Let’s jump into it shall we?
BSD: It’d be irresponsible for me to not ask about the work players like Trevor Lawrence and Darien Rencher have been doing from the #WeWantToPlay movement to now #OurVoicesMatter. What’s been the perception of the Clemson base around this and well what do you think will be the outcome?
STS: Trevor Lawrence and Darien Rencher did a fantastic job coordinating with players from the five Power Five conferences to highlight the unsurprising fact that most college football players want to play college football. All this was happening when there was a strong push for college football to be cancelled. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to stop the Big Ten and Pac-12 from cancelling their season, but I think it may have helped the rest of college football stay strong. I wrote an in-depth article about this crazy situation which you can check out here.
I haven’t seen a ton on #OurVoicesMatter yet (I’m sure I will in the coming week), but it looks like a mix of political activism (e.g., voter registration) and charity work (e.g., food drives). A large portion of sports fans are looking to sports as an escape from the troubles of the world (especially in 2020), however Trevor Lawrence has so much credibility built up among Clemson fans that I think most see him leveraging his platform in this way as, at minimum, well-intentioned. I went into more depth on this general topic here.
BSD: What’s been the feelings about this season? Especially losing a playmaker like Xavier Thomas for an extended amount of time. How do you replace him, and if you don’t win it this year, is it an asterisk due to COVID in Clemson’s eyes?
STS: Xavier Thomas was a huge recruit and flashed some signs of his upside early on, but honestly disappointed for much of last season. Unfortunately, he got COVID-19 and then strep throat while camp was shut down and he was away from campus. That put him behind the eight-ball, and it looks like he’ll miss at least the first half of the year.
I’m not super concerned about Clemson’s starters at DE. Depth could become an issue, but I’m excited to see what KJ Henry from Clemmons, NC can do with the opportunity he has to start with Thomas out. Justin Foster, a senior, will anchor the other side of the defensive line. Incoming freshmen Myles Murphy (DE) and Bryan Bresee (DT/DE) could make a big impact too. I believe the defensive line will be better than last season despite losing Thomas for the time being.
Injuries are part of the game and I don’t think COVID-19 or strep throat should be thought of any differently, especially in the case of a positive COVID-19 test (i.e., not just contact tracing). The champion this season will have taken a unique path, but I will consider it legitimate whether Clemson wins or not. Losing Thomas certainly doesn’t impact that view. Having Ohio State, a national title contender, not playing this season is unfortunate, but that’s the only title contender opting out. Clemson, Notre Dame, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Oklahoma are still playing, and Clemson is 4-0 against Ohio State all-time anyway.
BSD: Any thoughts on the way Clemson’s schedule played out? Also on no divisions?
STS: The SEC did Alabama and Georgia a favor by giving them relatively weak additions to their SEC schedule when they moved from eight conference games to ten. The ACC did Clemson a favor by doing the opposite. Clemson had the second weakest P5 schedule in the country (only Syracuse had a weaker schedule according to Sports Betting Dime). With the new schedule, Clemson swaps Akron, South Carolina, Louisville, and NC State for Miami, Virginia Tech, and Pittsburgh. That’s an upgrade and should help quell some of the weak schedule criticism Clemson has received the past few years with the ACC struggling.
As for nixing divisions, this is something I feel should become permanent. Wake Forest should be playing North Carolina more and Clemson less. Clemson should be playing Virginia Tech more and Syracuse less. Divisions are making ACC schedules stale and the ACC Championship game less competitive. The opportunity for two Clemson vs. Notre Dame matchups this year is intriguing. I hope the division-less schedule proves more interesting and it becomes the norm.
BSD: How does Saturday go and how weird is it going to be with no fans for the time being?
STS: I watched a Yankees vs. Mets pre-season game with no fans and no piped in crowd noise and it was terrible, but watching the MLB and NHL since then with piped in crowd noise has been fine. It certainly isn’t as fun and it is a shame that a socially distanced crowd won’t be allowed, but there’s a way to make it not weird even with them absent.
I’m very interested to see how Clemson’s offensive line deals with Boogie Basham. LT Jackson Carman is back, but the Tigers replace the four other starters. I’m most interested in seeing how the Tigers balance their offense between running and passing. They’ve been relatively pass-heavy in past years, but with the insane depth at RB and a lack thereof at WR, perhaps that changes this year.
I love what Coach Clawson has done in Winston-Salem, but there’s no reason this year’s matchup should be particularly close. I think Wake’s new offensive skill position players may need a few games before they’re ready for a defense like Clemson’s. The Tigers may have some rust to shake off, but they should win by four TDs if all goes well.
Wear a mask.