Friday, October 12, 2012

Paging Mr. Watkins


Lets go back to August 30, 2012, the evening before the Auburn game. At that point the banter and conjecturing was still in full swing. If we had played a name that stat line using the Clemson receivers whose name would you put by the above stats? If it had been me, I would have put Sammy Watkins with the 49 receptions and Martavis Bryant with the 16.

With the two game suspension that would have meant that Watkins would be averaging 12 catches a game and 194 yards per contests.  The Sammy for Heisman campaign would be in full effect!!!
The above stat line represents the accomplishments of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins through six games for the Clemson Tigers. How many people had Sammy Watkins having only 16 catches and no receiving touchdowns through 4 games after sitting out the first two games?

Many Clemson people will call it a sophomore jinx. That stems from the plethora of Tiger freshmen that have come out like gangbusters only to fall off the face of the earth during their second year. Having spent time around the program during the previous administration, a lot of that had to do with the time and effort put in by the student-athlete than a jinx of some sort.

Call me ignorant or Pollyanna if you must but I honestly believe there is something different about Sammy Watkins. I sincerely believe he did above and beyond what he expected of himself in preparation for the 2012 season. Sammy’s lack of production can be attributed to several factors that need to be discussed.

Many overestimated the impact of missing the first two games, myself included. You can practice all you want, but game speed is a different beast. I know Coach Swinney said he only spent one week with the scout team but still it is not the same. When Watkins did return he only played one half against Furman. The following week against Florida State, it is hard to expect someone who has played one half of football to do Sammy-like things against one of the best defenses in the country. The following week, he comes down with a virus and is unable to make the trip to Boston College. Last week against Georgia Tech it is hard to expect someone who was as sick as he was be a large factor.

You also have to acknowledge that defensive coordinators are scheming for Sammy. Did you see the Georgia Tech defense last week? Wherever Sammy was the whole Yellow Jacket defense was sure to follow. I think you will continue to see this throughout the season.

The key is getting Sammy back into a rhythm, he has not played two consecutive games where he has played four quarters of football all season. He has to integrate himself into this offense that in 2012 is being led by DeAndre Hopkins and Tajh Boyd. There is certainly a place for Hopkins in this offense and his big play potential will be needed in the second half.

I expect to see Watkins come on during the second half as he plays more football on consecutive weeks. I am eager to see if the staff is able to implement some of the things they learned from visiting Oklahoma State during the offseason in how to isolate Watkins or Hopkins in one-on-one situations. He is too good of an athlete to not get it going at some point.

Don’t give up on Sammy yet. He will come up big for this team before the season concludes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Midseason Musings

Through six games Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney has led the 2012 edition of the Clemson Tigers to a 5-1 record. It has not been without some harrowing moments but this team‘s only loss came on the road in Tallahassee (a place Clemson has only won once since 1989). Given the glaring weaknesses, you have to give Swinney and his staff credit for what they have done through six games.

First things first, when is the last time we saw a Clemson defense as generous as the one we have seen during the first half of the season? Even in the 90s when this program struggled to win seven games, we could hang our hat on playing hardnosed defense while hoping to score 20 points to give us a chance.

Fast forward to today and we have seen team after team have there way with this defense, especially on the ground. While Auburn ultimately gained 180 yards rushing, you felt watching the game in person or at home that it was more like 380. First year Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables inherited an inexperienced and talent deficient bunch that is a clear work in progress. The Dandy Dozen class in 2009 and some misses on some top flight defensive talent is rearing its ugly head this fall.

Despite ranking 96th in total defense and yielding a paltry 445 yards per contest this team is 5-1. What this team has accomplished in the first six games cannot be overlooked. I know Auburn is a dumpster fire of epic proportions but for this team to come out the way it did in Atlanta against a SEC opponent was big for the confidence of this team. Running back Andre Ellington continues to be a steady force in the run game. The young offensive line has held up better than most would have expected.

How is this team 5-1 with such a poor defense? Outside of the Florida State the defense has come up with timely plays that have made differences in late stages of games. This team exercised some demons in Atlanta, Boston and was able to get by Georgia Tech who always seems to have the Tigers’ number.

The two biggest stories of the first half of the season have been Tajh Boyd’s legs and the emergence of DeAndre Hopkins. Going into the season we knew that Freshman All-American receiver Sammy Watkins would miss the first two games of the season as part of his punishment from an offseason arrest. DeAndre opened 2012 with a record setting 13 catch performance in Atlanta and has continued to rewrite the Clemson record book breaking the receiving yards game record at Boston College.

