While this football season will undoubtedly be a lot different than previous years, as of right now it looks like Clemson fans will still be able to cheer on their Tigers as they play the game we all love, football. Whether or not the cheering will be allowed in Death Valley or will have to be from a distance is still unknown. However, Head Coach Dabo Swinney has said that no matter if there are fans or not, the team will probably still run down the hill before every home game. After all, everyone knows from Clemson’s Strength and Conditioning Coach Joey Batson in the iconic fourth quarter video that “you win championships when the stadium is empty, when the band ain't playing, when the cheerleaders ain’t cheering, when it's just you and your brothers right beside you.”
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ACC decided over the summer that it would be in everyone’s best interest for its schools to only play other ACC schools, with the exception of one non-conference game. That exception was made in an effort to preserve our greatest rivalry: the Clemson and South Carolina game. However, with the SEC deciding to only play ten conference games this season and no out-of-conference games, Clemson will have to wait another year to humiliate the Gamecocks on the football field.
Starting on Sept. 12, the Tigers are set to play six home games and five away games, with two open dates. One thing to note is that Clemson has an active winning streak against every single team on its schedule. On top of having a dominating record in the ACC, Clemson is coming into this season fueled by their loss to LSU in the National Championship. The Tigers are very competitive and do not like to, nor are they used to, losing. The loss to LSU last season left a bad taste in the mouth of every player and coach at Clemson. And these guys have been eagerly waiting to get back on the field ever since.
Clemson has some serious talent returning from last season. Trevor Lawrence is now entering his junior year at Clemson, which means that this could very well be his last season putting on that orange and purple uniform as many expect him to go No. 1 overall in the upcoming NFL Draft. So, the combination of him building on his athleticism, accuracy and leadership skills over the summer with this potentially being his last year playing college football is a dangerous recipe for his opponents. Clemson also has senior running back Travis Etienne and senior wide receiver Amari Rodgers coming back to the Tigers’ offense to wreak some havoc on defenses across the country. Unfortunately, Clemson will be missing key playmaker Justyn Ross this fall due to a neck and spinal injury, and wide receiver Tee Higgins was recently drafted by the Bengals. Due to these losses, sophomore wide receivers Frank Ladson Jr. and Joseph Ngata are going to have to step up to fill the shoes of Ross and Higgins.
On defense, we can expect sophomore Mike Jones Jr. to take over Isiah Simmons’s position. Now Jones is not expected to play the position just like Simmons did, but he is definitely more than capable to be very effective at linebacker. The leader of this year's defense will likely be linebacker James Skalski, as he is one of the oldest guys on the team and he knows the defense as well as anybody could. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venebles is already loving what he is seeing from freshman defensive lineman Bryan Bresee and defensive end Myles Murphy, so expect them to have an immediate impact.
This season should be particularly exciting to watch because every team will be playing each game like it could be their last, and it very well could be. The situation with the coronavirus pandemic is very fluid, and things can change very quickly. The Big 10 and PAC 12 conferences released schedules earlier this month that they planned on playing this season. However, shortly after those schedules were released, they pulled the plug, and announced that the teams in their conferences would no longer be playing football this fall, stating that they did not feel like it was safe enough to do so.
Some ACC schools who have allowed their students to move back on campus and conduct their classes in a hybrid format, like University of North Carolina, Syracuse, NC State and Notre Dame, have already had problems with coronavirus outbreaks. So, although Clemson and the rest of the ACC are planning on playing a full season this fall, there is a chance that the season could get cancelled at any point if there starts to be an uncontrollable outbreak among teams.
If there is a full season, we can expect Clemson to dominate most of their games. For the second year in a row, the Coaches Poll ranked Clemson as the No. 1 team in the nation. Clemson has beaten Wake Forest the past 11 times that they met, and last year Clemson ran the ball all over the Demon Deacons winning 52-3. The Citadel is really no match for Clemson either, as Clemson is just on a whole other level than them. It would not be surprising if Clemson had a shutout against the Citadel. The Tigers get a week off to rest before hosting the Virginia Cavaliers. Last year, Clemson played Virginia in the ACC Championship, where the Tigers had another dominating performance, winning 62-17. Virginia is a good team and will probably give Clemson more competition than Wake Forest or the Citadel, but do not expect the game to be too close. It will be fun to see Clemson play Miami, as it has been a minute since the Tigers last matched up against the Hurricanes in 2017. Nonetheless, Clemson will probably win by a comfortable margin again. The next three games, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Boston College, on the other hand, have all been regulars on the Tigers’ schedule in recent years, and Clemson will be sure to add another game to their winning streak against all of them. Nov. 7 will be the date that college football fans across the country will have circled on the calendar, as that is when Clemson travels to South Bend, Ind. to play Notre Dame. This game will probably be Clemson’s biggest obstacle to having an undefeated season. The Fighting Irish will certainly be looking for revenge after the Tigers beat them 30-3 in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Semifinal game. Still, Clemson is expected to come out on top as they have more talent on their side. After Notre Dame, the Tigers will travel down to Florida State and will most likely earn their sixth consecutive win against the Seminoles. Then, Clemson will return to Memorial Stadium to play Pittsburgh on Nov. 28, the day that they would usually be playing the South Carolina Gamecocks. We can expect Pitt to put up a good fight, but ultimately Clemson will come out on top. The regular season will wrap up in Blacksburg, Va. as the Tigers face the Hokies. Virginia Tech is Clemson’s main competitor in terms of the best entrances in college football, as they usually have a huge home field advantage. But, if there are no fans there to intimidate their opponent, they will probably lose that extra edge that they would normally have. Still, this will probably be one of the closer games that Clemson will play in this season. That being said, the Tigers are still favored to win.
Sept. 12 at Wake Forest
Sept. 19 vs. Citadel
Sept. 26 Open Date
Oct. 3 vs Virginia
Oct. 10 vs Miami
Oct. 17 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 24 vs. Syracuse
Oct. 31 vs. Boston College
Nov. 7 at Notre Dame
Nov. 14 Open Date
Nov. 21 at Florida State
Nov. 28 vs Pittsburgh
Dec. 5 at Virginia Tech