It feels like an eternity since we last saw Alabama lifting the College Football Playoff trophy to end the 2020 season, one marked by game cancellations and a navigation of a “normal” season in the middle of a global pandemic. However, the long-awaited return of tailgating and full stadiums is finally here, and college football is back.
Alas, the return to a packed Memorial Stadium is around the corner for Clemson football. The usual roar and spectacle of a Saturday in Death Valley will take place in less than three weeks, as the Tigers gear up for a run at their seventh straight ACC Championship and College Football Playoff appearance.
The 2021 schedule fares well for the Tigers, despite criticism from many around its strength. Clemson will once again face two SEC programs as well as the annual match-up with one of the in-state FCS programs. A match-up with a Group of 5 program rounds out the non-conference slate, and the Tigers will face their normal eight-team ACC schedule. Let’s dive in!
Game 1: No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs (2020: 8-2) — Sept. 4, 7:30pm, ABC, Charlotte, NC
Clemson-Georgia opening the season should be a regular thing. The two teams opened their respective 2013 and 2014 campaigns with a home-and-home series, and it was everything college football needed. When the news rang out last year about the match-up coming to Charlotte to open the 2021 campaign, it sparked excitement across the sport, not just between the two programs. The Tigers and ‘Dawgs have been two of the most dominant programs during the College Football Playoff era and have had several highly contested recruiting battles, especially since Kirby Smart took over in 2016.
This year, the match-up is just as huge as the previous two, with the winner most likely vaulting up into the driver’s seat of the CFP race and boasting one of the top non-conference wins on their resume. The ‘Dawgs are led by junior quarterback JT Daniels, who sparked a late season resurgence in the Georgia offense in 2020 that has lifted him as a Heisman candidate this season. Much of Georgia’s success this year will depend on Daniels’ performance and health. Rivalry aside, the 65th edition of Clemson-Georgia will be one of the top match-ups of the 2021 season. Do not be surprised if both teams meet again in the playoff and have their quarterbacks hanging out together at the Heisman Trophy presentation in December.
SERIES HISTORY: Georgia leads 42-18-4; Georgia owns a one-game win streak.
Game 2: South Carolina State Bulldogs (2020: 3-1) — Sept. 11, 5pm, ACC Network, Clemson, SC
The yearly in-state match-up with an FCS school takes place in the form of SC State this season. The Bulldogs were one of the handful of teams to play a shortened 2020 campaign this past spring, finishing with a 3-1 record at that. The Bulldogs will be the first team to play in Death Valley in front of a full capacity crowd since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Clemson and SC State have only met four times prior to this season, but the Bulldogs have become a more common opponent since Dabo Swinney took over, last coming to Clemson in 2016. The Valley will be rocking for a 5:00 kickoff as 80,000+ are welcomed back into Memorial Stadium.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads 4-0; Clemson owns a 4-game win streak.
Game 3: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2020: 3-7) — Sept. 18, 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN, Clemson, SC
The Tigers and Yellow Jackets used to be one of the more prestigious matchups in the ACC, but Tech’s recent program struggles have resulted in over half a decade of Clemson beatdowns on the Jackets. The Tigers are in the midst of a six-game win streak over Tech and have won nine of the last 11 matchups between the two sides. For Yellow Jacket fans though, they hope the tide will turn under Geoff Collins, who enters his third year with the program. Tech’s turnaround is one of the key pieces to the ACC’s resurgence, and many believe Collins can get it done in Atlanta. The Jackets should enter the game undefeated, so expect a good showdown in Death Valley.
SERIES HISTORY: Georgia Tech leads 50-33-2; Clemson owns a 6-game win streak.
Game 4: North Carolina State Wolfpack (2020: 8-4) — Sept. 25, TBD, Raleigh, NC
The Textile Bowl (do people still call it that?) is one of the first looks at the Clemson schedule every year. The Wolfpack are usually the team that pushes the Tigers the most each season, coming close to beating Clemson a handful of times over this last decade. Clemson-NC State is a fun little rivalry. Whether it’s the infamous Isaiah Battle scuffle in 2014 or the laptop controversy in 2017, the match-up normally offers some drama on and off the field. NC State has a lot of momentum heading into the season after finishing 8-4 last year, and the Wolfpack even received some votes in the preseason AP poll. Dabo and co. will need to make sure the Tigers do not fall into this trap game like we have seen a few times.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads 59-28-1; Clemson owns an 8-game win streak.
Game 5: Boston College Eagles (2020: 6-5) — Oct. 2, TBD, ACC Network, Clemson, SC
The Boston College Eagles are a popular pick for sleeper teams in the ACC this season. The Eagles were much better than their 6-5 record indicated last season, and with redshirt-sophomore quarterback Phil Jurkovec returning, BC could very well be the team that gives Clemson a run in the Atlantic division. The Eagles should enter this game undefeated or at least as a one-loss team, which may boost them into the top 25 rankings. Jeff Hafley’s squad received a few preseason poll votes, so who knows what that team could look like by October.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads 19-9-2; Clemson owns a 10-game win streak.