Raise your hand if you thought Sammy Watkins would have 16 catches for fewer than 120 yards and no receiving touchdowns through six contests? How many would think that the Clemson would rank 10th in the nation in total offense churning up 546 yards a game? Yeah me neither.

DeAndre Hopkins is having an All-American type season but Tajh Boyd is the story behind Clemson’s 5-1 start to the season. 2012 has showcased a leaner and more mobile Boyd. His decision making and ability to escape pressure coupled with his willingness to run the football has been a potent weapon through six games. Boyd has come up with huge runs, some called others adlibbing against Auburn, Boston College and most recently against Georgia Tech.

It is difficult for defenses to account for a quarterback who is able to wiggle his way out of trouble and willing to get a tough yard. It is the missing component this offense was missing last year. There have been countless drives that have been sustained this fall because of Boyd’s ability and willingness to run. He is the second leading rusher on the team and his running will be key as we head into the second half.

I would be remiss if I did not mention kicker Chandler Catanzaro and his 16 consecutive made field goals dating back to last season. He has emerged into the kicker Coach Swinney said he would after he struggled two years ago. His play has been a pleasant surprise. Overall special teams have been good this year outside of the 90-yard kickoff return against Florida State.
During the second half it is important that Clemson continues to find a way to get Sammy Watkins back into the fold on offense. He has played just 2.5 games and there is no way he could have been 100% last Saturday coming off a virus that kept him out of the Boston College game. I would like to see Tajh Boyd continue to be a willing runner. Andre Ellington needs to be more involved in the run game and passing game. Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant need begin to emerge as they head towards their junior seasons.

The defense is making baby steps but the key as we head into the 2nd half is seeing this defense make timely plays that allow the offense to capitalize on momentum shifts. Individuals like Mike linebacker Spencer Shuey who made a huge play against Georgia Tech on the safety need to continue to make plays. DeShawn Williams seems to be asserting himself along the defensive line. Somebody needs to step up in the secondary, can Garry Peters repeat his effort against Boston College?

The kicking game needs to improve or maintain. Clemson has to continue to extend its home winning streak. Fans need to show up ready to go regardless of what time we play. Clemson will only play two games away from Death Valley in the final six. There is reason to be excited about Clemson football but at the same time this team will continue to provide many “Maalox Moments” before we write the final story on the 2012 season.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Looking skyward…..

When you are a high school senior there is a unique level of arrogance and innocence when combined accurately depicts this special yet awkward stage of development. Swag, is the modern term used by young people and succinctly depicts the senior year experience for most.

You are the kings and queens of the school, nobody can tell you anything because you are a senior. You are grown, life is at your fingertips and nothing seems impossible. It is time for you and your classmates time to shine as individuals while preparing for the next steps in life. What happens when that gets all thrown out the window? What happens when innocence and swagger is seemingly ripped from underneath your feet and you are faced with reconciling Charles Swindoll’s famous quote, “that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

This became a harsh reality for a group of seniors and for an entire school community on September 6, 1997. 15 years later there are only a handful of memories that are more vivid than the moment I was told by mother that we had lost “Coach”. For me it was one of those moments where you remember where you were, what you were doing, who you were with like it was yesterday.

I was out in the front yard throwing the football with my friend Buseman who had graduated from the same high school three months prior. He had joined my family for a day trip to Clemson as college football was getting underway. The Tigers had gotten off to an inauspicious start with a less than spectacular victory over Furman, when I got the news.

Anyone who knows me, knows I wear my emotions on my sleeves good, bad or ugly. Especially at that point in my life, react first, ask questions later was my M.O. I had just caught a pass from Buseman when my mom came out of the garage door with a distraught look, “we lost coach.”

The flood of emotions caused me to turn around and punt the football I was throwing with my friend into the street. I was paralyzed. What did she mean? I had just been with Coach the night before. Now talk about an inauspicious beginning, the mighty Riverwood Raiders had kicked off the 1997 season with a 42-6 defeat at the hands of Creekside. Not how you would draw it up from a storybook perspective but one of those things where you move on, learn from your mistakes and do better next time.

Well, do better next time was out the door. Bill Hoskyn, a retired Secret Service Agent, turned beloved Social Studies teacher and football coach had suffered a heart attack on the tennis court and died. That reality will snatch the swag out of your sails in a hurry.

After several frantic phone calls, teammates parents, former teammates all started gathering together to try to reconcile a new reality that none of us were prepared to deal with. It was not fair. Why did this have to happen? Did our play from the previous night have anything to do with it? What are we going to do now?

