At the start of the college football season, there were a handful of teams that realistically had a shot at the college football playoff. Clemson was one of those teams, but as we all know, having a shot and actually getting there are two totally different things. Having been spoiled for the last 6 years, anything short of making the playoff and winning a record 7th straight ACC Championship would be considered a disappointment. However, here we are. The Tigers’ reward for a 9-3 regular season and winning 7 of their last 8 is a trip to Orlando for the Cheez-It Bowl versus Iowa State from the Big XII.
It's not the bright lights of Miami or Dallas, but it’s a bowl destination with which the Tigers are very familiar. Depending on when the game was played, this bowl was also known as The Citrus Bowl and the Russell Athletic Bowl. It was called the latter when the Tigers beat Oklahoma 40-6 in 2014. Incidentally, that was also the last time Dabo had to replace an offensive coordinator when he promoted Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott to replace Chad Morris. Brandon Streeter, the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator, also got his first start on Dabo’s staff in that game as a quarterback coach working with Cole Stoudt, who got the start due to freshman Deshaun Watson’s ACL surgery. The Tigers also played in Orlando when won the ACC Championship over Virginia Tech in 2016. The Tigers faced another Big 12 team in Orlando when they beat Colorado 19-10 in the 2005 Champs Sports Bowl. However, Orlando was not a happy locale for the Tigers in 2002 when they lost to Mike Leach and Texas Tech 55-15 in the Tangerine Bowl. MVP Kliff Kingsbury threw for 375 yards and 3 touchdowns that night against Tommy Bowden’s Tigers.
There are a few other firsts that we will see in this bowl game. For the first time in 9 years, Clemson will have a new defensive coordinator as Brent Venables took the head coaching job at Oklahoma. With a season full of ups and downs and uncertainties, an average fan might think that Clemson is going to fall apart. At least we know that some of the national media seem to think that. What most seem to forget is that this isn't the “Little ole Clemson” of yesteryear. The stability of this program has been built to withstand this kind of attrition, and Dabo is still the man to captain the Clemson ship.
There is something else people seem to be forgetting: the good ole "ROY Bus!" If you listen to Dabo talk, there is a renewed sense surrounding this Clemson program. Just like anything else, when you have a chance to try something new, along with it comes new excitement. Even though you hate to see the old leave, just like a new car, it comes with different features that the older model couldn't accommodate. The old "ROY Bus" is now an antique with 2 National Championships and 6 straight playoff appearances, 4 National Championship appearances in 5 years and mileage that only an antique can handle. If the old ROY Bus is any indication, the new one is in for quite a road trip.
It all begins in Orlando on December 29th against the Iowa State Cyclones. This will be the first-ever meeting between these two schools. On paper, these two programs are about as evenly matched as you will find in a bowl game. As it stands right now, this was going to be one of the better bowl games to watch. It should still be fun, but some of the luster has been tarnished as star running back Breece Hall has decided to opt out of the bowl game for Iowa State. At this time, no one has decided to opt out for the Tigers.
What can we expect from Iowa State in the bowl game? While it is a spread formation, their identity is to run the football and control the clock. Look for that to continue even with Hall not playing. It is a big loss, but the options behind Hall are experienced enough to keep the chains moving and the Clemson offense off the field. On the defensive side of the ball, expect Iowa State to try to confuse Clemson with its 3-3-5 look and a few wrinkles for new offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter. Interestingly enough, it was Iowa State who hosted Brent Venables to look at the 3-3-5 defense and configured it almost to perfection.
What can we expect from Clemson in the bowl game? Offensively, look for Dabo to have a hand in the offensive play calling as Streeter gets use to his new role. I wouldn't expect anything different from an offensive standpoint. Expect Clemson to pound the ball with Shipley and Pace until Iowa State can prove they can stop the run. On the defensive side of the ball, look for Wes Goodwin, who has been Brent Venables’s understudy the last 9 years, to employ the same defensive mindset with a few more wrinkles. Look for Clemson's defense to send a statement in this game going into the 2022 season.
This game may not mean much to many fans, but it means something to the Tigers. All one has to do is look at how many players are opting out of this game for the Tigers. That isn't to say that will not change, but as we inch closer to game day, one has to think that if anyone was going to opt out, it would have already been announced and they wouldn’t be preparing for the bowl. At the same time, even without Hall, the same can be said about Iowa State. Expect everyone else to play in this bowl game, including veteran quarterback Brock Purdy. Clemson was a slight underdog until Hall announced he wouldn't be playing, and even after that, the line didn't flip much in the Tigers’ favor.
The national media has abused Clemson all season and with the recent attrition of the coaching staff, the narrative now is that Clemson is finished and its dynasty is over. As I stated earlier, this isn't the Clemson of old. Sometimes change is good, and this is exactly what is happening at Clemson. If you recall, many thought that the Tigers’ offense would go downhill with the departure of Chad Morris before the aforementioned 2014 bowl game. All the Tigers did was beat Oklahoma 40-6 and then go on an unmatched 6-year playoff run, finishing in the top 10 offensively every year. As for those who have decided to jump off the Clemson band wagon, I hope those who are still All In will remember those who weren’t going into this bowl game. In the meantime, look for Clemson to garner its 11th straight 10-win season and set the stage for not only another run to the college football playoff in 2022 but the National Championship as well! As Dabo loves to say, the best is yet to come.
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