Now that we have had some time to digest our Peach Bowl victory and look back at the season as a whole, I think the most important takeaway is that we finally completed a season without 'pulling a Clemson,' as the national press likes to call it.
In the regular season Clemson won all the games it was supposed to. We won the harder games like GT and VT as we normally do, but we also survived the trip games against teams like NC State and Duke. When was the last time Clemson got through an entire schedule where the only loses were to talented teams or USC? (Even when USC is down they should be considered a separate game because strange things are guaranteed to happen in rivalry games, plus it doesn’t affect our chances at a conference title.)
As much as it hurts a lot of fans to admit how far our football program has fallen, getting through a season without losing a crap game and looking like a 1-AA team in the process is an achievement for this program. If the goal is to win a national title, there is a path that has to be taken to get there. Very rarely is that path hire an amazing coach, win a title in 2 seasons. Its a process as Nick Saban likes to call it, and the process never ends.
Even last year when we won an ACC title we still had to overcome losses to Georgia Tech and NC State. While some may excuse Georgia Tech because of the offense they run, we should have stomped them into the ground. Against NC State we came out flat because the game didn’t matter. We changed that mentality this year, and it should stay the same for years to come. This doesn’t mean we won’t occasionally drop a shock game, but maybe it happens every 2-3 years rather than 2-3 times every single year.
Clemson has made significant progress the past 2 years. We have managed to have 10 win seasons both years which has always been a goal for the program at STS. Last year we won our first ACC title since 1991, another big step for the program. This year we got to 11 wins for the first time in 31 years, as well as showed that we have the ability to beat the big teams like LSU.
The next step is to beat the big guys more consistently. We have games against UGA, @USC, and FSU this year. We should win at least 2 of them, even if Nuk leaves as we expect him to do. I think we can certainly win all 3, especially when you factor in UGA missing at least 2-3 of their stars due to suspension. Spurrier was right when he commented on that, they always are missing someone. They graduate/lose most of the defense as well. If we can do that on top of winning against all the scrub teams then Clemson will have shown they can the top 10 team fans want them to be. By consistently beating the big boys a program puts itself in a position to win the conference every few years, get 10 wins every year, and when the stars align they get to compete for the national title.
We have also heard the first MNC talk at Clemson from Dabo. He is right that winning games against teams like LSU is important, but it may be a little early to talk MNC. Despite the talent we have, an MNC requires some luck, some more depth along our lines, and that consistency of beating top teams. Nevertheless, if he wants to talk about MNCs, we'll hold him to that standard.
Until then enjoy 2012 for what it was, a year when Clemson finally got the monkey of screwing up off its back and just won football games. It wasn’t always pretty, but Clemson knocked off another couple steps on the path to becoming a national powerhouse.