, Coach Swinney was in high school, and Deshaun Watson had not been born.
The ACC is on an upward trend. Just two years ago the ACC was the consensus worst Power 5 conference in the NCAA. With Clemson, Florida State, Louisville (all Atlantic Division teams), the ACC is becoming more of a force. Pittsburgh is a year or two out from having something special. Wake Forest improved this year. North Carolina could hang with almost anybody. And Virginia Tech should only get better from here. Speaking of Virginia Tech…
Clemson and Virginia Tech have an interesting ACC rivalry. The two schools have met 34 times. Two games were in the ACC Championship game and one was in the Gator Bowl. And now Clemson owns a 4 game winning streak over the Hokies. With the win over the Va Tech, Clemson earned a playoff berth and are ranked number 2 in the College Football Playoff Rankings. The Tigers will travel back to Glendale and will face The Ohio State Buckeyes.
A Rematch for the Books
In the 2013-2014 season, Clemson had a successful year. And thanks to Florida State making the BCS National Championship game, Clemson was the obvious choice for the Orange Bowl. Tajh Boyd helped Sammy Watkins set an Orange Bowl record with 16 catches for 227 yards on the way to a 40-35 victory for the Tigers. Ohio State was favored to win this game.
Fast forward almost 3 years later and Clemson and Ohio State are scheduled to face each other again. Things have changed though. The Orange Bowl 3 years ago was one of the final BCS Bowls. Now, this upcoming Fiesta Bowl, also a former BCS Bowl game, is a bowl on the playoff rotation. These two teams are playing for something more this time. Last time they met, it was for a pleasure of winning a BCS Bowl game. They are playing for the biggest championship in college football.
There are match-ups that favor both teams. For example, Ohio State’s offensive line struggled heavily against Michigan. JT Barrett found himself scrambling for his life if he was able to avoid being hit. Clemson’s front 7 will methodically pick apart Ohio State’s line. Remember, Barrett is good, but he is not Lamar Jackson. Jackson ran well against the Tigers, but could not execute when it was most important.
The wide receiver corps from OSU has the chance to shine as well. Clemson allowed VT’s Jerod Evans to throw for 264 yards. Clemson’s defensive backs did not cover as well as they have been covering people. Usually they play aggressively. But against the Hokies, there was so much room on several different occasions for their receivers. Barrett has the chance to hit his receivers to hurt the Tigers.
Do not forget about Deshaun Watson. He will be the big difference maker in this game. Even if he manages to turn the ball over, Watson can handle the pressure and not let that bother him. Short memories are very important for quarterbacks to have. Once they get in their own head, they are useless. If he runs the ball to hurt the Buckeyes, the game could get ugly.
Clemson fans, get excited. This is championship season. Dabo tells us that “the fun is in the winning.” Clemson has been winning. And will continue to win. This is why they play the regular season. To build for a championship run. Are you all in?