Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records):
South Carolina (9-5)
At Virginia Tech
at Georgia Tech
Gut-check game: Sept. 17 vs. Auburn. Clemson let this one slip away last season in overtime, and it’s a game they’ll need to win in order to get some momentum heading into back-to-back games against the ACC’s defending division champs. Both Clemson and Auburn will have new quarterbacks, but beating the defending national champs is a daunting task, even at home.
Trap game: Oct. 15 at Maryland. The Tigers have a tendency to struggle with Maryland, and have lost to the Terps two of the past three years -- including 2009, the last visit to College Park. The Terps have an entirely new staff, but they also have the ACC’s 2010 Rookie of the Year in quarterback Danny O’Brien. This the kind of game Dabo Swinney can’t afford to lose.
Snoozer: Sept. 3 vs. Troy. Even a rookie starting quarterback should be able to handle one of the Sun Belt’s best. Wofford, although an FCS program, should be somewhat interesting given its location, in nearby Spartanburg, S.C.
Good luck with that: Beating two of the best teams in the SEC. Beating Auburn is one thing. But beating Auburn and South Carolina? The latter on the road? The rival Gamecocks are defending SEC East champs and expected to again be one of the top teams in the conference. Clemson is on the road for that one. Auburn was the No. 1 team in the nation last year. It doesn’t get much tougher. Unless you look at Weeks 3-5 (Auburn, Florida State, at Virginia Tech).
Upset watch: Sept. 17 vs. Auburn. Clemson’s defense should be able to handle what will be a revamped offensive line, and it could be the difference in the game.
Analysis: This schedule is treacherous. Clemson gets hit hard by the cross-divisional schedule, having to play three of the Coastal’s better teams, including the defending ACC champs. Add in two of the SEC’s best teams, and road trips to South Carolina and Blacksburg? With a new quarterback and a new offense, it’s going to be a daunting schedule for Dabo Swinney to navigate. The Auburn game should play a large role in determining which direction the Tigers are headed. It did last year.
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