Before we dive in to analyzing Clemson's last road test of the season, it's imperative to discuss the big news out of Pickens County this morning. Clemson has hired a new athletic director, Georgia Tech's Dan Radakovich. My initial thoughts? The jury is out, and will be for a while. It's difficult to judge an AD hire on the surface, but this appears to be a decent hire, albeit certainly not a homerun hire. With the candidates that have been discussed as having interest (Mike Hill at Florida, Rootes of the Texans), this hire appears to be a little underwhelming. But if you really look at it, who knows how much interest those guys really had in coming to Clemson, something we probably will never know.
In the grand scheme, this might turn out to be good for Georgia Tech. Who among us can know the future? But in the here and now of a football season gone unbelievably sour, seeing Tech’s athletic director hop in a car and motor 125 miles up I-85 to take the same job at a conference rival looks really, really bad. It looks as if Dan Radakovich is ducking out on a program in disarray.
Fundraising is going to be critical for Radakovich. In the arms race that is college football, he is going to have the fortitude to keep Clemson one step ahead of its peers, something TDP struggled mightily at. I would also like to see Radakovich start to establish Clemson as more of a national brand the way that Florida and Georgia have. Does he have the vision to do this? I guess we'll find out, but for the time being, I'll be cautiously optimistic that this hire will prove to be an upgrade over what's been on campus for some time.
t completes Radakovich’s six-year tenure as Tech athletic director. One of Radakovich’s primary accomplishments at Tech has been his leadership of multiple facilities projects, including a new indoor football practice facility, softball stadium, tennis complex and the renovation of Alexander Memorial Coliseum, which will re-open in less than two weeks as McCamish Pavilion. On his watch, Tech was also placed on NCAA probation and was stripped of its 2009 ACC football title for its actions stemming from an investigation into improper benefits to two football players. The NCAA found that Tech failed to cooperate and failed to meet the conditions of obligations of NCAA membership.
Turning now to Clemson football. Last week was a good win for this program. Two or three years ago this was the sort of game Clemson usually lost or at least struggled to win. For three quarters of the game in Winston Salem, Clemson dominated that game, on both sides of the ball. That's exactly what we wanted to see out of this team especially on a road game where we tend to look flat.
Tajh Boyd kept throwing deep balls. Sammy Watkins kept catching them. A couple of school records later, and nobody's concerned about Clemson's offense anymore. Boyd threw for a school-record 428 yards with five touchdown passes and Watkins added a school-record 202 yards receiving as the Tigers (No. 18 BCS, No. 14 AP) routed Wake Forest 42-13 on Thursday night. Boyd was 27 of 38 and connected with Watkins for three plays of 50 or more yards, including a 61-yarder for a score.
Duke is a little bit of a different animal than Wake Forest. For starters, they are arguably the 3rd best team in the conference, behind Florida State and Clemson. They are undefeated at home (5-0), where they beat a very solid North Carolina team. This is the best Duke team in a long long time, to be bowl eligible through 9 games in the season at a place like Duke, serves as a ringing endorsement of the job Cutcliffe has done.
Clemson (7-1, 4-1) at Duke (6-3, 3-2), 7 p.m., ESPN2. The Blue Devils are already bowl eligible, but this team has got to prove it can be competitive against the upper echelon teams on their schedule. They simply have not done that this year, getting blown out by No. 14 Stanford (50-13) earlier in the season and No. 9 Florida State (48-7) last week. Now comes another huge test against No. 13 Clemson, a team that found its offensive groove again last week in a 42-13 win over Wake Forest. Clemson has won 15 of the past 18 in the series. Interesting note: this is the first night game played in the series, which began in 1934.
The big question mark for the Blue Devils this weekend is at quarterback. Sean Renfree left Saturday's game with a head injury and his status is up in the air for this weekend. If he can't go, Duke turns to backup Anthony Boone, who doesn't have close to the same credentials that Renfree does. The biggest problems Clemson could face comes via the Duke receiving corps. The Blue Devils boast a very good receiving group led by Conner Vernon (761 yards) and Jamison Crowder (645 yards). This could potentially give Clemson fits in the secondary, a group that is one of the most banged up units Clemson has had in some time. Getting pressure from the front four is going to be critical on Saturday, with the hopes of alleviating some pressure from a very suspect Clemson back four.
The game also pits Duke's No. 48-ranked offense, averaging 31.9 PPG, against a Tigers defense that ranks No. 51 this week at 24.2 PPG. The Blue Devils aerial game is averaging 271.6 yards per game, more than the Tigers secondary allows through the air, 237.9 YPG per game.
The line for this weekend opened as high as -15 at Betonline, and has been bet down to 13.5 at most books. Clemson has been a covering machine over the last 5 weeks, covering each of their last 5 contests. This may be the week you start to see an inflated line. Is Clemson really 15 points better than a Duke team that is undefeated at home? I'm not so sure. I tend to think this will be closer than some will expect if Renfree goes on Saturday. I do like the fact that Clemson has two extra days of rest heading into this game and Duke is coming off a beatdown at the hands of the Seminoles.
"I think [Florida State] is the best team in the country," said Blue Devils head coach David Cutliffe. "I’ve been around this a long time. I don’t think they have a weakness." And if they do, it’s certainly not, after a performance like this, the run game.
Saturday is a monster game for this program. After this game, Clemson spends the entire rest of November in Death Valley, a nice reward from the folks in the ACC offices for winning the ACC title last year. Duke will be ready for this game. They are well coached, hungry, and play very well at home. Clemson cannot afford to come out flat in this game. Put together a game like they did at Wake Forest last weekend, and the Tigers should be heading back home happy campers.