Alas, Spring is here. With the warmer temperatures and longer days come two other great things--baseball and spring football. We have discussed the positions at length over the past few weeks, and will get the opportunity to speculate much more about a variety of items as the next month progresses. Today I will expand some of my opinions (you know what they say about those things), some hopes, and some concerns as we move into the second quarter of the year 2010.
We will start with baseball today. The season is still young, but I am pleasantly pleased with last weekend's outcome in the 3 game set with our foe from Columbia. Clemson was able to fight back for a big win in game 1 and throttled SC in game 3. The obvious disappointment was the performance of the bullpen in the buffer game of the series, giving up late runs to allow the Gamecocks to dodge a Clemson sweep.
I will be the first to admit that March baseball is relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. You will also hear me state that one or two games really cannot capture how good a baseball team really is. Baseball is a completely different monster than either of the other two major sports for a variety of reasons. It differs from college football because a playoff system dictates the winner and the main thing that counts is getting hot late in the year. The large number of games played puts a premium on consistency. Series play also gives you a better idea of who the better teams are by allowing teams to immediately avenge fluke losses or a simple bad night on the diamond. Teams hope to grind through the regular season then peak for the conference then NCAA tournaments, with the good teams showing consistent improvement into the summer.
Purely from a fan's perspective, I wish these two teams could get together for both an early season and late season series for a good overall comparison. These two programs have a lot to offer from both a regional and national standpoint. First off, both schools have baseball programs that have been consistently good. Clemson has been good forever, USC since Tanner came on board. Both schools can boast nice baseball facilities. Beautiful Tiger Field has seen substantial upgrades over the past decade and SC has a new stadium that is extremely impressive (especially when you realize the facility is ONLY utilized for USC baseball and does not host a minor league squad after college baseball season). While we will probably never see any more than three regular season games between the two teams in a given year, more games would be nice for the fans.
That being said, you can take what you wish from the SC series. I really hope that this team can build some momentum from the SC series as we move towards conference play. We all like taking the series from the in-state rival, but let's remember that a baseball season is long and grueling. The best teams peak at the end and are flush with pitching, something that will be a question for Clemson as we progress.
Basketball wise, this team was one W shy of our preseason prediction of 10 ACC wins this year. On the year, Trevor Booker has been a disappointment, forgetting the fierceness that he showed in years past. Lack of effort, basic fundamentals, and a the need for a pure shooter have hurt this team over the long haul. Honestly, I expected more out of this group and have been sorely disappointed with the output and overall effort shown on the court.. The loss to NCST was indicative of poor effort and a team that was really unprepared for ACC Tournament play. We were pathetic (as usual) on the offensive end and allowed the Pack to shoot well from the field for most of the evening.
I have to think that Clemson is in the Big Dance, but really would understand if we were left out and would not be too pissed at the selection committee given the epic collapses and lapses we have seen out of this squad this season. The Tigers have been pretty average all season and, when including the tournament, finished just above average (9-8) in an ACC that is having a "down year" when compared to previous ACC seasons.
While I think the group probably has the ability to make it deep into the NCAA tournament, there are tons of questions left about their heart and character. We will see if one of the Freshmen can come up big in postseason action. Can Purnell actually get his team excited about a game in March? Will Trevor Booker actually give effort all game long? Clemson has played itself into yet another tough scenario by losing games they should have won, giving minimal effort, and not playing good fundamental ball. Now the Tigers will suffer with a probable 10-seed. Thanks for playing.
On to a few football items near and dear to my heart. Dr. B has already exposed the ridiculousness that is the "indoor practice facility", so I won't go into it too much but will fire in a few takes. First, is an indoor facility absolutely necessary here? No, this is a luxury item that is nice to have to allow players a year-round practice area but not an absolute necessity. I will say, there are some facilities--I have toured the Nebraska IPF--that are magnificent. IMO, these items are an indicator of how serious an administration takes its athletic programs.
