The Clemson Tigers are undefeated through the first six games of the 2017 college football season.
Six games remain, standing in between the Tigers and a perfect regular season. Positions in the Atlantic Coastal Conference Championship game and the College Football Playoffs perhaps await. Let’s take a look at the Tigers remaining schedule and their opponents down the stretch.
@ Syracuse, October 13th
On Friday the 13th, the Tigers will take on the Syracuse Orange. Superstitious readers out there can take some comfort knowing that the date is the scariest thing about this matchup. The Orange are 3-3 on the season.
Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey is top 10 in the nation in passing yardage, and also leads his team in rushing. Just last week, Dungey led the Orange to a much-needed victory over Pittsburgh. However, Dungey has yet to face a defense like that of the Clemson Tigers. And the Clemson Tigers defense has been tested against plenty of quarterbacks better than Dungey.
Syracuse may be hoping to pull off an upset similar to Pittsburgh‘s victory over Clemson last season. However, the odds are long. The Tigers may be even better than the last time these two teams met, and that game turned out to be a 54-0 victory for the Tigers. Don’t expect the upset in this one.
vs Georgia Tech, October 28th
The Tigers will make good use of the extra time between games, as Georgia Tech is typically a very difficult team to prepare for. The Yellow Jackets continue to run one of college football’s most unique, almost anachronistic offenses. And run is exactly what they set out to do. As of this writing, Georgia Tech possesses the nations second-ranked rushing offense.
It should come as no shock that Georgia Tech’s rushing offense is strong, given their commitment to it. The Yellow Jackets success is more often determined by the strength of their defense. The team has scored over 30 points in each game this season, and their only loss was the team’s only contest surrendering more than 20 points.
Georgia Tech will look to control the clock. Clemson’s offense will need to be very effective and put up points when they get their chances. Likewise, the Tigers defense will need to limit their mistakes and get off the field quickly. If there is a team on Clemson’s remaining schedule capable of pulling a surprising upset, Georgia Tech has a good shot at being that team.
@NC State, November 4th
A loss by the Clemson Tigers to the NC State Wolfpack could have major implications for the ACC. Besides the Tigers, NC State is the only remaining team in the ACC Atlantic with a spotless in-conference record. Additionally, the Wolfpack have already notched a pair of minor upsets with wins over Florida State and Louisville. A win over Clemson would be a major statement by NC State.
One spot that has given Clemson some trouble this season is the right tackle position. A few players have seen playing time there, to mostly mixed results. Defensive end Bradley Chubb is the alpha of the Wolfpack defense. He is a spectacular player with some round one NFL Draft buzz about him. He and the rest of the NC State defense will push the Clemson offensive line to their limit.
On offense, the Wolfpack has been led by quarterback Ryan Finley. At the season’s midpoint, Finley has completed over 70 percent of his passes and racked up 10 touchdowns. In addition to those 10 scores, Finley has yet to throw an interception this season. He is a big part of the Wolfpack’s success this season, and will be a major concern for the Tigers secondary.
vs Florida State, November 11th
Clemson and Florida State fans alike have had this date circled on their calendars since before the season began. Each team had the look of a true contender prior to the season. Unfortunately, FSU has fallen on some hard times this season. Injuries and inexperience have left the Seminoles with a 1-3 record. But make no mistake, the FSU game will be no cakewalk.
A large part of the Seminoles’ struggles this season is the play of their offensive line. The unit recently surrendered five sacks and a total of 17 tackles for a loss in a game against Wake Forest. This is the same offensive line that failed to protect star quarterback Deondre Francois in the season opener, leading to an unfortunate season-ending injury. True freshman James Blackman has started each game since. A weak offensive line protecting a fledgling quarterback is a matchup that Clemson’s dominant defensive line will be salivating over.
The FSU defense is where the team’s strength currently lies. Defensive end Josh Sweat was once one of the most highly sought recruits in the nation. He has yet to breakout in the way many expected him to after a 2016 campaign that saw him rack up seven sacks. However, he still possesses some incredible physical talent and pass rush ability. He could prove to be a mismatch for Clemson’s offensive line.
FSU’s biggest strength, however, goes by the name James. Derwin James. The Seminole strong safety is legitimately one of the nation’s best players. The man has a way of flying across the field and making play after play unlike almost any other defender in college football. He’ll have his name called very early in the 2018 NFL draft should he declare, but before that, he’ll be looking to restore some pride for his team this season with a major victory over a hated rival.
vs Citadel, November 18th
Plain and simple, this is the easiest game on the Tigers remaining schedule. The Citadel is a great institution of service and education. Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t count for all that much on the football field. The Tigers should have no issues with the FCS team.
@ South Carolina, November 25th
Finally, we arrive at the Palmetto Bowl. Clemson and South Carolina‘s annual matchup is the state’s most celebrated competitive tradition. Each year, the two teams face-off for bragging rights and the title of best in the state. The Tigers have won each of the last three matchups. The Gamecocks will surely look to get one back this year, and putting an end to a potentially perfect season at the very end would make it that much sweeter.
The Gamecocks, not unlike FSU, have struggled with issues along their offensive line. However, their latest performance against Arkansas seemed to be a step in the right direction. They’ll need to keep that arrow trending upwards if they’re going to have a shot against Christian Wilkins or Dexter Lawrence in the trenches.
Linebacker Skai Moore is the leader of the Gamecocks defense and perhaps their best playmaker. Moore was the team’s leading tackler the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons. However, a neck injury kept him out for the entirety of 2016. His return to the team in 2017 has been a welcome one. Moore will undoubtedly be chomping at the bit in the final rivalry game of his collegiate career, especially having missed the opportunity last year.
While it may seem that with Auburn, Louisville, and Virginia Tech out of the way, the Tigers road to the playoffs has been all but paved. However, sitting atop the college football rankings puts a pretty big target on your back. Clemson is sure to get the very best shot that some very good teams have in them. You only have to look back upon 2016 to know an upset is still possible. Clemson must play with urgency, intensity, and efficiency in the Tigers remaining schedule if they want to punch their ticket to the playoffs and ACC championship once again.