It is here! We have college football and it’s beautiful.
Last Saturday, we saw Central Arkansas and Austin Peay get the college football season started. Central Arkansas drove down the field in the final two minutes, found the end zone, and held off a last ditch Austin Peay drive. While I’ve enjoyed MLB and the NHL, college football is just on another level of entertainment value.
A few weeks ago, my confidence that we’d get to enjoy it began to waver. I wrote an article in early May about how concerns about fall football were misplaced, but things changed in late May and we saw infections increase in June and July. On August 10th, the Big Ten cancelled their season. The Pac-12 quickly followed suit.
There was intense pressure for the rest of college football to cancel the season, and even still it hasn’t relented. Some go so far as to claim it is immoral to let the student athletes play, despite their pleas to take the field. Many of those same people will be writing articles breaking down games and getting paid to do so in the coming weeks.
Clemson’s own Trevor Lawrence eloquently made the case for the college football season in a series of tweets:
People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19 (1)— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 9, 2020
Players being safe and taking all of the right precautions to try to avoid contracting covid because the season/ teammates safety is on the line. Without the season, as we’ve seen already, people will not social distance or wear masks and take the proper precautions— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) August 9, 2020
These arguments have been echoed by players across the country, most notably Ohio State QB Justin Fields. Opponents of the college football season often ignore these players and their salient points despite highlighting how fantastic it is that players have made their voices heard on racial inequity and the formation of a players council.
Clemson football’s last round of testing yielded zero positive cases. More challenges will arise, especially as students return to campus. For now though, the battle is victorious and we have made it to football. FBS football kicks off on Saturday September 5th with the AAC taking center stage. SMU visiting Texas State and Arkansas State visiting Memphis headline the day. Navy and BYU play on Labor Day. Then, a week later, College GameDay will be in Winston-Salem as the Tigers face the Deacons.
As a first order of celebration, let’s take a look at the Clemson’s opening opponent. The Tigers travel to Winston-Salem to take on the Demon Deacons on September 12th at 7:30pm on ABC. While Coach Clawson has done a great job bringing them to respectability, they may take a slight step back this season after losing some key pieces.
The Demon Deacons’ passing game loses QB Jamie Newman, WRs Sage Surratt (opt-out; 1,001 yards), Kendall Hinton (1,001 yards), Scotty Washington (607 yards), and Steven Claude (211 yards), and TE Jack Freudenthal (325 yards). Less than 15% of production (by receiving yardage) returns.
Clemson roughed up Wake Forest 52-3 in Memorial Stadium last year, holding QB Jamie Newman to 6-14 passing for 41 yards and 2 INTs. Newman, now a Georgia Bulldog, is a solid QB, but struggled without Surratt, who missed the Clemson game.
Last year I argued that Jamie Newman and Sam Hartman gave the Deacs one of the best QB duos in the ACC. While Hartman has been sidelined by injury throughout chunks of his career, he has always impressed me when he took the field, and I don’t see that position as a major problem with Newman gone. Replacing their starting running back, top three receivers, and most of the offensive line will be the issue.
ESPN’s FPI gives Clemson a 97% win probability. Although the Tigers ditched one of their tune-up games (Akron), the ACC has provided it with a down Wake Forest team that may struggle offensively. If the Tigers defense struggles, we may have something to worry about.
On defense, Boogie Basham, a fourth year DE, is a projected first round pick. He may even go in the top 10. He’ll put Clemson’s retooled offensive line to the test, even if Jackson Carman draws the matchup most of the game.
In a game that will likely be a blowout this is something to keep an eye on. Clemson’s WRs and OL are arguably the biggest question marks on the team and in week 1 they will face off against an elite pass rusher.
Of course, seeing Clemson’s rotation at WR and RB will be one of the biggest things to watch in this week one matchup. Clemson is stacked at running back. I’ve speculated that we will see a more run-heavy offense to get the ball to all those playmakers. In what should be a blowout, that seems even more likely. At WR, we’ve heard a lot of praise for Cornell Powell throughout camp. After four seasons at Clemson, is he primed to breakout?