After winning a title, oftentimes a team will get complacent. All the accolades and pats on the back tend to pull out the hunger and make starting the next year more difficult.
Not so for the Clemson Tigers.
Dabo Swinney has his crew sitting at 5-0 at the end of the season’s first month and it’s not just the record that made Clemson’s September so impressive. It was more of who they beat, where they played, and how the games unfolded that has been eye-opening.
The loss of transformational quarterback Deshaun Watson was supposed to create difficulties, especially since that coming out of spring ball no one knew for sure who would be the starting signal-caller. But Kelly Bryant not only won the job, he seized control of the team and has become one of its unquestioned leaders. Aiding Bryant on offense is a very strong offensive line, four talented running backs, and three good receivers that complement each other very well.
But it’s clear that Clemson’s defense is the primary reason for the early-season success. Everyone knew that the Tigers’ front seven would be nasty. Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are special players and they have plenty of help. But the development of the secondary has been a bit of a surprise. Ryan Carter has stepped up at corner in his fifth year at Clemson and Tanner Muse has been a wrecking ball at safety.
Clemson’s first real test came at home in week two against Auburn. The other Tigers could only muster 117 total yards and two field goals. In their three games since, including two games against SEC opponents, now 12th-ranked Auburn has averaged 41 points and 501 yards per game. No. 17Louisville was next and Clemson held the Cardinals to 21 points and 311 total yards. In four other games, the Lamar Jackson-led offense has 45 points and 611 yards per contest. And this past Saturday, the Tigers throttled a Virginia Tech team that also was putting up big offensive numbers.
Plus, the 2017 Tigers have done their best work on the road, coming away with decisive wins at Louisville and Virginia Tech. Their only sluggish moments, offensively against Auburn andBoston College, have come at home.
Wake Forest comes to town this Saturday and the Tigers have to beware of a letdown because the Demon Deacons are off to a 4-1 start and almost upset Florida State. But overall, the remaining schedule sets up pretty nicely. Georgia Tech is playing well and and the Yellow Jackets' option-oriented offense poses some problems. But Clemson is on bye the week prior to the Oct. 28 game, giving the Tigers extra time to prepare for a team they know fairly well. The Seminoles (Nov. 11)haven't been the same since since the loss of quarterback Deondre Francois. The trip to Raleigh to take on NC State on Nov. 4 may turn out to be the biggest game remaining. The Tigers' other games are at Syracuse (Oct. 13), at home against FCS member the Citadel (Nov. 18) and the finale at South Carolina (Nov. 25).
Clemson survived a very difficult opening month and will now be considerable the favorite in each of its remaining games. Because they hold the belt, the Tigers must be prepared for each opponent’s best shot. Clemson certainly looks like they'll be ready.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.