Why was a man who stood for all the right things, did things the right way, who loved his family and everyone he came in contact with get snatched up in such an abrupt fashion? That question still sticks in my craw today. That is something that I will be sure to ask God when I am reunited with Him and I see Coach on the other side.

Coach Hoskyn was cut from a different cloth, he was one of those coaches who would never swear at you. If you ever elicited a “frickin’” or “friggin’” from him, you knew it was time to step up your game. The thing that set coach apart from pack was his expectations. They were very simple. All he ever expected was your best. Regardless of if it was in the classroom, football field, how you conducted yourself at school, or in life all he expected was a person’s best. A simple yet overwhelming standard when you thought about it but it explains his gentleman, warm-hearted nature that everyone gravitated to, regardless of your status as a student or athlete.

His expectation of best was personal and he had an innate way of celebrating an individual’s best in a way that leaves me in awe today. He had the ability to be excited for a student who busted their hump for a C as the person who studied hard for an A. Yes vastly different marks but he understood what best really meant in an authentic way.

Someone’s best does not always mean rushing for 230 yards in a game or being named valedictorian of his or her class. For Coach it meant giving maximum effort, with maximum integrity and class in everything you do. Coach set out a simple yet high standard to live up to.

In the days following Coach Hoskyn’s passing, there were candle light vigils, church services, time spent hanging out, memorial services, a return to the practice field, tears shed, and attempts to reconcile why. A lot of firsts took place that week. The journey to create a new normal in the midst of a tragedy, while still embracing and exuding the swagger of being a high school senior.

It would take till the final game of the 1997 season for us to find a moniker of closure. It came down to that final day, when 20-plus seniors would put on the all blue RHS uniform one last time, a day filled with emotion as the stadium was dedicated in Coach’s honor, and one last opportunity for us to deliver him our best. I had sat and watch the previous three classes of seniors go out and him saying no matter what you do in life, you will remember your last game. I hope that is what he remembers not the 42-6 drubbing we took with our last game with him.

It is true. I remember that night as vividly as any other. It is a memory that provides peace 15 years later during one of the most unsettling experiences a person and a community can face.

I want to thank Coach for loving me, for having confidence in me, for expecting more of me than I expected of myself and demonstrating what it means to be a man. So today, when I look to heavens I will give two beats on my chest and point skyward, just as I did less than a week later as we took the field minus one but forever changed. May you continue to Rest In Peace Coach. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Running out the clock....

Over the last three weeks I am confident I figured out what it would feel like to be a yo-yo. Rapidly oscillating while going back and forth, do we stay or should we go? While going had always been the original plan, circumstances late in the game arose where an audible would and could have been the right thing. When the dust cleared, we came to our senses and it was clear that the clock was racing towards the infamous triple zeros with no option for overtime.

Now I sit here in a quiet house, a house that has served as a second home for me for the last 386 months but there is a city and a metropolitan area within miles of this home that I have called home for the last 60 months that has been an integral part of my development into the person I am today. We are all faced with those fork in the road experiences. It came for me five years ago with an opportunity to leave the place I called home for 18 years for a place I thought I knew but had no idea about.

It really was not that hard of a decision to pack up my Honda Accord with my “life” and head north for new adventures. I fondly remember driving up to Greenville in an effort to “break up the trip” where I spent the night with my former college roommate, talking about my new beginning and yet reminiscing about days gone by and how crazy it was that something I had talked about was finally coming true.
In late May of 2007 I remember seeing the Capitol and saying that is where I work. It gave me chill bumps and made me smirk like a kid with his hand caught in the candy jar. I really didn’t work in the Capitol but it became the backdrop for many important events.

For those who have never had the opportunity to walk through the halls of the Senate office buildings you are missing a treat. The majestic marble building that is the Richard B. Russell Senate Office building is one of those places that should be on a Top 10 must see list when you come to DC. Your every step echoes loudly down its long, open, corridors. Each office has an American flag and their respective state flag guarding the main entrance.

SR-120 became my new home. Across the hall from us were two fellow Republican offices occupied by New Hampshire and Nevada. It would be known as “Freedom Hall”. Without verification, our hall had to be one of the few places in the Senate let alone Congress where an entire hall was occupied by Republican offices. When I arrived the Democrats had taken over the Senate so Republicans who had been around, were still getting used to life in the minority.

Across the hall I would meet one of my best friends a guy could ever find, especially in a city and place that is known for being so superficial. In 2007 the only things I knew about New Hampshire was where it was on the map, Concord was the capital and Dartmouth was somewhere there since my grandfather had gone to school there. Over the next year and a half I would grow a fondness and disappointment for the Granite State of which I could have never imagined.

