Schedule Analysis: 5 Reactions to Clemson's Fresh Fall Slate
The wait is over.
The ACC released its revised 2020 football schedule Wednesday, giving Clemson's fall slate a fresh new look. The Tigers lost two previously scheduled ACC Atlantic opponents (N.C. State, Louisville) while adding three from the Coastal (Miami, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech).
Clemson's home ACC opponents
- Boston College
- Miami (Fla.)
Clemson’s road ACC opponents
- Florida State
- Georgia Tech
- Notre Dame
- Virginia Tech
- Wake Forest
Gone are three non-conference foes, as the ACC announced a 10-game league schedule with one bonus game outside the conference, but Clemson has yet to announce who that 11th game will be against.
There is doubt, following a report from SI.com's Ross Dellenger, that it will be annual in-state rival South Carolina.
For now, all we know is what we know: the ACC season won't start until the week of Sept. 7-12 and the dates and TV times will be provided later. Let's take a look at five reactions from Clemson's new schedule as the Tigers eye a sixth consecutive conference championship:
1. Defensive competition takes a huge leap
Clemson's strength of schedule likely won't be nearly the hot topic it was just a few months ago. Essentially, the Tigers traded games against some pretty lowly defenses for a huge step up in competition. While it's unknown if all four non-conference games get wiped out, a minimum of three are gone, so look at it like this:
Clemson drops Louisville, which ranked 102 in total defense in 2019. N.C. State was 72nd. Akron, which may or may not be salvaged, was 83rd. South Carolina was 66th.
The Tigers trade out at least some of those defenses for Miami, which finished 13th nationally last year, Pitt (15th) and Virginia Tech (42nd). They all could be as good if not better on that side of the ball in 2020, and it could be argued that after Clemson, those are the three best defenses in the ACC. You could call that an upgrade in competition.
2. Visit to South Bend remains intact
Nobody wanted to see this game come off the schedule, and it's not surprising it stayed because the ACC needs this game. Clemson hasn't played the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium since 1977, when the Tigers won 16-10. This long-awaited return trip matters. It's still special to play in South Bend at one of college football's most historic and special venues.
Crowd or no crowd, playing there will be something the current Tigers will tell their grandkids about. It's also a once-in-a-lifetime trip for fans, if possible. Beyond that, though, Clemson needed this game badly. Notre Dame should be a preseason top-10 team, and now that the Irish can play for an ACC title, this could be Game of the Year and potentially lead to a sequel in Charlotte in December. The stakes are even higher now.
3. Road trip to Blacksburg adds real intrigue
If there's one thing missing from Clemson's former 2020 schedule, it was a road trip to one of the Coastal's top contenders. That is no more. Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium is arguably the toughest place to play in the ACC outside of Death Valley.
While it's still unknown what attendance policies will be this fall, it still presents a challenge. The Hokies, behind quarterback Hendon Hooker, head into a season with more confidence than in past years under Justin Fuente, so the Tigers can't fall asleep when "Enter Sandman" blares from the speakers pregame.
4. Tigers avoid team that almost beat them in 2019
The ACC's schedule makers did the best they could to balance out the competition levels for everybody, but it's an impossible job. Some teams were going to at least somewhat easier paths than others. So it made it difficult to set up a rematch with North Carolina, which took the Tigers to the brink in a 21-20 Clemson victory in Chapel Hill last season.
UNC coach Mack Brown giving Dabo Swinney the toughest test of the regular season is one reason the Tar Heels' momentum had many folks picking them to win the Coastal before the divisions were scrapped. UNC will still be a scrappy bunch behind sophomore quarterback Sam Howell, and the Tigers could meet up with them in Charlotte, but there won't be a chance for a slip up before then and that's significant for Clemson.
5. Placement of some games could matter
Yes, we're supposed to be going off what we know, but it's hard not to wonder when some of these games will take place. Will Clemson still travel to Notre Dame in November, when the Tigers are typically rounding into championship form? Wouldn't it be better for Clemson to get Miami early, while the Hurricanes are breaking in a new offense led by former Houston QB D'Eriq King? Could the Virginia Tech game fall right after another tough game? Will there be a potential letdown spot, like 2016 against Pitt or 2017 at Syracuse? Will the two built-in bye weeks come at the right times or simply before expected blowouts of much lesser opponents? These will all be answered soon enough, but the makeup of a schedule sometimes matters as much as the competition.