Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Butterfly Effect Games: 2017 Edition, Part 1

A few years ago, I looked at three games and speculated what might have been had they gone the other way. Now, with a few more years of hindsight, I figured I’d take a crack at a few more. 

First up: the 2008 South Carolina at Clemson game.

Depending on which Clemson fan you ask, the 2008 season is one (or possibly both) of two things: a great shame to forget, or the ultimate springboard to its current glory.

The Buildup
I remember reading the pre-season magazines that year – my first year doing it – and seeing Clemson ranked in the Top 10 (#9 in the AP, #10 in the Coaches). Tommy Bowden’s Tigers had a load of hype coming into the season, but found themselves at 3-3 with Bowden resigning. Interim coach Dabo Swinney guided the Tigers to a more respectable 6-5 record going into the season finale against their in-state rivals. Due to having 2 FCS wins, Clemson needed a win against Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks to secure bowl eligibility.

South Carolina, meanwhile, came into the game 7-4 and assured a winning season. Spurrier was in the middle of his master building project with the Gamecocks and looking for a strong run to possibly finish as a ranked team. All they had to do was beat a baffling Clemson team with an interim coach who had never even been a coordinator.

The Game
What a day for Clemson! From the beginning, the Tigers showed the Gamecocks just who ran the Palmetto State. Clemson built up a 24-0 2nd Quarter lead, and ultimately coasted to a solid 31-14 victory.

The Aftermath
With it came bowl eligibility – and a new permanent Head Coach in Swinney. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, limped to season’s end with a bowl loss to Iowa and a 7-6 finish. Spurrier would seemingly have the last laugh and beat Clemson for the next five years en route to three straight 11-win seasons (and, weirdly, enough, a 9-win season that saw the Gamecocks win the SEC East).

Currently, the pendulum has swung back in Clemson’s favor, and not just in the Palmetto Bowl. The Tigers have now beaten the Gamecocks three straight years, with the most recent in 2016 being the largest margin of victory in the 114 games played. What’s more, Dabo Swinney and those 2016 Tigers ended up winning a national title, while South Carolina has endured two straight losing seasons.

But, in typical Butterfly Effect fashion, let’s just ask what might have happened had SC been able to beat Clemson that day in 2008.

Questions to Consider
  • ·         Had Clemson lost that game to SC, who becomes Clemson’s Head Coach, and how does he do? Can he build the Tigers to winning a National Title and become considered one of the game’s great coaches?
  • ·         Would Spurrier and the Gamecocks have still won the next 5 in a row, which had never happened for SC before? And could that streak still be going on?
  • ·         Without Dabo Swinney pulling some top-level recruits that might have otherwise went to SC, might the Gamecocks have had just enough not to lose the “wrong” game in those 11-win years and make it to (or possibly even win in) Atlanta? Might it be the Gamecocks with a National Title?
  • ·         Even with Florida State’s success, how are things looking for the ACC? Does Clemson become another top-level team to rank high alongside the Seminoles, or is it “FSU plus the dwarves” and possibly no upcoming ACC Network?
  • ·         Frank Beamer had a clear problem going up against Dabo Swinney (losing TWICE to Clemson convincingly in 2011, and another time in 2012). Do the Hokies have a longer run at the top of the ACC (at least before Jimbo and Jameis in 2013), and perhaps land some recruits such as Tajh Boyd who ultimately ended up going to Clemson? Is Frank Beamer still HC of the Hokies?
  • ·         Also related to Virginia Tech, what about the defense? Might Bud Foster – a candidate for the Clemson HC job – have gotten it? Would he have been successful? And if so, is he the clear-cut successor to Frank Beamer back in Blacksburg?
  • ·         How do Years 2 and 3 of the CFP play out? Are the Championship Games anywhere near as thrilling as the ones played by Alabama and Clemson? Does Alabama win both, rather than splitting? And is 2017 another pursuit of an historic three-peat for the Tide?
  • ·         On a more personal level, where is Dabo Swinney? Does he find another coaching job, perhaps as a Clemson assistant given as a courtesy for agreeing to be the interim (think Luke Fickell at Ohio State post-2011). If not, then where – and is that team any good?

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