There are so many experiences to recall. I guess you have to begin with the people watching. There is something cool about seeing Ted Kennedy, a down trodden John Kerry (post presidential run), Hillary Clinton, Trent Lott, Robert Byrd, Ted Stevens. Yes there was the rare Barack Obama sighting but he was more focused on seeking out other career opportunities.

Some of the legislative highlights or lowlights depending on your point of view included a Farm Bill reauthorization. Let me pause, there are things that obviously will be studied and torn apart by historians during the 110th and 111th Congresses but let me tell you my legislative highlight was seeing a Farm Bill go from the fact finding change this, don’t change that stage to committee mark-up to floor action, to conference committee and finally to final vote was a ride that gave me my seminal Hill Experience. A close second is budget vote-a-rama. Again, if you do not know about it, look it up, it is an integral part in laying the budget framework for our nation on an annual basis.

The experts will talk about the troop surge, you will have to ask me about the immigration firefight I walked into Day 1. The know it alls will concentrate of Stimulus I, 9/11 Commisson, Minimum Wage, Children’s Healthcare, the financial collapse, Auto Bailout, the Bailout, Stimulus II, and Healthcare to name a few.

The Farm Bill served as my Schoolhouse Rock “Just a Bill on Capitol Hill” experience.  I came away from the experience having a deep appreciation for farmers. Do not let the blue collar nature of their work fool you. The required knowledge of the science of agriculture, combined with their required business acumen is unmatched in other fields.

I went through a Presidential campaign in the Nation’s Capital. I watched with heartbreak as good people lost jobs in the 2008 election wave, I was downtown election night when the first Black President was elected, I sat in intense briefings on what was happening to our financial markets and the consternation facing elected officials as “too big to fail” became apart of everyday speech. I saw a lot to say the least.

There is so much more that I experienced outside the halls of Congress that I will take with me, my D.C. experience was capped off by meeting a young woman from Pennsylvania by way of different stops during her life. This captivating young woman who was smart, passionate, understanding, loving, and my rock would later become my wife on July 11, 2009. She too has written a story of adventure during her time here that has shaped her and led her to who she is today.

The energy in this city leading up to the 2009 inauguration, seeing the first baseball game in Nationals Park, the continued disappointment that is known as the Redskins, two college football games in two days, getting engaged on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the loss of my grandmother, living across the street from my brother, playing softball on the mall with the Washington Monument as my backdrop, times with friends, 4th of July Fireworks, attending a church that gave new life to what it meant to be a Christ follower, I could go on and on but I won’t.

While it is time to start a new adventure. I am thankful for my parents who gave me this once in a lifetime opportunity to come here and do life. I thankful for the friends and experiences I have had.
I know there are people out there who would love to see things change here in the District, they would love to see this place “function”. I will part with this…the very dysfunction that characterizes this great city and region is at the heart of what makes it function. Don’t ever change D.C.!!

The clock now stands at 0:00. I head back south now with a wife, dog, a full moving truck and a book full of memories. It is time to ride down 85 to write a new story of adventure.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Oliver Who?

Yeah I am going to say it since no one else will. The Clemson basketball team closed out the regular season with a 8-8 conference record with the loss at Florida State earlier today. While the game was something like a scene from the nineties movie “Groundhog Day” where actor Bill Murray keeps waking up in the same day, the Hardwood Tigers dug themselves an early hole only to embark on a furious comeback only to come up short. Making a game that seemingly was out of hang look respectable in the final box score.

This team with five freshmen somehow, someway, managed to finish .500 in conference when early on I was resigned with the reality that this team could battle Boston College for the cellar of the conference. With a few less lulls and a true go to scorer, this team wins ten or eleven games in ACC play. I know almost doesn’t count but this team for the better part of conference play was competitive on a game to game basis.

I give Coach Brownell a lot of credit for not losing this team and having them prepared on most nights. The absence of a go to guy in crunch time was a glaring weakness on this team, you couple that with the youth playing meaningful minutes you are going to suffer those head scratching nights where you wonder if the guys on the floor had previous basketball experience. They also had moments that gave Tiger fans hope of things to come.

We are not in a position to where Clemson can go out and sign a Sammy Watkins type impact player so player development is key to long term success at Clemson and I truly believe that Coach Brownell is truly the man for the job.

