Thursday, September 04, 2003

(UPDATED at 7:55 p.m.)

Furman has beaten the big boys before

Clemson's I-AA opponent on Saturday has enjoyed some success against Division I opponents, most recently a 28-3 shellacking of the Tar Heels in 1999. They've also beaten N.C. State and Georgia Tech twice over the past couple of decades.

CROSBY, KELLY MAY SIT: Tigernet is reporting that Clemson receiver Roscoe Crosby and running back Yusef Kelly may not play Saturday against Furman. Earlier reports said Crosby has missed the past two days of practice for "family reasons." Tigernet's update indicates that Kelly has suffered a back injury in practice.

POSITION CHANGES: Clemson coach Tommy Bowden says some new players will get a chance to start this week's game against Furman.

PROMOTING HISTORY: Clemson's athletic director, Terry Don Phillips, hopes to emphasize Clemson's rich football tradition and history in promotional materials. That's a great idea. Clemson is not one of the all-time dominant programs, but it's got a very solid winning record, plenty of history and some of the more unique traditions in college football.

GRADUATION RATES RISE: Clemson's graduation rate for football players has hit 76 percent, according to this story.

HE TAKES IT BACK: Augusta Chronicle columnist Scott Michaux retracts his prediction that Clemson would upset Georgia, and happily jumps on the Dawgs' bandwagon.

THE NAPIER STORY: Everyone has a story on Billy Napier, a Clemson graduate assistant coach who was Furman's starting quarterback a year ago. Gripping stuff. (Yawn.)

ACC NOTES: The State has its version; so does The Greenville News. And Gregg Doyel, the Charlotte Observer columnist everyone loves to hate, actually pens a pretty good roundup of the abysmal week in the ACC.

SCHAUB MAY RETURN: The Washington Post is reporting that Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub, a Heisman candidate who injured his shoulder in the season-opening win against Duke, could return for the Cavs' Sept. 27 against Wake Forest. It looks like he'll definitely miss Saturday's game at South Carolina.

STATS PRETTY GOOD: For those doom-and-gloomers who feel that all is lost in the wake of last week's 30-0 season-opening loss to Georgia, here's something I stumbled across on the Tigernet message board. It's a statistical analysis of Clemson's performance in season openers against quality opponents since 1970:

1. In short, we have been utterly abysmal, with an overall record of 11 wins and 23 losses.

2. Nine of those 23 losses were by shutout.

3. We only have only three wins (in 22 tries) against what you might call �quality� teams � teams that finished with a high number of wins on the year: Georgia in 1981, Florida State in 1989, and Virginia in 1984. However, it is interesting and relevant to note that none of the three games were our initial games of the year, meaning that we have never beaten a quality opponent in our season opener in the last 34 years � that�s right: never. It�s also relevant to note that in 1981, Georgia was the third game of the year, after two games in which we looked pretty bad � Wofford (45-10, after trailing early), and Tulane (whom we beat by only 13-5, in a very ugly game). Also, the Virginia team in 1984 finished only 8-2-2 (i.e., it was not a top-10 caliber team).

4. The records under each coach have been as follows: Ingram (1-2), Parker (0-4), Pell (0-2), Ford (6-5 � although it�s again interesting to note that in his first five seasons, the most seasons any of the other coaches have been at the helm, his record was 1-4), Hatfield (1-3), West (1-4), Bowden (1-4). I should note that in compiling this information, I counted Bowden�s loss to Marshall against him (although it wasn�t against a BCS conference team), because it was against a team that finished highly ranked. Strictly speaking, Bowden�s 33-14 win over Virginia in the second game would improve his record to 2-3.

The above represents the bad news. But what does it imply about how the season will turn out overall?

1. Despite the record in the initial Division I games of the previous 33 years, the Tigers have averaged 7.12 wins in the time span (and that counts some horrid seasons in the early to mid Seventies).

2. We�ve had 24 winning seasons (out of 33).

3. Our record in initial Division I games is 4-2 in seasons in which we�ve won at least 10 games, 2-3 when we�ve won 9 games, 0-4 when we�ve won 8 games, 2-4 when we�ve won 7 games, 1-2 when we�ve won 6 games, and 1-8 when we�ve had a losing record.

4. Using some basic statistical analysis (for those of you who�ve had a stats class before), the difference between the Tigers� score and the opponents� score in these initial games only explains 17.6% of the variation in the number of games won on the year. Stated otherwise: it doesn�t mean much.

5. Some of the best wins and seasons in Clemson history have come after being shut out in the Division I opener. In perhaps the second best season in Clemson history, with perhaps the best offense in Clemson history, the Tigers were shut out by UGA 12-0, but finished 11-1. In 1979, the Tigers were shut out by Maryland (at home) by 19-0, but immediately turned around and defeated UGA, and later beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame. In 1993, the Tigers were thrashed by FSU 57-0, but finished 9-3. The 1974 team was beaten by Texas A&M 24-0, but finished 7-4 (with a win over Georgia).

6. Although I did not do a complete analysis of what has happened immediately after Division I opening losses, a few very positive examples come to mind: pounding UVA in 1999 after the Marshall loss, beating UGA in 1979 after the Maryland loss, beating UGA in Athens after the 1977 Maryland loss, and beating UGA in Athens after the 1986 Virginia Tech loss. Conversely, one of the only three �quality� wins (over Virginia in 1984) was followed immediately by the 60-yard field goal loss at UGA (and a loss to Georgia Tech the week after).

So what does the above suggest? First, Saturday�s debacle is certainly not out of the norm. Secondly, first game performances are simply not a very good predictor of how the season will transpire. In sum: chill out � all is not lost.

That's a fine piece of research, but it only makes me feel a little bit better. What about the fact that Bowden is only 2-18 against teams that finished ranked in the Top 25? For whatever reason, the guy seems to have trouble winning the big games. I hope that can change over the next three months, but I'm doubtful it will.

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