To ensure a good start, most college football programs like to ease into their seasons with a couple of cupcakes. If a Power 5 team opens with a quality opponent, they certainly don’t challenge themselves in week two.
The defending champs are an exception to this rule. Yes, Clemson will have a couple of guaranteed wins on the schedule, but the Tigers have two conference showdowns and their toughest challenge of the year all within the first three weeks. With two SEC teams on the non-conference slate and the eight ACC tilts, Clemson faces plenty of quality competition.
But the ACC suffered some key personnel losses this offseason and the biggest non-conference game will take place at Death Valley. So if the Tigers survive the first quarter of the regular season, they will face few landmines the rest of the way and another College Football Playoff run could be in the cards.
Byes — Week 6, Week 13
Week 1 — Aug. 29 vs. Georgia Tech (Clemson, S.C.)
The Yellow Jackets said good-bye to head coach Paul Johnson and hello to former Temple head man Geoff Collins. In the Thursday night season opener, Clemson will now face a spread out Yellow Jackets offense rather than Johnson's option-oriented attack.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. Texas A&M (Clemson, S.C.)
Jimbo Fisher will bring his Texas A&M Aggies into a place he knows very well. In 2013, Fisher’s No. 5-ranked Florida State Seminoles pounded No. 3 Clemson in Death Valley 51-14. But that was his only victory at Clemson in four tries. This A&M squad could be ranked in the top 10 when the game kicks off.
Week 3 — Sept. 14 at Syracuse (Syracuse, N.Y.)
The last time the Tigers ventured to upstate New York, the Orange upset the top-ranked Tigers on a crazy Friday the 13th in 2017. The Cuse proved to be a worthy adversary last year as well as they led Clemson late in the fourth quarter before falling 27-23. With Clemson hosting Texas A&M the week before, this should again be a tough spot for Clemson.
Week 4 — Sept. 21 vs. Charlotte (Clemson, S.C.)
Finally, a breather. In their fourth season as an FBS program, the 49ers had their best year, finishing 5-7, and they return a promising quarterback in Chris Reynolds and a 1,000-yard rusher in Benny LeMay. But still, Charlotte is a developing Conference USA program that Clemson will beat soundly.
Week 5 — Sept. 28 at North Carolina (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
Mack Brown is back and he has a daunting task awaiting him in 2019. The Heels have plenty of re-tooling to do and face a stiff schedule, the toughest game being this one against Clemson on the last Saturday of September.
Week 7 — Oct. 12 vs. Florida State (Clemson, S.C.)
The Seminoles have to be better this season, but there are still plenty of question marks. The biggest concern remains the offensive line and though Clemson loses a bunch high-level talent off the defensive front, the likes of Xavier Thomas and Nyles Pinckney will make life miserable for any team that can’t block.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 at Louisville (Louisville, Ky.)
Scott Satterfield takes over the Cardinals after a successful run at Appalachian State. In 2015, Satterfield’s Mountaineers went to Clemson and lost to the Tigers 41-10. Considering what the new coach has returning from last year’s dismal 2-10 squad, a replay of that game would not be surprising.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. Boston College (Clemson, S.C.)
Boston College has lost to Clemson eight years in a row and though the Eagles bring back star running back AJ Dillon, Steve Addazio’s team loses Zach Allen, Lukas Denis, and Hamp Cheevers off a solid defense. And since Boston College has averaged just 14 points in those eight losses to Clemson, the Eagles need to have a strong defense to stay in this game.
Week 10 — Nov. 2 vs. Wofford (Clemson, S.C.)
Despite being separated by just 68 miles, Clemson and Wofford have not met up since 1933 and the Terriers actually lead the series by a 3-2 margin. Come Nov. 3, the teams will be knotted at three wins each.
Week 11 — Nov. 9 at NC State (Raleigh, N.C.)
The Wolfpack have played the Tigers very tough in recent years, but they have not found a way to break through with a victory. Clemson has won seven in a row against NC State and 14 of the last 15. The Pack will have to replace quarterback Ryan Finley and star receivers Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers this fall.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 vs. Wake Forest (Clemson, S.C.)
Sam Hartman returns for his sophomore year at quarterback but he will have fewer options to throw to as Alex Bachman graduated and fellow receiver Greg Dortch declared for the NFL draft. But Dave Clawson has built a solid program in Winston-Salem and the Deacs should continue to improve.
Week 14 — Nov. 30 at South Carolina (Columbia, S.C.)
The margin of victory is shrinking for Clemson in this rivalry. In 2016, the Tigers won by 49. In 2017, by 24. Last year, it was a 21-point win. But the Gamecocks are going to have to make a huge jump if they want to beat the Tigers in Jake Bentley's last season as South Carolina's quarterback.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.