National Champions

National Champions

Saturday, June 25, 2011

5 Things To Ignore This Summer

5 Things To Ignore This Summer
By Scott Rhymer

It is that time of year when sports writers, web site operators, and even coaches will start to look forward to the upcoming football season. It is also the time of year when we, as fans, begin to believe all that is being written about our football team to be true and factual.

Let me start by saying that I expect Clemson to win the Atlantic Division and to play for the ACC Championship in 2011. Now, before you get excited, that is not breaking news. I expect Clemson to play for an ACC title every year. I don’t think a program like Clemson should have any less expectation than that.

So do not mistake what I say in the rest of this blog as negativity, pessimism, or defeatism. Quite the contrary. Every team has weaknesses and Clemson is no exception. The purpose of this blog is to make sure you don’t fall victim to what is going to happen over the 70 or so days leading up to season opener when the media geeks cozy up to coaches who are excited about their players. It’s like a perfect storm. Media looking for a story and coaches able to talk about potential instead of reality. This storm almost always feeds a hype machine at Clemson and other programs that makes the fans walk into the stadium on the first week of the season believing their team does not have any issues or weaknesses.

I’m here to tell you that we do have issues at Clemson. We also have weaknesses. And I’m also here to tell you that if you do not follow my advice you will be duped into believing otherwise when you read the newspaper clippings, web blogs, and coach quotes that are coming very soon to a computer near your.

Below are five things that you should ignore this summer when these storylines begin to take shape. Ignore them because they will give you a false sense of security and an over-inflated view of this football team.

#1-Ignore The Hype Surrounding Tajh Boyd
Tajh Boyd seems poised to take over the QB position at Clemson. Most will look at his 6-1 230 lb frame and add to it some nimble footwork and immediately visualize a dual threat QB with a rocket of an arm. Helping build this hype were the numbers Boyd put up in the last two games of the year vs. South Carolina and South Florida.

What The Buzz Will Say: Boyd, under the direction of new offensive coordinator Chad Morris, will light defenses up with his powerful arm while using his feet to escape jams and make positive yards out of potentially negative plays. Proof of Boyd’s potential was his confidence in running the hurry-up offense against the Gamecocks and in the bowl game.

Beyond The Hype, Realistic Expectations For Boyd: Boyd can begin by gunning for 60% completion percentage and a minimum of turnovers. Kyle Parker never was able to get over the 60% for any extended period of time in 2010, finishing at 57.5% with 11 interceptions. It is hard to imagine a scenario, even under a new offensive coordinator, that Boyd is going to be someone that carries Clemson’s offense on his shoulders as a first year starter. Some have even quietly suspected that Cole Stoudt made better decisions all Spring, culminating in a much more efficient Spring Game. Boyd’s role will be to make good decisions with the football, and if he can do just that, his numbers will turn out ok. Just don’t expect him to be the reason the offense is good…more so he may be good because of the offense.

#2-Ignore The Hype From Incoming WR’s
The 2010 performance of Clemson wide receivers was putrid, plain and simple. DeAndre Hopkins was a lone highlight of an otherwise below average group of wide receivers that had a hard time getting open and an even harder time catching the ball when it was thrown their way. Running backs and tight ends dominated the majority of receptions in 2010, something that became an anvil around the neck of offensive coordinator Billy Napier. Dabo Swinney signed the #1 wide receiver core in the nation, headlined by Sammy Watkins. Throw in Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant and the consensus is that a weakness in 2010 could turn quickly into a strength in 2011.

What The Buzz Will Say: The three newbies, along with DeAndre Hopkins and Joe Craig will provide a massive punch to the receiving core from day one and game one. The coaches will be able to stretch the field more with Watkins, allowing plenty of open area for Boyd to throw the ball underneath to Peake, Hopkins, Bryant and tight end Duane Allen.

Beyond The Hype, Realistic Expectations For WR’s:
It will be difficult for this group of receivers to be any worse that what slopped around on the field last fall for the Tigers. Watkins appears to be a true playmaker, and all three newbies seem to have good hands and excellent ball skills. But expecting all three of these wide receivers to be productive in their first year of college football is asking way too much. In addition, you can expect at least one of them to become a victim of the injury bug and not be a major factor because of the lack of reps they receive in August, retarding their growth and progress. If one of these three new signees can become a major factor in the offense, consider yourself fortunate. If one of the three can add an additional threat to the second year progress Hopkins should make, things should open for an increased role by Duane Allen. I would expect one of these three to catch 50 balls (similar to what Hopkins did last year). The other two will probably end up playing minor roles and we will wonder at the end of the year if they should have been redshirted.

#3-Ignore The Hype On Guz Malzahn and Chad Morris Parallels
This will probably be the most over-played story line of the offseason, and it won’t go away once the season starts since Auburn comes to town in week 3. Because Morris learned much of his philosophy under Malzahn, it will be an obvious comparison to see if Morris can produce similar success this year at Clemson. Adding to that hype will be the success that Morris had at Tulsa, transforming an otherwise benign offense into one of the best in the nation.

What The Buzz Will Say: Morris, a Malzahn protégée, will gear the Clemson offense into a new stratosphere. The pace will quicken, the points will light up the scoreboard, and defenses will be left gasping for air and scratching their head.

