Will's Last Word: Unrealistic Expectations for Clemson?

Will Palaszczuk
October 07, 2019 - 2:17 pm

I know this might surprise you, but I have no beef with Clemson Athletics or their fans.

In fact, when it comes to access, timeliness of requests and honesty, the type of treatment I've gotten from Clemson, its coaches and players and its media staff is positively unmatched in the time I've been in sports media.

So to suggest this past week that I have it in for Clemson, have a grudge against Clemson, or even "hate" Clemson, is an utterly lazy narrative that some people invented to feel better about themselves attacking someone from "the media".

Because I didn't come from South Carolina, I've had a bit of a scrambling act when it comes to endearing myself to the sports fans in this state in my three years here. When I say things like "I don't care" about Clemson and South Carolina, it means that I truly, and positively don't put the kind of mental and psychological strain on those events as you the fans do. It's from that vein I center the reasons behind this particular blog post.

When it comes to covering Clemson over the past 2.5 years, the highs have been appreciable, and the losses have been few. We as critical observers of the team have tried to comb over every vast expansive nature of this group to try and find anything that you the fan would find interesting, compelling or concerning. Not that you need to know this, but when Clemson hangs 70 on Louisville, it doesn't move the meter. When the Tigers are blowing out an opponent, page views and link shares aren't happening.

Now before you all scream, "Will, you're just a click bait poor excuse for a journalist!", let me reiterate my reasons for saying what I said about Clemson in the last week.

Nowhere did I say Clemson was in trouble, nor did I say that Clemson was incapable of performing admirably the rest of the season. All I said was the Tigers performed below their standards in a game they were considerably favored and came dangerously close to losing a game that would put their postseason plans in peril. While many compared the win to the close calls against Syracuse the last two years, those two losses came in games finished by the backup QB, and the Tigers had more than a full deck in hand against the Tar Heels.

Last Saturday was the type of game relished by Dabo Swinney, a man who constantly looks to find the motivation for his squad to bring forward into future action. He knew this performance came at the right time with a bye week looming, and the thought was this team could use a week off to lick its wounds before sinking its teeth into the meat of an ACC schedule they're assumed to feast on.

But therein lies the obvious problem.

Ask anyone who will tell you, and they will contend that the ACC is hot garbage. The "All-Cupcakes-Conference" as my colleague Marc Ryan puts it, or the "Actual Trash Conference" as I've been known to call it. The ACC is bad, is supposed to be bad, and will forever be bad, if you follow conventional wisdom.

Dare I ask, is the conference finally catching up to Clemson? Have we created an unreasonable standard for the Tigers to live up to?

Wake Forest could be on target to be the first undefeated team to play a game against Clemson in Death Valley since 1955 (at least three teams have come within a week of pulling that feat to only lose a week before). The latest recent team that the Tigers have faced who was undefeated was 2002 against NC State, as the Wolfpack defeated the Tigers 38-6 on October 24th of that year. North Carolina has shown signs of life with its near upset of Clemson, and defeat of South Carolina of the SEC. Virginia held its own despite a loss at Notre Dame and figures to be the Coastal's best bet of a competitive game in the ACC Championship Game.

Maybe those who cover college football and their fans have expected too much of Clemson, and to expect the Tigers to continue their steady growth and outpace their conference brethren. We always thought there would never be a ceiling to this growth, but last Saturday might be evidence to the contrary.

The Tigers are still the class of the ACC, and still should be the conference's representative in the College Football Playoff.

But this year may be the first where Clemson has company.

(Photo Credit: USA Today/Getty Images)

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