College football appetizer: steak or cupcake? Clemson, South Carolina open with tough home games

Death Valley

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON — When Adam Sandler’s character in ‘The Longest Yard’ was recruited by the warden to help his prison guards’ football team improve, Paul Crewe delivered a line of advice that applies to real college football.

“Relatively simple: you need a tune-up game,” Crewe said. “In college, we start every season against Appalachian State or some slack Division II team. Kick the living snot out of ‘em. Get our confidence up.”

(Ironically, two years after the remake’s release, Appalachian State shocked Michigan at the Big House to open the 2007 season. But hang with us here.)

Just look around the country; look at the week one schedule kicking off two weeks from today. Ohio State opens with Buffalo. Oregon opens with Nicholls State, Texas A&M with Rice, and Georgia Tech with Elon.

Predominantly, school officials concur with Crewe’s philosophy.

But not always.

Sometimes, conference schedules mandate a tough league lid-lifter, such as Florida State trekking to ACC newbie Pittsburgh on Labor Day. Or schools will collect a fat paycheck from a neutral-site, made-for-TV showdown, like LSU vs. TCU in Dallas or defending SEC and national champ Alabama against Virginia Tech in Atlanta.

Then, lastly, there are the true risk-takers. Those who willingly schedule a home-and-home with another BCS conference member, and elect to open a season with that challenge without the benefit of any exhibition or, as Crewe called it, “tune-up game.”

North Carolina and South Carolina go at it as the Thursday night appetizer to Saturday’s explosion of season openers. The host Gamecocks are ranked seventh in the USA Today coaches poll, while the Tar Heels are receiving votes.

About 48 hours later, No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson … well, that about speaks for itself. Arguably both teams’ national championship hopes hinge on beating the other, especially in Clemson’s case.

Remember, these schedules are crafted years in advance. Nobody could predict North Carolina would be on the rise, or Georgia would be a serious title contender, when Clemson and South Carolina said, “bring it on.”

Unlike the NFL, college teams don’t get a dress rehearsal against unfamiliar foes. While USC’s assignment is decidedly easier than its Upstate rival, neither squad can afford to trip over its lines or take a mulligan, because they’re not dealing with some slack Division II team.

Today, we not only list off how Clemson and South Carolina have historically fared when opening against a team ranked in the preseason Associated Press top 25. (The 2013 edition is announced this morning.) We take a look at how the rest of those seasons played out, as well as certain trends to remember as this fall unfolds.

Like this: in years Clemson opens against an AP top 25 opponent, the Tigers are 9-0 against South Carolina.

Here’s the full grids for Clemson and South Carolina, recapping their openers vs. ranked opponents and how the rest of those seasons played out.

NOTES AND TIDBITS

- Clemson opened 28 years consecutively against Presbyterian College, spanning from 1930-58. Clemson hosted every one of those matchups but one (1940 … Frank Howard’s first year), and was a commanding 25-1-2 during the stretch. The lone loss was 13-12, on Sept. 25, 1943 … when, according to archives, World War II had drafted virtually all of Clemson’s experienced players, and nine first-year freshmen started against Presbyterian. The Tigers’ 2-6 record that year was their worst in a decade at that time.

- The first big-time season-opening showdown came on the heels of Clemson’s 7-0 loss in the 1959 Sugar Bowl to national champion LSU.

- In the grid, you’ll see that Clemson is 2-3 in season openers on national television via either ABC or ESPN. In school history, the Tigers have only opened on national TV once other than those five games: on Sept. 4, 2010, when Clemson’s 35-10 win over visiting North Texas was shown on ESPNU.

- The upcoming Georgia home-and-home series – in Clemson Aug. 31, in Athens in 2014 – was arranged in 2006. You’ve probably heard the story before, but Dabo Swinney loves recalling the fans in 2008, when he’d been promoted to interim and eventually full-time head coach, peppering him with questions about facing Georgia. At that time, Swinney’s response was simply, “I’m just trying to coach that long.”

- He said it: “We know that we’re playing against one of the best programs in the nation; the conference that everybody is talking and marveling. If you can’t get ready for them? If you haven’t prepared for this day before that day comes? Then I think we better check your pulse.” – Jeff Davis, former player, current director of player relations

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