Clemson's biggest test will come in week one
During the past several years, with 2020's disjointed season being an exception, Clemson has followed a very consistent pattern when it comes to scheduling. In each season since 2010, Clemson has faced an SEC heavyweight, a Group of 5 opponent, an in-state FCS foe, and South Carolina in non-conference play. Notre Dame replaced the SEC team in 2015, but the formula remained the same.
Since the strategy is working, there is no reason to deviate from the plan. This coming fall, Clemson will tangle with what some consider to be the favorite in the SEC, the FCS Bulldogs from Orangeburg, a Group of 5 patsy, and the Gamecocks. With a down Atlantic Division and a favorable ACC crossover matchup, the meat of this schedule comes right off in week one.
Here's how 2021 sets up for Clemson.
Bye: Week 6
Week 1 – Sept. 4 vs. Georgia (Charlotte, N.C.)
This will be the fifth time Clemson and Georgia have played since their fairly regular series ended in 1995 and each of the five has been season openers. The meeting in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte will be the first neutral-site contest since the 1916 game that was played in Anderson, S.C. Despite the injury to receiver George Pickens, Georgia will be in everyone’s top five entering the season.
Week 2 – Sept. 11 vs. South Carolina State (Clemson, S.C.)
These Bulldogs closed out their FCS spring season at 3-1 by beating Delaware State 31-28 this past Saturday. In 2019, they finished 8-3, notching their best winning percentage in nine years. The Tigers have won all four meetings between the two schools by a combined score of 238-20.
Week 3 – Sept. 18 vs. Georgia Tech (Clemson, S.C.)
In recent years, Clemson has owned Georgia Tech like the Tigers have the rest of the ACC. But throughout the years, this has been one of the league’s best rivalries. Quarterback Jeff Sims gives the Yellow Jackets some hope going into 2021 and Tech should be 2-0 when they come to Memorial Stadium.
Week 4 – Sept. 25 at NC State (Raleigh, N.C.)
The Textile Bowl is another series in which Clemson has had its way, winning 15 of the last 16 games. But Dave Doeren’s club figures to be one of the ACC’s top teams in 2021 after winning eight games last fall. Quarterback Devin Leary played in the Wolfpack’s recent spring game and his return to health is critical now that Bailey Hockman is at Middle Tennessee.
Week 5 – Oct. 2 vs. Boston College (Clemson, S.C.)
The Tigers have won 10 in a row versus the Eagles, but Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley’s first team nearly ended that streak last Halloween. Clemson was down by 18 late in the second quarter before rallying for a 34-28 win. Two of Boston College’s main weapons, quarterback Phil Jurkovec and wide receiver Zay Flowers, will be returning to Death Valley for another try.
Week 7 – Oct. 15 at Syracuse (Syracuse, N.Y.)
The situation seems very similar. On Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, Clemson went to the Carrier Dome and was upset by Dino Babers’ Orange. It would an even bigger surprise if this Cuse team were to beat the Tigers. Babers comes into the season on thin ice after a one-win 2020 campaign.
Week 8 – Oct. 23 at Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh)
The Tigers head right back up north the following week to take on the Panthers. Though Pat Narduzzi’s team will have some new personnel on defense, Clemson should expect Pitt to be aggressive because that’s what they do. Offensively, Pitt will most likely be relying on quarterback Kenny Pickett as the rushing attack has been non-existent the past two years.
Week 9 – Oct. 30 vs. Florida State (Clemson, S.C.)
It used to be the most anticipated game on the schedule, but that hasn’t been the case for the past four years. UCF transfer quarterback McKenzie Milton may be able to breathe some life into the Seminoles' offense, though without solid offensive line play he will only be able to do so much.
Week 10 – Nov. 6 at Louisville (Louisville, Ky.)
After a great start to his Louisville tenure, head coach Scott Satterfield saw his team regress in 2020. Despite what should be a more normal season, the Cardinals will have to move forward without several major contributors on both sides of the ball. Receivers Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick have finished their college careers and running back Javian Hawkins is moving on as well while the defense will need to replace six of the top nine tacklers.
Week 11 – Nov. 13 vs. Connecticut (Clemson, S.C.)
UConn has been rebuilding for years and after not playing at all last season, the challenge becomes even greater. The last time we saw the Huskies, they called the American Athletic Conference their home. Now they are an independent that will play three Power 5 programs in 2021.
Week 12 – Nov. 20 vs. Wake Forest (Clemson, S.C.)
On Senior Day, Clemson will take on a very experienced Wake Forest squad. The Demon Deacons will have to find a way to make up for the loss of defensive end Carlos Basham Jr., but just about everyone else is back. Quarterback Sam Hartman has taken a lot of snaps during his collegiate career and head coach Dave Clawson is looking to lead the Deacs to their sixth straight bowl game.
Week 13 – Nov. 27 at South Carolina (Columbia, S.C.)
After playing every year since 1908, Clemson and South Carolina took a pause last year due to COVID-19. From a Gamecock perspective, maybe that was a good thing considering how one-sided the rivalry had become in recent years. But on this holiday weekend, all Palmetto State residents will give thanks that the two programs will be able to renew their hostilities once again.
— 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.