We’ve seen this movie before, to be sure.
Clemson University football has had a long and inglorious history of doing this to its fans – get off to a great start, punctuated by a signature win, and then flop at some point in the second half of the season.
So here we are again in 2015. The Tigers are 4-0, got their signature early-season victory with Saturday night’s thrilling 24-22 win over No. 6 Notre Dame in a driving rainstorm in Death Valley, and, with losses also by No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 7 UCLA and No. 8 Georgia, 12th-ranked Clemson is poised to move up significantly in the rankings.
But if you’re already scanning the schedule to see which underwhelming opponent is going to upset Clemson and take the Tigers out of the national championship picture, stop scanning.
This ain’t your daddy’s Clemson team.
In fact, this game itself against Notre Dame is a microcosm of the new Clemson under coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers jumped out to leads of 14-0, 21-3 and 24-9 before the Fighting Irish came roaring back to cut the lead to 24-22 and staring at a two-point conversion to tie it with seven seconds left in the game.
In the past, Clemson doesn’t make the big defensive push that stopped the conversion run and kept Notre Dame out of the end zone.
In the past, Clemson gets scored upon and loses in overtime.
During its coverage of the game, ABC/ESPN put up a fascinating graphic. In the last three-plus years, Clemson is 36-7. All seven losses were against ranked teams, none worse than No. 11. Swinney has brought a level of consistency to the program that it hasn’t had in decades.
And remember, Clemson football is a different beast. Some might even go so far as to say bizarre. This is a school that, less than 20 years ago, announced the firing of coach Tommy West prior to the 1998 season finale against South Carolina – and then watched as fans tore down the goal posts after the Tigers won, and then carried West, his wife and his son off the field on their shoulders.
Yes, that bizarre.
But what was even stranger prior to Swinney’s arrival was Clemson’s penchant for mind-boggling, head-scratching, stomach-churning losses to unranked teams, or at least teams that, at the time, were not perceived to be as good as the Tigers.
Which is why we say to skip the schedule scanning. It’s not happening this year.
Of Clemson’s remaining eight games, its toughest games – Georgia Tech, Boston College and Florida State – are at home, with a gimme against Wake Forest thrown in there. Of the road games, North Carolina State has been resurgent, you never what you’re going to get out of Miami (Fla.) and its less-than-stellar fan base, and Syracuse can be tough in the Dome.
That leaves the regular-season finale against South Carolina, and how delicious it would be to watch Steve Spurrier spend a week with his perpetual “I’m laughing and being sarcastic but really I’m serious” comments that get under the skin of every Clemson fan in and outside the state. Especially if Clemson comes in unbeaten.
But the way the Tigers looked against Notre Dame suggests they very well could be come late November.