Fan fan favorite Catalin Baciu had been left for dead under the previous staff.  Two years under Brownell, the young man from Romania began to develop post skills and a defensive prowess. Going back to last year Jerai Grant made significant strides to the point that he was a significant force during the stretch run last season. In both cases you were left feeling if they only had one more year they could be special. I feel strongly about “Bobo” as many felt about Grant last year.

I give former coach Oliver Purnell credit for his talent evaluation but his ability to mesh talent with the up and down pressing scheme he employed could certainly be called into question. His overall player development left something to be desired. I know many will point to Trevor Booker who has had his moment in the NBA for the Wizards but I always felt like the previous staff was more interested in athletes who play basketball than basketball players who are athletes.

The freshman on this current team have a higher basketball IQ thank previous teams and I sincerely believe we will witness that play our over the course of the next three years. We will see these young men develop into good to exceptional players who will get back Clemson back to competing for a bye on an annual basis.

There were many tense moments, face-palming plays but there is reason to be encouraged about this basketball program as we move into post-season play. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oh the ACC….

While we are on the schedule issue, I heard an interview with Clemson Associate Athletic Director Kyle Young where he discussed the 2012 schedule and the future of current out of conference matchups.

As was mentioned yesterday the delay in the 2012 football schedule announcement was due to West Virginia dropping Florida State and Georgia Tech rearranging their schedule to accommodate the Labor Day matchup with Virginia Tech.

There are several important takeaways from the interview, first is that the ACC allows member institutions to schedule their own non-conference schedule prior to making the conference schedule. This is important from the perspective that Clemson has the ability and has had the ability to schedule a Football Championship Subdivision opponent the week before the South Carolina game.  Young stated in the interview that efforts were made to adjust the 2012 schedule to reflect what has become a perceived advantage for South Carolina but Clemson was unable to make any changes to the 2012 docket.

That said, Young announced that Clemson will take on The Citadel at Clemson the week before traveling to Columbia in 2013. I have to give the folks at Jervey credit for trying but why did it take the Southeastern Conference taking action before the Atlantic Coast Conference? That question is probably best left unanswered. In the ACC's defense the SEC takes a more rigid approach to scheduling which does not allow for much flexibility.

Another big issue going moving forward is the status of future non-conference games, primarily with Georgia, who is scheduled to come to Clemson in 2013 and the Tigers traveling to Athens in 2014. The challenge with keeping the Georgia game on the schedule was the announcement that the ACC once Pittsburgh and Syracuse are added will move to a nine game conference football schedule.

The Big East has a 27-month waiting period to exit but after the departure of West Virginia to the Big 12 and the addition of new member schools to the Big East, it is assumed by many that Pittsburgh and Syracuse will join the ACC in 2013. The nine game conference ledger does not make for good fiscal policy given the five and four rotation on home games. The new model does not incentivize high profile home and home matchups given the fact that a school could end up with only six home games. I do not know the exact number but only having six home games would be a significant hit to the Clemson Athletic Department balance sheet. Young alluded to the reality that football pays the bills for a lot of other sports and decisions will have to be made accordingly.

All of this leads me to Young’s reaction to the question of whether or not the Georgia game will be played next year which was less than encouraging. He said, “I hope the Georgia game will be played.” That is disappointing to say the least. Here is the reality, Clemson will have five home conference games in seasons where Clemson travels to Columbia. Next season Clemson would have five home conference games, including a visit by Georgia. In 2014 Clemson would have only four home conference games, a visit from South Carolina, and six road games including the trip to Athens. It just does not add up from a competitive standpoint and from a fiscal stand point. Unfortunately, the Georgia matchup seems like it is in serious jeopardy thanks to the move by the ACC.

I did read an article where the SEC is looking at a nine game conference schedule but there seems to be a lack of support for such a move. As we know the SEC will add Texas A&M and Missouri this year and will do so while playing an eight game conference schedule. Given the current sentiment among member schools in the SEC, the Clemson game would still be a viable option for Georgia. If the SEC goes to a nine game conference schedule, then you can forget about the Clemson-Georgia series.

There is never a dull moment within the Clemson Athletic Department. A lot of tough decisions are going to have to be made by the folks at Jervey as we look to the future from a fiscal perspective and as the landscape of the ACC changes. I will leave you with this….Does public sentiment outweigh meeting the financial obligations of the organization?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Way too early thoughts on the 2012 Schedule……

After muddling through some schedule changes with West Virginia dropping Florida State at the eleventh hour and Georgia Tech finding an acceptable opponent following their contest against Virginia Tech on Labor Day night the ACC released the 2012 ACC Football schedule. Coach Paul Johnson desired to play a Football Championship Division opponent instead of previously scheduled Middle Tennessee State. I would like to remind Coach Johnson that Virginia Tech played Boise State on Labor Day night and then after an emotional game, came out flat and lost their home opener against James Madison.

