CLEMSON — It was a glorious Friday in Manhattan, Kan., when K-State’s renovated football stadium was celebrated in a peppy ceremony, unveiling a bronze statue of the man who still coaches the team.
Later that night, Bill Snyder’s Wildcats, fresh off a Big 12 Conference championship, most assuredly were going to ease past a team not even part of the Football Bowl Subdivision club.
Awkward, it sure was, when North Dakota State dampened the day with a 24-21 shocker. And then, seven from the Bison’s Football Championship Subdivision brethren pulled the same feat that weekend: showing an FBS foe who’s boss.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had to correct himself in Tuesday’s press conference when he made multiple mentions of “Division I-AA” opponents; the technical term today is FCS.
Whatever they’re called, Swinney’s cautioning the fourth-ranked Tigers (1-0) not to overlook South Carolina State, even if those Bulldogs are far less awe-inspiring than the Georgia Bulldogs that entered the gates of Memorial Stadium last week.
“If you don’t come ready, you get beat. Bottom line,” Swinney said. “If you go out and play with low energy and turn it over, and you’re not dialed in on your execution — and you’re playing against a team that’s the exact opposite, playing with passion and toughness, you get beat.”
Now, South Carolina State (0-1) — which, coming off a losing campaign, opened 2013 with a three-point defeat to Coastal Carolina — isn’t highly-ranked at the FCS level, the way North Dakota State and Eastern Washington and Towson are.
So, prepare for an onslaught of one of Swinney’s favorite slogans — the “nameless, faceless opponent” pitch. Doesn’t matter if it’s Houston Christian High, Sam Houston State or the Houston Texans.
“It’s really about playing to a standard, and doing the best you can every opportunity you have. That way, you don’t have any regrets,” Swinney said. “If we’re only playing with emotion because it’s GameDay, or we’re playing Georgia — if those are the things that cause it, then we’re never going to be a consistently great program.”
Clemson is 26-0 all-time against FCS programs, and only once has it sweat out a single-digit margin when the final horn sounded. South Carolina State, out of Orangeburg, is 0-10 against the FBS, including a 54-0 shellacking in Death Valley in 2008, the only previous meeting between the two schools.
So, presuming history holds, Clemson’s primary goals will be evaluating the depth chart and testing the health of some hobbled players.
Freshman tight end Jordan Leggett is expected to make his Clemson debut, nearly a month after spraining his knee in fall camp.
Cornerback Martin Jenkins is probable, after separating his shoulder in the first quarter against Georgia.
Running back Tyshon Dye is expected to redshirt his freshman year while coping with a back injury. Freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander aggravated his groin injury Tuesday night and will miss Saturday’s affair.
Unbelievably, quarterback Chad Kelly and tight end Sam Cooper are “cleared and ready,” per Swinney. They both suffered knee injuries (torn ACL) in the spring game April 13, just 21 weeks ago. Normal rehab from reconstructive surgery takes six to nine months.
Other rotation players and reserves to watch at key positions include quarterback Cole Stoudt, running backs D.J. Howard and C.J. Davidson, wide receivers Mike Williams and T.J. Green, defensive ends Tavaris Barnes and Shaq Lawson, linebacker Tony Steward and safeties Jayron Kearse and Jadar Johnson.
It might not be difficult for those backups to find the energy to play hard, with limited opportunities. But Swinney’s not excusing his starters from bringing anything less than they brought in last week’s 38-35 victory, which earned the Tigers a No. 4 national ranking.
“I don’t care who the name on the Saturday is; there’s 12 of them,” Swinney said. “Think of all the time you’re out there paying a price, you’re grinding, you’re in the weight rooms, you’re in meetings. How can you not get excited to play?”