This post wraps up our pre-season previews. The team we're talking about today is the Clemson Tigers, our hated rivals from the Upstate. Last year, we beat Clemson 34-17 at home in what was clearly one of the most memorable victories in recent Carolina history. Victories over the Tigers have been few and far between, and usually when we've been fortunate enough to beat these guys, we haven't done it in anywhere near the convincing fashion that we did last November. The satisfaction we all felt in the victory was trebled by the fact that it came against one of the better Clemson teams in recent memory--the Tigers would follow this one up with a berth in the ACC Championship game followed by a victory over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. It felt good beating our rivals and deflating what was otherwise a good season for them.
2010 will take us back to Death Valley, where the Tiger dealt us a crushing defeat back in 2008. They'll be hungry to avenge last season's game. But with the Gamecocks returning lots of talent and Clemson without some of the stars from last year's team, is it possible that we could win and take two in a row from CU for the first time since we won three in a row from 1968-1970? Let's take a closer look.
Offense: The Tigers lose two key players on offense, C.J. Spiller and Jacory Harris. Together they accounted for a goodly portion of the Tigers' yardage. While it will be hard to replace Spiller's production in the return game--he has been one of the game's best--the Tigers do have an answer for losing him at runningback, with Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper looking to be the next Thunder and Ligthening. Replacing Harris may not be so easy. Word is that the Tigers don't have any good receivers this year, which could be a liability. They do return talented QB Kyle Parker and a good group of linemen. It's also worth noting that their kicking game was a liability last year, and, to my knowledge, a new, more reliable kicker has not emerged for them. Some things never change, I guess.
Remember this, CU fans?
Defense: Clemson breaks in two new corners this season, although the guys stepping in are experienced. Injuries, though, could expose depth problems there. Outside of that, this should be a pretty good unit. DeAndre McDaniel is a star at safety, and Da'Quan Bowers should be hell in the pass rush.
Player Whose Name You Should Remember: I'm going with Bowers, who should be in for a breakout season. Bowers was projected to be the next Gaines Adams, but he hasn't quite lived up to the hype over his first two seasons, partially due to injury. Now, though, he looks fit and trim and ready to live up to his potential. I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a huge year and then to bolt for the NFL.
What to Expect: Probably more of a defensive struggle. I have a healthy fear for Clemson's running game, but I think they'll struggle in the passing game. If we can take advantage of a couple of early mistakes, such as with an early interception, we can focus on slowing down the Ellington and Harper and keep the ball in our offense's hands. Defensively, though, Clemson will give us all we can handle. Our offensive line will have to deal with a tough CU defensive front, and Clemson's safeties are ball hawks. That was the case last year, too, though, and Stephen Garcia protected the ball pretty well other than on the early INT. This one might come down to TOs, and I like our chances in that department.
Prediction: I'm going with a close Carolina victory, and I'm not just saying that because we all hate Clemson. We're the better team this year, and while it's going to be tough to win in Death Valley, I think we'll be ready.