Ultimately that is neither here nor there, now that the issues have been worked out and we are ready for the 187 Days of pontificating to begin.

How the schedule shakes out, when you face certain opponents can mean more than returning personnel. Enough talk take a gander……

September 1, 2012
Atlanta/Georgia Dome
September 8, 2012
Ball State
September 15, 2012
September 22, 2012
Florida State
September 29, 2012
Boston College
Chestnut Hill
October 6, 2012
Georgia Tech
October 13, 2012
October 20, 2012
Virginia Tech
October 25, 2012 (Thurs)
Wake Forest
November 3, 2012
November 10, 2012
November 17, 2012
NC State
November 24, 2012
South Carolina

Full disclosure my thoughts about the schedule will likely change more often than Mitt Romney’s views on social issues so bear with me if I lack consistency as we move through the offseason.

I am less than thrilled with the schedule. Back to back road trips to Florida State and Boston College, followed up with a home game against Georgia Tech, scares me to death. I guess you could compare it to the gauntlet the 2011 team faced last year but two of the three game are on the road instead of at home. I do like the bye week before Virginia Tech but, then four days later the team is off to Winston-Salem for a Thursday night game against Wake Forest. It should be noted that the Demon Deacons will be coming off a road game at Virginia. Clemson’s track record against Wake Forest at Groves Stadium, combined with a Thursday night is reason to cause concern.

I do like how the tail end of the schedule pans out with three home games. Depending on how things have played out following Duke, you have to feel good about playing at home against Maryland and NC State. The first six games will set the tone for the season in the same way the first five did for the 2011 campaign. Let the paralysis by analysis begin!!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The logical fallacy of college football

In the aftermath of Wednesday night's debacle in Miami I have read a lot of dumb stuff written by so called experts in drawing a correlation on bowl performance and next season's performance along with the overall state of a program. I am not trying to convince anyone that what I witnessed from Clemson last night was pleasant or enjoyable but I do think people need to step back a minute.

I have heard a lot of people talk about the 2011 campaign as "disappointing" or "poor" this morning. I know emotions are often raw and just that full of emotion. To say that a 10-4 season for the Clemson Tigers is "poor" or "disappointing" chaps my ass to be frank. I will agree that the 2011 season was overshadowed at times with "poor" and "disappointing" performances. However, to paint the season as a whole in such a matter is shortsighted and disrespectful to the people who invested 1000s of hours into this season.

College football is driven prognostications. Those prognostications are as fleeting as meal cravings. On a week to week basis we all, myself included seek to make definitive judgement statements about a team or program based on one game performances. It's silly and juvenile to be honest. It is like a teenage boy who is in love with girl A one week, she disappoints him so he then hates her, finds girl B days later thinks she is the one who is going to be the one he goes steady with, then 4 weeks later, she finds another guy who has bigger muscles, you catch my drift.

We spend all offseason after schedules come out and say we are going to win this game, that game, there is no way we lose that one because we never lose to those guys. We make these grandiose predictions like our teams can be manipulated like figures on a video game. Just in case some of you out there were concerned, the guys on the field are not the same people that show up on your screen when you play NCAA Football on your gaming platform.

It goes back to September 2, 2011, the night before the first game of the season. If we were having a conversation that day and the football gods came to you and said, Clemson will go 10-4 win the ACC, look abysmal in their losses and get blown out in their bowl game, not many people I know would not have taken that reality and ran with it. 

We can now look back at a total work and draw conclusions but this team with 42 freshmen or sophomores on the roster, under the leadership of a first year starter at quarterback, new coordinator won 10 games and secured Clemson’s first conference title in 20 years. The sting of 70-33 will not go away quickly but this team had a really good year. I hate the fact that when we lost, we were defeated by an average of 24 points. It is head scratching but were you not head scratching when you in your late teens and early twenties?

I realize that people get paid a lot of money to make in the moment commentary. Sadly it is the culture we live in, who’s up, who’s down, who’s hot, who’s not, that is the reality that we face each day of our lives. I find it exhausting myself. Just because a dude that sells exceeds his sales number by 35% for eight consecutive months but then misses his sales quota September bounces back in October going above his number, misses his sales number in November and comes within 3% of hitting his sales goal in December. Is this a guy who should be fired? Has he had a “disappointing” or “poor” year? I would say not when you look at the total picture. 

