No. 1 – Duke
Dabo has a lot of sayings, some of which even Clemson fans roll their eyes at, myself included.
One of the ones I used to roll my eyes at was “Win the opener” because there was a time that the opener was typically from the Southern Conference or a team of that caliber.
Not so much over the last few years as the ACC Network seeks to drain every drop of blood out of their one marquee team over the opening weekend which means Clemson has played a conference game in their opener three of the last four years with the other opener being Georgia.
Fans don’t think this is a big game because it’s Duke.
It doesn’t help that the Tigers have been installed as close to a two-touchdown favorite.
This year, however, the Blue Devils are getting some love as a team on the rise after a 9-4 campaign in 2022.
My guess is Clemson will be on “upset alert” from Corso, Stanford Steve, Pat McAfee and 98.4% of the other talking heads.
With a perceived dip in talent in Tiger Town along with a new quarterback and OC, this game being on the road on National TV gives them all they need to concoct a recipe for a monumental program-changing upset for the Dukies.
People love that narrative, whether it’s close to reality or not.
As the point spread suggests, It’s not that close, but stranger things have happened in college football.
On the flip side, the Tigers have a chance to set the tone for a redemption tour.
A tone the Tigers have failed to set in the last three openers, by the way, and the Tiger faithful are restless for such an occasion.
If Clemson doesn’t win this game not only do the Tigers fail at their first goal of the season, they’ll be 0-1 in the ACC and doubters, both inside and outside the program, will abound and be extremely vocal.
National voices will be many and very loud. Doubts could creep in.
It’s one thing if you have to sell a loss to a Florida State team that recruits well, has a dynamic quarterback, 178 transfers and is seen as a top 10ish team, it’s another selling a season-opening loss to Duke after making offseason changes that are supposed to restore the ability to compete nationally.
There’s an argument to be made that winning is not enough, the Tigers need a convincing win, with an explosive offense and a dominating defense.
The doubters will be out with anything less for an island game with eyes on it that would not be there if this was played on a Saturday.
This year, for this team, the opener is the most important game of the season.
At least for one week.