Game 6: Syracuse Orange (2020: 1-10) — Oct. 15, 7pm, ESPN, Syracuse, NY
It still feels recent when we talk about the 2017 Syracuse victory over the Tigers and their near victory in 2018 that almost derailed Clemson’s championship run. That 2018 Orange team ended the season with a 10-3 record and promise for the future. Eric Dungey is gone now, though, and the Orange have not been able to recover from it. Dino Babers’ squad suffered through a miserable 2020 campaign, and 2021 does not offer much reason for optimism. If you’re an Orange fan who believes in coincidences, however, maybe the fact the Orange are hosting Clemson on a Friday night again is a reason to be somewhat hopeful. Babers is a great coach with an enormous task in front of him, though. I can imagine Dabo will have his team as locked in as possible this week to avoid another near-catastrophic upset.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads 7-2; Clemson owns a 3-game win streak.
Game 7: Pittsburgh Panthers (2020: 6-5) — Oct. 23, TBD, Pittsburgh, PA
Clemson will finally make its first trek up to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers at Heinz Field. The Tigers have never played at Pittsburgh, so this will be a new experience for all of us! The Panthers looked like two different teams last year, winning their first three before dropping four straight and finishing the year winning three-of-four games. It certainly has been a roller-coaster for Pitt, who is the last team to defeat Clemson in Memorial Stadium in 2016. Senior quarterback Kenny Pickett is still leading the Panthers, which has caused some positive momentum to swing Pitt’s way.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson and Pitt are tied 2-2; Clemson owns a two-game win streak.
Game 8: Florida State Seminoles (2020: 3-6) — Oct. 30, TBD, Clemson, SC
First off, rest-in-peace to the legend Bobby Bowden. Truly a giant in this sport and one of the best coaches we will ever see across all sporting atmospheres. He will be missed dearly. With that being said, this year’s team may need the spirit of Bobby with them more than ever as they try to navigate the ‘Noles way back to the front lines of college football. Mike Norvell has a stud quarterback in UCF transfer Mackenzie Milton, which it has been so good to see him back in action. The ACC NEEDS Florida State to figure it out soon because ultimately, the conference and the national landscape is just better when FSU is thriving. Expect tensions to be heated again after last year’s cancellation (forfeiting) by the ‘Noles.
SERIES HISTORY: Florida State leads 20-13; Clemson owns a 5-game win streak.
Game 9: Louisville Cardinals (2020: 4-7) — Nov. 6, TBD, Louisville, KY
Clemson and Louisville played three amazing games from 2014-2016, but the Cardinals have been miles behind the Tigers since Lamar Jackson left campus. In their last three matchups, Clemson has outscored Louisville, 169-47, a baffling difference from the prior three games that saw a total of 15 points separate the series. Scott Satterfield has not been able to turnaround the program, much less generate a lot of excitement. Louisville will always be a basketball school, but the Cardinals can be electric when they’re good.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads 6-0; Clemson owns a 6-game win streak.
Game 10: UConn Huskies (2020: DNP) — Nov. 13, TBD, Clemson, SC
Everyone is thinking it, so we might as well say it: This game is a waste of time, for both sides. UConn chose to opt out of playing the 2020 season due to the pandemic, so the Huskies have not seen another opponent besides themselves since November 2019. To top that, UConn has not had a winning season since 2010, the last time Clemson had a losing season. You could not put two more opposite programs on the same field as you will get in this game. Dabo and co. wonder why they get constant flack for the scheduling, and this is a prime example of why. Clemson has nothing to gain from this game; keeping Wyoming would have made more sense had the dates worked out. I understand scheduling a better team can be more difficult, but Clemson-Georgia wasn’t set for this year up until, what, spring 2020? This is a difficult game to justify, but I reckon we’ll play it anyway; after all, this is the first match-up between the two. It will most likely be the last.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson-UConn have not met previously.
Game 11: Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2020: 4-5) — Nov. 20, TBD, Clemson, SC
It wasn’t too long ago where a Wake Forest win seemed like the best victory on Clemson’s schedule. Hopefully that is not the case when the Tigers host the Demon Deacons for Senior Day in late November. This is one of the more one-sided series’ in Clemson history, with the Tigers winning 18 of the last 21 matchups dating to 2000. Wake has become the last ACC opponent for the Tigers quite frequently and will serve as the tune-up for South Carolina and the postseason run. Wake could have a good year though, maybe even replicating that 8-4 season from a few years ago. They should have one of the better offenses in the ACC.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads 68-17-1; Clemson owns a 12-game win streak.
Game 12: South Carolina Gamecocks (2020: 2-8) — Nov. 27, TBD, Columbia, SC
It is good to write a schedule preview and include the in-state little brothers from Columbia again. I will cut the Gamecocks some slack because it was not their fault the SEC decided to go all-conference last year, but we did miss what could have been an epic beatdown because man, they were bad last year. I am, however, very high on Shane Beamer and think he is the perfect candidate to turn things around in Columbia. The tough thing is that despite being an SEC school, Carolina most likely won’t be able to provide that extra bump in Clemson’s SOS. Who knows, maybe Beamer Ball takes over in Columbia and the Gamecocks soar out of the gate. It’s still good to have that end of season showdown again, even if it should’ve been scheduled in Clemson.
SERIES HISTORY: Clemson leads 71-42-4; Clemson owns a six-game win streak.
*Note: Rankings reflect 2021 Preseason AP poll
And there we have it. The 2021 schedule is a little light, but hopefully some other teams are able to fill in the void left after the Georgia game. Expect Boston College and NC State to be the two best ACC teams Clemson plays, and hopefully a competent UNC or Miami can meet the Tigers in Charlotte if the time comes. Either way, it’s good to have a normal season back. See y’all in Charlotte.