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Hold That Tiger

It's been awhile since this guy's gotten the chance to flex.

It doesn't look good for Carolina today. It's not that they haven't had good luck in Death Valley of late - they've been alternating wins and losses there since 1995, and in the last loss, during the dark times of 2003, they only fell by eight in the closing seconds of one of their better games of the year. UNC has returned to the defensive despair of 2003, while Clemson is surging behind a senior quaterback in an unexperienced and lackluster conference. Pulling off the win will be difficult, but not impossible.

Obviously, the defense will have to show up. Shifting around the personnel is a good start. So is the return of Kareen Taylor. And a return to a familiar opponent for a squad that's shown trouble when confronted with the unfamiliar can only be a good thing. But Clemson has built up a solid offense (2nd in the ACC in total offense, rushing offense and passing offense) behind quarterback Will Proctor and new cheerleader favorite Reggie Merriweather. Proctor's led the T to just shy of 400 yards per game, and against a real schedule (BC, FSU, and Florida Atlantic - well, two out of three ain't bad) rather than, say, Virgina Tech's cupcakes.

On the offensive side for UNC, it doesn't look much better. The Clemson defense has been pretty tough, allowing 263 yards per game. They've been stronger against the run than the pass, but considering they've faced offensive ACC leader Matthew Ryan one week and the can't-run Seminoles another, it's to be expected. If nothing else, Ronnie McGill is familiar with the Death Valley end zone - his first ACC touchdown was there in 2003, the last time these teams met. Cam Sexton will get to flex either is passing or tackling ability against a real opponent after last week's Furman bonanza. My optimism is rather strained in that regard.

But then there's that most intangible of intangibles, Tommy Bowden's bizarre North Carolina curse. He's only swept the state's ACC schools once in his six years of conference play. While Wake Forest is his bête noire of late, falling 31-27 last year and embarassingly 45-17 in 2003, he's also been victimized my the Wolfpack in 1999, 2002 and 2003, the Tar Heels in 2001, and, in what could be considered a criminal offense, Duke in 2004. There's always one or two games where the Tigers don't show up mentally. With this being the beginning of a long easy stretch, they very well could make the same mistake. This is a UNC team trying to turn their season around, a position they're all two familiar with and quite dangerous in - just ask FSU or N.C. State.

This is the only chance you'll get to see Clemson face off against the boys in blue. Under an ACC scheduling policy I don't really grasp, the series, having already skipped 2004 and 2005, is on hiatus until 2010 in Chapel Hill. So don't despair to the blowout predictions just yet. I'm optimistic enough to think Carolina can keep it close. Here's hoping for an upswing going into the long week off.