It’s all on Clemson now.
Despite the fact we’re just two weeks into the college football season, the Tigers appear to be on the fast track to returning to the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight season.
Clemson’s biggest non-conference game - a 28-26 survival against Texas A&M on Saturday - is in the books, and the rest of the schedule appears to be very navigable.
Up next is Georgia Southern, which the Tigers will host at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday, and that’s essentially a cupcake (sorry, Sun Belt fans). After handing the keys to Kelly Bryant in what turned out to be a dogfight with the Aggies, this weekend will be a good opportunity for Clemson to again get looks at Trevor Lawrence, who’d previously been splitting time with Bryant.
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After that, the Tigers begin Atlantic Coast Conference play by traveling to Georgia Tech, which couldn’t even keep up with South Florida last week. From there, it’s Syracuse (at home this time, so don’t expect a repeat shocker from last year), Wake Forest (blah), N.C. State (perhaps this is the one to worry about?), Florida State (which nearly lost to FCS Samford), Louisville (which seems to be a lackluster version of itself), Boston College (again, blah), Duke (yeah, no) and South Carolina (which possibly could pose a threat, but its weak performance against Georgia was pretty telling).
None of these would be acceptable losses. Last year, Clemson made the playoff despite a bad loss to the Orange, which led me to question why they were being considered a lock late in the year. But yes, it’s possible other CFP contenders will wind up with a loss (or two), leaving the Tigers a window of opportunity should they drop one of these games along the way.
Still, there’s no excuses. You can’t even say you’re looking past an opponent, because there’s no one left to be looking forward to other than maybe South Carolina. But unlike in the past, there’s no traditional Florida State waiting on the schedule. And Louisville doesn’t have Lamar Jackson under center anymore.
In comparison, Alabama (Mississippi, Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn), Ohio State (Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan), Oklahoma (TCU, Oklahoma State and West Virginia) and Georgia (LSU and Auburn) each have some big games awaiting them while playing tougher conference schedules. If these teams drop a game or two, it’s a little more forgivable.
So it might seem way too early to be putting an expectation on Clemson, but it’s not. The Tigers need to (and should) run the table.
I think there’s a good chance they will, too. But as Clemson has shown in recent years, it tends to trip up on teams (think Syracuse and Pittsburgh, for example) that have no business beating them.
It’s officially letdown season for the Tigers. While potential late (postseason) games will test their physical and mental strength, the rest of the regular-season slate is strictly mental.
Can Clemson keep its focus week to week with the ultimate goal in mind? Soon we’ll start finding out.
David Wetzel: @MYBSports, 843-626-0295