However, at a place like Nebraska who's administration actually wants its athletic programs to succeed, their facility houses a variety of weight rooms, general areas, indoor beach volleyball courts (yes, they are good at beach volleyball in Nebraska--so good in fact that they were not happy with local sand and were importing their beach volleyball sand in from Hawaii when I was out there), and a state of the art indoor practice facility. While I understand that their climate makes such a complex a necessity, this school did not go half-ass when putting up a structure.
Thus, the core issue that I have with this indoor track facility is that it is a cheap out for Clemson. B. Robinson sold the fact that it would be a great tool for the football team when not being used by track, when in-fact that is not the case. I am not sure how necessary such a structure is at Clemson and really don't have an IPF at the top of my list. However, for the administration to EVER claim that they were meeting the needs of the football team with this track bubble is preposterous. The point of the story is that we are (and have been) falling behind and our administration does not care. We are so preoccupied playing the "shell-game to a Top 20 university" that (I believe) the administration almost secretly roots against the athletic teams and merely views the football program as a revenue stream to subsidize non-revenue sports and the general university coffer. Clemson would be much better off embracing athletics (and football in particular) as athletic programs are some of the best recruiting tools that a university has. However, this is how it has worked at Clemson since Jan 1990, and I don't see it changing especially with the higher ups keen to lag on items that could immediately help athletic programs (training table is a pretty obvious one, but we will save that one for another day).
Moving along, Clemson is obviously in the midst of spring practice. While I used to get all jazzed up about the in's and out's of SP, I have come to realize that this is pretty much a mini-camp for the boys and that
half seven-eighths of the crap that comes out of the Spring has no real bearing on fall football. Hence, I will refer to this period as a refresher course for existing players. This time period gives the reserves a chance to brush up on Clemson's playbook, learn basic fundamentals, and begin jockeying amongst themselves for slots in the fall. That being said, here are a few spots that I am interested in fundamental issues and how the competition looks headed into summer:
1. Wide receiver. Our receiver corps was pretty slim last year and is really lacking productivity this season. When we did see someone other than Ford, Ashe, or Dye as a WR on the field (this happened mostly early in the season), the results were poor as these guys could not catch a cold butt naked in Alaska in the middle of winter. We have to see vast improvement here. Hopefully McNeal will step up after his RS year. I really expect Jaron Brown and Marquan Jones to see more of the field this fall, and would like to see these guys push for starting roles. Other that Dye, we really have a lot of question marks (and even with Dye, there are still some questions that need to be answered, although I have heard a lot of positives about his leadership and progression for this team).
2. Tight End. I realize that Dwayne Allen played a lot as a freshman, and gave this squad some really good snaps. I am really curious how he will respond being the starting TE. We know that you can flex him and get quality routes and catches, but how will he hold up out of a three-point stance running the football all game? Will we have to move a better blocker out there in obvious running situations? I think that Allen has the ability to do these things and have seen numerous articles writing about the staff being very excited about his ability. Let's hope that he will be able to fill Mike Palmer's void in all aspects of the game.
3. Offensive line. We go through this one almost daily, so no surprises here. With Cloy out, and Brad at the healm be prepared for the usual 5-lineman Monte game that good 'ole BS likes to pull at any given point.
4. Linebackers. Another spring is great for Kevin Steele and crew. This time period will hopefully allow the staff to straighten up a lot of the issues we saw last season that involved players grossly out of position. I really wish Justin Parker was in school and could participate in these spring drills, as we are thin and desperately need his services.
5. Odds and ends. Obviously we all will be paying attention to Boyd as he gets a lot of reps this spring. He has wow'ed most of the staff and current players on the practice squad and we are all excited about seeing him rep with the 1st and 2nd-teamers. I have heard that Ellington has bulked up a little. As has been stated here numerous times, I am really excited about seeing more of him on the field IF he finds the cure for the fumbleitis he had at points of last season. Not too concerned about the DB's and know that whoever does not win the corner battle will still see a lot of action over the course of the season.