Buy or sell: 6 key games for 2019
As the 2019 football season approaches, we can now let the gridiron excitement begin to show, but as with any year, some matchups look better on paper than others.
With only four weeks remaining until the media gather for Dabo Swinney's annual golf outing and the ACC Football Kickoff, we take a look at six intriguing games on Clemson's 2019 schedule, three games that could be lopsided wins for Clemson and three potential nailbiters that could challenge the Tigers' repeat ascension to the national championship.
SELL: Sept. 21: Charlotte 49ers vs. Clemson Tigers at Death Valley (Jeremy Styron)
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte 49ers football program, which was created 11 years ago and only started playing Division I games in 2013, has a combined win-loss record of 22-48 since taking the field. The team, competing in Conference USA, has never faced Clemson, and after staring down the national champs and enduring a rabid fanbase in the Tigers' backyard, they might not be eager to return.
Charlotte went 5-7 in 2018, with wins against Fordham, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, Southern Mississippi and Florida Atlantic. The team was 1-11 the previous year. The path to a winning season in 2019 looks even thornier, as the 49ers are set to face six bowl-eligible teams from last season, including, of course, the toughest of them all, Clemson.
Aside from giving fans and players a shot of morale in a welcoming setting, and possibly providing some extra playing time for younger members of the roster, these projected squash games run the risk of creating a lukewarm effort on the field among players, so coaches will need to be diligent in keeping the team focused on the task at hand.
Dominating performances are fun to watch and validate hard work on the practice field and in the film room, but competitive games keep players sharp, and as this game is positioned right in the middle of Clemson's season, the Tigers will need laser focus guiding them down the home stretch of the 2019 campaign.
SELL: Sept. 28: Clemson Tigers vs. North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Jeremy Styron)
This "sell" was a toss up between Wofford College (Nov. 2 at Death Valley) and UNC, but as the latter has a new coach at the helm, two new coordinators and different offensive and defensive philosophies to boot, UNC has the most potential to turn some heads and cause a scare for the Tigers during an important four-game stretch in ACC competition.
The Tar Heels' new head coach Mack Brown, who has entered his second run in that position, will hope to revive the team's competitive edge in the ACC after a disappointing season in 2018. Army, led by new UNC co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman last season, was the eight-ranked defense in the nation, while Old Miss, under new UNC defensive coordinator Phil Longo, finished 2018 seventh in the nation in yards per play and ninth in total offense.
Longo is expected to bring a similar spread offense to Chapel Hill, which could give the Tigers' vulnerable secondary, the one chink in the defense's considerable armor, problems if the game remains close down the stretch.
SELL: Oct. 19: Clemson Tigers vs. Louisville Cardinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium (Zach Lentz)
The Louisville Cardinals are looking to improve on a 2018 season that saw them stumble and bumble their way to a 2-10 record that included a 77-16 loss to the Tigers.
The Cardinals made a change in leadership following the 2018 season, as they fired head coach Bobby Petrino and made the change to Scott Satterfield, formerly head coach at Appalachian State.
Satterfield compiled a remarkable 51-24 record at Appalachian State, including a 38-10 conference mark in six seasons with the Mountaineers. His conference record of 34-6 in five Sun Belt seasons is the best in the league over that span. Notably, he became the first coach to lead a school from the FCS level to FBS and immediately earn three-consecutive bowl wins.
While Satterfield may be the answer in the commonwealth, it is hard to believe that the Cardinals will be able to mount much opposition to the Tigers this season.
BUY: Sept. 7: Texas A&M Aggies vs. Clemson Tigers at Death Valley (Zach Lentz)
Needless to say this is the game of the year for the Tigers and, by proxy, the ACC.
Last season, the Tigers held on for a 2-point win at College Station on their way to capturing the national championship. This season, the Aggies will be looking to exact their own Texas-sized revenge on the Tigers — boosting themselves into the playoff conversation — while doing serious damage to the Tigers.
The Aggies will bring a top-10 team into Death Valley — led by quarterback Kellan Mond, who threw for more than 400 yards against the Tigers last season — making this one of the marquee games of the entire season.
With ESPN rumored to be bringing "College GameDay" to Clemson for this game, the Tigers must once again rise above the distractions and play one of the best games of the season in Week 2.
BUY: Sept. 14: Clemson Tigers vs. Syracuse Orange at Carrier Dome (Zach Lentz)
What happens when you are the big dog on the block? You get everyone's best shot.
That is exactly what the Tigers will get when they travel to New York to take on the Orange in Week 3 of the season. A year after the Tigers escaped the Orange with a 3-point win, Syracuse is now planning on knocking off the Tigers for the second time in the last three seasons.
The biggest challenge for the Orange may come in replacing their dynamic quarterback, Eric Dungy, who was a thorn in the side of many teams in the country.
However, with a homecoming crowd, a place where the Tigers lost their last regular season game, and a fired up Syracuse head coach in Dino Baber, you have the perfect formula for our second game of the season that we are buying.
BUY: Nov. 9: Clemson Tigers vs. N.C. State at Carter-Finley Stadium (Jeremy Styron)
Both Georgia Tech, Clemson's first opponent in 2019, and N.C. State, which competes against the Tigers late into the season, finished the 2018 campaign with a 5-3 record in the ACC and both are among Clemson's fiercest rivals year in and year out.
N.C. State gets the edge in this list because, while the Tigers will be eager to start the season strong at home against Georgia Tech, the former not only gets to play Clemson on their home turf, but the game comes near the end of what could be another grueling run at the national title.
The Wolf Pack will no doubt be looking to exploit Clemson's secondary, as N.C. State finished 2018 first in the ACC in passing yards per game. N.C. State has some work to do on the ground, however, as the team was near the bottom of the conference in rushing yards per game. Clemson's elusive junior running back Travis Etienne should be able to find holes in the line to put pressure on State's young quarterback in the absence of Ryan Finley, who left after last season.
Syracuse and Florida each passed for more than 400 yards against N.C. State in 2018 and exposed serious weaknesses in the secondary. Unless that is address this offseason, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and his high-powered offense should be able to escape Raleigh with another notch in the win-column.
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