Saturday's win in Charlottesville was arguably Clemson's most impressive of the year, not because it was the biggest win, but instead because it was its most complete. As a fan, this was the sort of performance you wanted against the likes of Florida State or South Carolina, but after weeks of dragging its feet through games we'll take it. Anytime you roll up 600+ yards, even if it's against a struggling Virginia team, it's hard to be too upset. Outside of a few plays, the defense continues to impress me. Safety play is still not where we want it, but holding a home team to fewer than 300 yards and forcing 3 turnovers is exactly what we hoped that side of the ball would look like under Venables in year two. His side is simply getting the job done and that's the sort of confidence you want with three games left on your schedule.
With the last stretch in the season squarely in view, Clemson has the opportunity to finish this season with a bang. The ACC title hopes are virtually gone and that's disappointing, but should Clemson win out an at-large BCS birth is likely. Just how important are the next three games? In a word, huge. I think most Clemson fans would state that this season's success or failure will ultimately be based upon whether the Tigers take care of business against South Carolina. I can get behind that, but I would also argue that a BCS birth is absolutely critical for program and that starts with beating Georgia Tech.
Clemson will likely be -10 or 11 point favorites in that game, and having two weeks to prepare will turn out to be big. Paul Johnson's teams have historically struggled when opponents have more than one week to study them (which is part of the reason he's 1-4 in bowl games at Georgia Tech). The triple option presents issues because you need to be incredibly disciplined to stop it (or at least slow it down) and because most teams only see it once a year they struggle with it. It's such a foreign offense compared to the spread and pro style attacks we see week in and week out. Three or four extra days to familiarize our defense with it gives us a huge leg up rather than the usual week we've grown accustomed to. Thanks to the ACC for that one, especially getting the Jackets at home for the second straight year. Avoiding having to go to Bobby Dodd is always okay with me.
In a Coastal division that appears wide open Georgia Tech will still be a tough out. This rivalry (outside of the 2011 debacle) has yielded fourth quarter games between the two programs, and there's no reason to think next weekend will turn out any differently. After a tough stretch in early October, Johnson's squad is finally clicking having won three straight including a drubbing of Syracuse. With Clemson still sitting within the top 10, it can be sure it will face Georgia Tech's best efforts, a team that would like nothing more than to upset a home Thursday night favorite to catapult their program to the front of the Coastal race (something that could happen too if Miami loses this weekend).
Should Clemson get the job done next weekend and beat a dangerous Yellow Jacket team, they will have luxury of a lay up game against the Citadel before the showdown in Columbia. It appears the Tigers have finally gotten past the Florida State loss and this team is back to where it was in late September. A win next week would be a huge confidence boost heading into the Tigers quest to end the drought against South Carolina in three weeks.