I have said this in person to several people in the past “experts” put way too much emphasis or attempt to glean future success or failure based on bowl performances. Our friends in Tallahassee defeated South Carolina College in the Chik-fi-la Bowl last year, became the offseason media darlings, had a #5 preseason ranking and how did that workout? 

Wednesday night was terrible, believe me I was there in my seat till the bitter end. To categorize the season as a whole as a “disappointment” or “poor” just just wrong. 

In closing in all of the tweets, facebook comments and editorials coming out of the Wednesday Massacre, I found a blog that pretty much sums up how I feel about Clemson and why I am wearing orange today. A woman named Jess articulated the thoughts of most true Tigers and I will close out the 2011 Season with an exert from her thoughts. Thank you all for allowing to share my rants and thoughts. I will probably not have the time to write as much in the coming months as I close out grad school but I will be sure to send out a link when I am able to get some thoughts down.

“My alma mater is more than the color orange or purple. It is more than football or baseball or basketball.  It is a feeling.  And until you have experienced it, you just won't get it.  My alma mater buries itself deep in your heart and thumps louder and louder and louder the older you get.

My alma mater is tradition.  It's military background and agricultural education paved the way for the university we love today.

My alma mater has home-made ice cream.  And for an ice cream lover, that makes for a little piece of heaven on Earth.

My alma mater has the most beautiful sunsets over the most beautiful clock tower.  The sky is painted orange and purple in the most spectacular display of beauty a person can imagine.

My alma mater is family.  I am forever bound by an unseen thread to men and women all over the world who feel the same feeling I do and have experienced the same traditions that I have experienced.

My alma mater is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains.  And there is something in those hills that beckons me to return over and over and over again.  It echos in my heart day after day.

My alma mater is Clemson University.  And despite the score of the game last night--or any other time--the fact still remains that I love the ground in which I tread for 10 years, first as an undergraduate then a graduate student and finally an employee. I love Clemson University to the depths of my heart.  Because it was during my time at Clemson, that I learned about faith and family and friends.  It was during my time at Clemson that I learned how to be me.

"There is something in these hills that brings together and binds together and holds together men and women of all persuasions, of all heights, sizes, weights, and cultural backgrounds--something that cuts across every difference, spans every gap, penetrates every wall--something that makes a man or a woman stand taller, feel better and say with high pride to all within earshot, "I went to Clemson."  ~Joe Sherman, Class of 1934

So today--just like any other day--I stand tall, feel better and still am proud to say that I went to Clemson.

Go Tigers!  Congratulations on an amazing 2011 football season!"

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The My State is Better than Your’s Orange Bowl

             In an age of awkward bowl title sponsorships, terrible games, empty stadiums, I thought I would take the liberty to change Wednesday night’s game to a more appropriate name. This will be the second meeting between the Tigers and Mountaineers. The first meeting took place in the 1989 Gator Bowl where Clemson prevailed 27-7.

            This is an intriguing matchup on the field and on the government tape. Lets cut to the chase and see how Clemson and West Virginia match up.

South Carolina
West Virginia
Per Captia Income
Poverty Rate
% Completing College
% Completing HS only
Unemployment Rate
Population (millions)
Fed Funds per person (FY10)

Information retrieved from: USDA Economic Research Service

            The tale of the Fed’s Tape indicates that West Virginia and South Carolina have more similarities than many South Carolinians would like to admit. There is a youtube video making its way throughout the West Virginia message boards of a Clemson fan taking a brutal slap at the people of West Virginia. It is one of those things where a person from South Carolina making fun of West Virginia is like the pot calling the kettle black.

            Two culturally similar schools with similar football histories, the Mountaineers have enjoyed a lot of success over the years but like their counterparts from Clemson, have had a hard time getting over the hump and transitioning into an elite program. In the midst of conference expansion earlier this season, rumors of West Virginia joining the ACC were thrown around. I for one thought the Mountaineers would have been a great fit for the ACC. Unfortunately, the higher ups at member institutions allowed their bigotry to shine through and added schools that do nothing for the conference but allow administrators to fall all over themselves at academic functions.

It is important to understand West Virginia has a unique mission of access for the people of West Virginia. If you graduate from high school in the state of West Virginia, you are effectively given a chance at the flagship university.

            This reality and the fact that West Virginia has held true to this mission, means they are not going to look sexy in US News school rankings. West Virginia is a  more comprehensive institution than Clemson and makes strong efforts to meet the needs of the state. The people of West Virginia are a proud people, they take a lot of pride in where they come from and their values. It is a state that like South Carolina has a hard time getting out of its own way at times but offers its citizens good quality of life.

