August 27, 2008
The "Clemson is the best team in the ACC" meme may be to some extent the product of an echo chamber that only needed one or two brave (and/or naive) voices to put the stats, the returning depth chart and the Virginia Tech-free schedule together and set off all the reluctant pundits who thought the same thing but were too skittish to push the "chronic underachievers" themselves. Or maybe it was just that obvious -- although not obvious enough that anyone saying anything good about the Tigers is still compelled to add, "Of course, we've heard that before..."
Actually, we haven't, no to the extent we have this summer, and that's part of what adds urgency to the notion that this is The Year for Clemson: everything seems to be in place for an ACC championship and top ten run now, but these windows are small. As the Tigers (or at least C.J. Spiller) seem to realize, there's one sure way to make their potential completely obvious to everyone, and that's to hammer Alabama like virtually every possible indicator says they should hammer Alabama.
The Tigers should have the better starting quarterback Saturday, and exponentially better depth under center; the Tide isn't really even in the ball park in terms of skill talent, especially at running back -- and even if Julio Jones is the instant revelation of his recruiting and practice hype, just approximating the Tigers' Aaron Kelly on the other side would be one smashing debut. And Kelly has more proven options to take attention away from him. Defensively, Clemson allowed fewer points on far fewer yards (rushing and passing alike) and returns a cast that's both more experienced and more decorated than the Tide. Both teams will be relying on touted newcomers, but Alabama has more eggs invested in Jones and Terrence Cody and Don'ta Hightower in the thin front seven than Clemson does is Da'Quan Bowers -- not least because Bowers won't be charged with containing James Davis and C.J. Spiller.
Ad if we're comparing underachievers and late season collapses, we can start with the Tide's 3-14 record over the last five Novembers, and work from there.
That Alabama is within the "tossup" range by the oddsmakers (it's between a 4 and 5-point underdog), and probably closer than that according to the vaguely-defined conventional wisdom, is tall deference to SEC bravado and to the transformative powers of Nick Saban, especially off last year's disastrous finish and Bama's major losses on defense. But it's a hedge against Clemson, too, which couldn't close the deal on the division championship or in a pair of bowl games against SEC underdogs the last two years, all of which was firmly in its grasp.
The Tigers will have to deal with skeptics all season, and justifiably so. But if they roar out of the gate the way they should, the way they did in last year's opener against Florida State, they may not face another point spread this close the rest of the year.
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Appropriately metaphorical photo of James Davis via US Presswire.