CLEMSON — From the moment Jimbo Fisher's Christmas tree was spotted at the end of his driveway last December and speculation started to heat up that the Florida State coach might be headed to Texas A&M, this football game has been circled on calendars across the country for months.
Now it's officially here: Dabo Swinney vs. Jimbo Fisher, Clemson football vs. Texas A&M, 103,000 fans and a primetime matchup that has all of the pieces fit for a bright-lights showdown.
As the No. 2 Tigers march into Kyle Field on Saturday evening, here are four key factors in the game:
Jimbo's measuring stick
Texas A&M didn't give Jimbo Fisher a whopping 10-year, $75 million contract to lose. He knows this. Saturday is his first step, and likely one of his biggest, in proving to the Aggies they made the right hire. How Fisher fares against Swinney will be an integral measuring stick in the way he is evaluated. Unranked Texas A&M is the underdog here and the line is Clemson by 11. But Fisher knows Swinney as well as any other coach in the country and anything can happen when these two, who are 4-4 against each other, meet.
Don't be surprised if Kelly Bryant, the senior quarterback, is given the opportunity to take the first snaps at Kyle Field. In the aftermath of Clemson's 48-7 rout over Furman last week in the Tigers' season opener, Clemson coaches indicated they saw no red flags that would lead to a change, but it is certain that freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence will play. When and how the coaching staff decides to manage the quarterbacks will largely be in the hands of quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter. But don't expect Clemson to follow a script this week like the Tigers did last week. This time, it will be more fluid.
Clemson is playing in front of the biggest crowd any of these Tigers have ever performed in front of and that is not lost on them. All week long, players have been tapping into their virtual reality resources to help prepare them for the noise, and Texas A&M's fight song blared through speakers this week at practice. Bryant and Lawrence in particular are going to have to figure out how to communicate through the noise when it comes to working with Clemson's offensive line. Death Valley holds about 80,000 people. This week, Clemson can add 20,000 more to that.
If Clemson's spring and fall camp were any indication, 2018 should be the year of Tee Higgins — the sophomore Clemson wide receiver poised to become the Tigers' marquee threat downfield. Saturday would be a bold stage for his breakout game against a loaded Texas A&M secondary. He and Lawrence have an undeniable chemistry and this would be the first week to really show that on a national stage.
Clemson 31, Texas A&M 24