            Enough about debunking stereotypes, there is a football game to be played tomorrow night. Couple of tidbits about WVU from my perspective, they have several athletes who are capable of putting on a show in a similar fashion as Sammy Watkins and Dwayne Allen. Names you should familiarize yourself with for the Mountaineers quaterback Geno Smith, receiver Tavon Austin, and receiver Steadman Bailey. WVU will throw the ball all over the yard. If the Clemson defense does not tackle well, it could be a long night.

            Defensively, WVU will employ a 3-3-5 defense that can cause teams headaches in the ability to bring pressure from a variety of angles. Clemson fans have seen this offensive line struggle at times with odd front pressure packages. That being said, the Mountaineers are a light up front, which makes them susceptible to a power running game. Clemson will have a real opportunity to establish the run and if they can, it could be a good night for the Tigers. That being said, if the Clemson offense struggles and finds itself in long yardage situations on third down, defensive end Bruce Irvin will make it a long night for Tajh Boyd.
            For better insight into West Virginia, I enlisted one of my best friends, Buseman for insight into WVU. He is currently a PhD candidate at WVU and a rabid college football fan.

Smoke and Mirrors vs. Slightly Better Smoke and Mirrors

WVU is an inherently flawed football team.  No better than last year, the Mountaineers will take the field as a team that relied on a particularly tricky mix of smoke and mirrors and pure, dumb luck to secure the terrible Big East’s BCS bid.

The Mounties possess offensive skill position players who are roughly comparable to those of Clemson.  Geno Smith is, for right now, a more experienced and talented QB than Boyd.  Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are supreme talents and the RBs are young but pretty good.  If the Orange Bowl was a 7-on-7 contest, WVU would stand a pretty good chance of winning.

Unfortunately for the ‘eers, games are won on defense, in the trenches, and on special teams, and this squad has been either wildly inconsistent or downright horrific in these areas.  The 3-3-5 works particularly well when an opponent has limited time to scout it – Clemson has had a month.  Jeff Casteel, who I believe does about as much as he can with limited talent and a particularly feminine scheme, tends to abandon an entire side of the field in an oftentimes vain effort to supplement a spotty three-man pass rush.  Julian Miller and Bruce Irvin are exceptional pass rushers, but they are too small to stop the run.  WVU rotates in a pretty unremarkable and smallish platoon of NTs in the middle of the odd front.  The LBs are serviceable but a bit on the slow and small side.  If there is any spot on the defense where the Mounties can make some hay, it is in the backfield.  Boyd fell in love with his arm and threw too many iffy passes towards the end of the season.  The WVU DBs are good enough to take advantage of this flaw.  Ultimately, though, I do not foresee Clemson having much trouble road-grading a small defensive front and running the ball downhill.

The WVU offense was also spotty this year.  This inconsistency is the direct result of the OL’s inability to protect Geno game in and game out.  Still, there appears to be enough weapons on offense to keep the ‘eers in the game.  I don’t think CU has an answer for Stedman or Tavon (in the same way the WVU defense will fail to contain Dwayne Allen and Sammy Watkins).

This game will turn on special teams.  I am OK with WVU’s placekicker.  However, punt and kick coverage have been disastrous this year.  The Mounties have struggled on kick and punt coverage for several years now and they were no better this year.  This deficiency comes from terrible tackling and lane discipline – a pretty disastrous combo given the talent Clemson has returning kicks.  Even if WVU does somehow cover kicks, it may not matter as the two punters used this year have the nasty habit of decapitating the ball girl on the sidelines after a wounded-duck, 12-yard punt.

Ultimately, I think Clemson gets at least one special teams TD and runs the ball down WVU’s throat.  The Mounties will stick around, but they will play from behind all day and eventually succumb to a better team.

CU 34 WVU 24

            There you have it from the WVU perspective. If the first two BCS games are any indication of what we can expect, don’t plan on going to sleep early tomorrow night.

            In closing, I am humbled to have the opportunity to attend the Orange Bowl. After all the shoulda, coulda, and wouldas, to see a Clemson team finally rise to the occasion and win an ACC Championship again has brought me an immense amount of joy and satisfaction. Having waited 30 years to return to the Orange Bowl and 20 years for an ACC Title, I am going to soak this experience up like a sponge.  It has been a fun ride and a special night awaits Tiger fans tomorrow night in Sun Life Stadium. GO TIGERS!!