Now begins the litmus tests. Actual challenges. Two revealing games that will shed light on Clemson and tell us if this edition is different from last year’s disappointment.
First up is a trip to Winston Salem to meet undefeated Wake Forest. Then N.C. State comes to Death Valley. After Clemson, the two next highest-ranked ACC teams led by accomplished quarterbacks, Sam Hartman and Devin Leary, respectively.
The pressure will be on — due to the soft state of the ACC and Notre Dame’s deflated status, Clemson almost certainly has to go undefeated.
Clemson, it must be noted, hasn’t lost a football game in close to 11 months. It has won the previous nine games it has played, a streak that is hard to believe because of how far off the radar this program has strayed.
When you set such a high bar, win two national championships in three years and develop NFL quarterbacks and top prospects, more can sometimes be made of an off year. Three losses seem like six. Slow starts lead to overreactions.
That can change over the next two weeks. Clemson can proclaim it is back. Take care of Wake Forest and N.C. State, remind everyone Dabo Swinney’s juggernaut intends to end its playoff absence at one year.
The Tigers have yet to really flex their muscles despite the 3-0 record. It took them a while to pull away from woeful Georgia Tech. Furman and Louisiana Tech weren’t as lopsided as expected.
But Clemson still cruised to wins in each game. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has performed well, throwing five touchdowns compared to one interception, perhaps a sign the former five-star recruit is ready to make the leap everyone has been waiting for. Running back Will Shipley looks like a difference-maker. The defense is loaded with next-level talent up front.
An argument can be made that these will be Clemson’s toughest remaining games, unless two-loss Notre Dame dramatically improves by the time the Tigers visit South Bend on Nov. 5. No team in the country has more at stake the next two Saturdays as the national spotlight returns to Clemson. The pressure will be on Swinney, Uiagalelei, and the Tigers. Their playoff hopes depend on them breaking through.
Arrow pointing up for the Pac-12
Three weeks into the season, the Pac-12 has life. New-look USC has thus far lived up to the hype with three blowout victories against overwhelmed opponents. Oregon rebounded from its ugly Week 1 loss to Georgia by manhandling BYU, a loss that may say more about Georgia’s prowess than anything else. And Washington could be a contender now that the Braziller Jinx has faded — I picked them to reach the playoff a year ago — dominating previously undefeated Michigan State behind Indiana transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
While it’s early, the league needs these kinds of positive results, impact non-conference wins like the aforementioned victories along with Washington State’s three-point win at Wisconsin last Saturday. It hasn’t been represented in the playoff since 2017 and will be losing two of its top brands — USC and UCLA — to the Big Ten starting in 2024. Even having teams in the playoff mix would be an accomplishment into November. USC and Washington, who would only meet in the conference title game, have the potential to be part of the debate.
An awful fit
Nebraska fans were chanting for Urban Meyer during Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” show that includes the well-traveled coach and were on location for the Nebraska-Oklahoma contest. Then, CBS reported that Nebraska had reached out to Meyer about its head coach opening, although it was uncertain if the inquiry was about Meyer being interested in the job or the Big Ten program merely looking for his input.
No. No, no, and no. It’s a bad idea for Nebraska. It’s a worse idea for Meyer, a three-time national champion with the baggage to match his on-field success. Just no.
Nebraska, working on its sixth straight losing season, needs a complete overhaul. It needs a young coach the likes of Iowa State’s Matt Campbell or possibly Matt Rhule, if he doesn’t stick with the Panthers. Meyer could use some more time to let the fiasco that was his one year with the Jacksonville Jaguars breathe, the coach going 2-11 before being let go amid a myriad of issues. The schools the 58-year-old Meyer should be — and likely — eying are Florida State and UCLA, big programs he would likely elevate immediately. Those make sense. Nebraska does not.