Beyond The Hype, Realistic Expectations For Morris:
Malzahn’s success at Auburn was phenomenal. But don’t discount the impact that Cam Netwon and his playmaking ability had with that offense last year. With all due respect, Tajh Boyd is not Cam Newton and the magic tricks that Newton had in getting out of trouble and making positive yards is a hard thing to replicate. The Netwon-less Auburn Tigers are still a bit of a mystery. Many will be watching Auburn this year to see if they can continue that type of offensive dominance without Newton, so it certainly is worth noting that Clemson’s offense may not be as dominant as Auburn (or Tulsa for that matter). Clemson only punched out 334 yards per game last year (88th in the nation), so an increase should be in the offering with a new system and better coaching. If Clemson can average 400 yards per game 2011 it would move the Tigers into the top 40 in offensive yardage. Clemson averaged only 24 points a game last year (84th in the nation). Bumping that up to 30 points per game would put the Tiger offense in the top 40 in scoring offense. 400 yards and 30 points a game would make Clemson a respectable offense, give the defense a fighting chance, and probably add 2 wins (at a minimum) to the ledger.

#4-Ignore The Hype On Kicking Success
Field goal kicking in practice is like playing in a Captains Choice golf tournament. You always walk away feeling like you are better than you really are. The offseason last year was filled with plenty of feel good stories about kickers making everything in practice. Then the season started, and the Tiger kickers combined for a 14-24 performance, including several misses which cost Clemson wins. It became almost unbearable to watch, and most times I didn’t, turning away so I would not have to watch the disaster as it unfolded on the field.

What The Buzz Will Say: Chandler Catanzaro and Spence Benton will battle at each other all during August. The new signee, Ammon Lakip, will also create a buzz by making a couple of long kicks in a scrimmage. At some point in August, one of these three will emerge as the starter and will have the 100% backing of Dabo Swinney (who is smart enough to know that you better be supportive of kickers and their fragile psyche).

Beyond The Hype, Realistic Expectations For Kickers:
I know this sounds simple, but it really would make all the difference in the world. If whomever emerges from the August camp as starter would simply make every kick from 35 yards in, expectations will be met as far as I’m concerned. Sure, I’d like to make a 50 yard field goal every now and then…especially if it is during a situation that would win a game in the waning seconds. But good football teams have kickers that are automatic from inside 35 yards. Clemson kickers last year were 8-15 from 39 yards and in…barely 50% and nowhere near perfect. Having a consistent 3 point maker from 35 yards allows the offensive coaches so much more latitude in play calling inside the red zone.

#5-Ignore The Hype On Schedule Difficulty Or Ease
One of the most difficult things to do in August is to project who is going to be a good or bad football team. Injuries change teams. Most teams have major momentum swings during the year that make them a tougher win at various parts of the season as they are during other times in the season. And some teams are not coached as well as others and begin to become predictable. All of which makes projections, especially for the middle of the pack teams, difficult to do in August. I often chuckle at fans and media who pick wins and losses for each week of the season. Heck, I have even done it myself. But it is an inexact science at its best and at its worse it is like throwing darts in the dark.

What The Buzz Will Say: Clemson has one of the most difficult schedules in the ACC and in the nation. That buzz has already taken shape as Sporting News has already ranked Clemson’s non-conference schedule at 10th toughest in the nation. This without an August practice and before any injuries and/or academic casualties have emerged. Some teams will get built up as the summer rolls on as more an more people pick them to be good or for this and that player to be potential All-Americans. And most Clemson fans will base their win/loss projections on this hype.

Beyond The Hype, Realistic Expectations For The Schedule:
The most important thing you can do with looking ahead at a schedule is to realize that it is almost impossible to project what a team is going to be like when we play them on the schedule. For instance, many have already penciled in a loss for Clemson in Blacksburg and a win vs. Maryland in College Park. I can see the opposite happening just as easily if an injury or two happen and/or someone gets hot and someone gets cold when those games come up on the schedule. The reality is that nobody on Clemson’s schedule is head and shoulders better than the Tigers. On paper, the Tigers are not any less talented (by large margins) than Auburn, FSU, VT, UNC, and South Carolina. As a flip, Troy, Wake Forest, NCSU, and Boston College are not so far behind Clemson in talent that those teams could not beat the Tigers on any given day. With the possible exception of Wofford, there is not a team on the schedule that Clemson can’t beat (and beat handedly) on a given day and there is not a team that Clemson cannot be beat by (and beat handedly). You have to show up each week with your big boy pants on ready to play football or you can and, most times, will lose. This schedule offers Clemson a chance to get better by playing good non-conference teams early (Troy and Auburn). It also allows Clemson to play its most important Atlantic Division game (FSU) at home. It also allows Clemson offense, still a mystery to most, to play some games against well coached teams (Auburn, FSU, and VT) early enough in the season before trends begin to be detected.

Don’t believe the hype. Believe your eyes and use you instincts and experience in following Clemson football. In most cases, you know more about this football team than you can read in practice reports and coach interviews.

Scott Rhymer is the host of the Tiger Pregame Show
WCCP 104.9 FM