The road ahead for Clemson football

Follow the bouncing ball that is Clemson’s 2015 football schedule, not loaded with heavyweights but more complicated than it looks at first glance.

Start with the two lower-conference opponents — Wofford and Appalachian State — who should be out of it by halftime, but look closer: they return a combined 39 starters and utilize polar opposite systems on offense. That’s no way to break in a reshuffled offensive line, eight new defensive starters and a quarterback fresh off major surgery.

Then on four days’ rest, a road trip to an unforgiving venue against a potentially ranked Louisville team.

After two weeks off, a three-game homestand begins with a visit from Notre Dame, the second-winningest program in college football history. Next up, the annual struggle against Georgia Tech’s triple option, and finally, a Boston College team out for blood after last year’s close call.

By this point, five of six games have been at home. Three of the next four are on the road, starting with back-to-back tests against contenders (Miami and N.C. State) certainly capable of plucking the upset at the most inopportune moment.

The one Death Valley date within that stretch is with Florida State in a rematch of what has become the de facto ACC Atlantic title, against a team unbeaten by its last 24 ACC opponents.

Ah, yes, No. 12, on Nov. 28. Welcome back to Williams-Brice, where a Sandstorm awaits. Time will tell if a team with double-digit wins does too.

WHO: vs. Wofford

WHEN: Sept. 5, 12:30 p.m., ACC Network

SERIES: Clemson leads 11-3, 7-0 in Clemson

LAST MEETING: Clemson 35, Wofford 27 in Clemson (Sept. 10, 2011)

LAS VEGAS LINE: None yet posted

THE SKINNY: The Terriers have made the FCS playoffs six times in the past 12 years, but haven’t been since 2012. Wofford has a whopping 19 returning starters, and continue to employ the wishbone offense. This serves up a nice chance during fall camp for the Tigers to gear up for the triple option, since Georgia Tech (visiting Oct. 10) figures to be one of Clemson’s top contenders for the ACC crown.

WHO: vs. Appalachian State

WHEN: Sept. 12, 12:30 p.m., ESPN3.com

SERIES: Clemson leads 4-0, all in Clemson (1984-97)

LAST MEETING: Clemson 23, Appalachian State 12 in Clemson (Sept. 6, 1997)

LAS VEGAS LINE: None yet posted

THE SKINNY: Only a left tackle and a cornerback from last year’s squad have departed, so Appalachian State will have 20 returning starters ready to roll early in the season. In 2014, the Mountaineers were 71st in scoring defense last year, but 25th in total defense; they also ranked in the top 15 nationally in yards per rush, third-down offense and third-down defense. Appalachian State finished the year on a six-game winning streak.

WHO: at Louisville

WHEN: Sept. 17, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

SERIES: Clemson leads 1-0

LAST MEETING: Clemson 23, Louisville 17 in Clemson (Oct. 11, 2014)

LAS VEGAS LINE: Clemson by 3

THE SKINNEY: A touchdown-saving tackle by Jayron Kearse saved the Tigers’ bacon last year, when Clemson’s No. 1 defense made a dramatic goal line stand. If the Cardinals’ defense is anywhere near as effective as its sixth-rated total D in 2014, the job is easier for whomever is named starting quarterback between Will Gardner and Reggie Bonnafon. Louisville opens with Auburn (in Atlanta) and Houston, so it’s a monstrous set of opponents in its first quarter of the schedule.

WHO: vs. Notre Dame

WHEN: Oct. 3, time and TV TBD

SERIES: Tied 1-1

LAST MEETING: Clemson 16, Notre Dame 10 in South Bend (Nov. 17, 1979)

LAS VEGAS LINE: Clemson by 2.5

THE SKINNY: Everett Golson’s transfer gives way to sophomore Malik Zaire, a 6-0, 222-pound dual threat who threw his first and only college passes in Notre Dame’s last two games in 2014 — a 35-point loss to Southern Cal and a three-point win over LSU in the Music City Bowl. Zaire completed 21-of-35 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown, while running 28 times for 114 yards and two scores against the Trojans and Tigers. Only three Irish who made a tackle in the 2013 BCS Championship are still on the roster.

WHO: vs. Georgia Tech

WHEN: Oct. 10, time and TV TBD

SERIES: Georgia Tech leads 51-27-2; Clemson leads 12-6 at home

LAST MEETING: Georgia Tech 28, Clemson 6 in Atlanta (Nov. 15, 2014)

LAS VEGAS LINE: Clemson by 3

The Skinny: In succession, the Yellow Jackets wrecked Clemson and Georgia, very nearly toppled Florida State in the ACC title game and dismantled Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl to close 2014. That’s a 3-1 mark, all vs. top-20 teams (and three against top-10s.) Tech has finished in the top two in rushing offense four times in seven years under Paul Johnson, and was fourth two other years.

WHO: vs. Boston College

WHEN: Oct. 17, time and TV TBD

SERIES: Clemson leads 13-9-2, 5-3-1 at home

LAST MEETING: Clemson 17, Boston College 13 in Chestnut Hill (Oct. 18, 2014)

LAS VEGAS LINE: None yet posted

THE SKINNY: The nation’s 83rd-rated offense last year doesn’t appear ready for a steep incline, after losing productive quarterback Tyler Murphy and all five offensive linemen to graduation. Two years ago, Boston College was dead-last in the ACC in defense; last year, it was third-best. The Eagles knocked Southern Cal out of the top 10, and lost four of its last five defeats by a combined 11 points.

WHO: at Miami

WHEN: Oct. 24, time and TV TBD

SERIES: Miami leads 6-3, teams tied 3-3 at Miami

LAST MEETING: Miami 30, Clemson 21 in Clemson (Oct. 2, 2010)

LAS VEGAS LINE: Clemson by 3.5

THE SKINNY: Miami hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent since Al Golden’s first year, with the exception of week 2 in 2013 — and that was by five points over Florida, which later lost to Georgia Southern. Even though Duke Johnson’s gone at running back, and Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford are difficult to replace at receiver and tight end, quarterback Brad Kaaya should put up big numbers.

WHO: at N.C. State

WHEN: Oct. 31, time and TV TBD

SERIES: Clemson leads 54-28-1, including 19-16 on road

LAST MEETING: Clemson 41, N.C. State 0 in Clemson (Oct. 4, 2014)

LAS VEGAS LINE: None yet posted

THE SKINNY: Head coach Dave Doeren has never had more returning starters on defense than this year, with eight. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s the No. 1 reason for hope in Raleigh. ‘Big Shifty’, the former Florida transfer, is as streaky as he is dangerous. He’s got help, having his top two rushers back in Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes, plus five of N.C. State’s top seven receivers.

WHO: vs. Florida State

WHEN: Nov. 7, time and TV TBD

SERIES: FSU leads 19-8, including 8-5 in Death Valley

LAST MEETING: Florida State 23, Clemson 17 (OT) in Tallahassee (Sept. 20, 2014)

LAS VEGAS LINE: Clemson by 2

THE SKINNY: With Jameis Winston gone to the NFL, it’s up to Everett Golson to prolong the Seminoles’ winning ways. While there are questions about replacing receiver Rashad Greene and nearly the entire offensive line, and the status of suspended star tailback Dalvin Cook, Golson’s experience should shine through. FSU is guided by omnipresent defensive back Jalen Ramsey, beefy linebackers Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith and a wealth of younger, highly touted defenders ready to make life difficult again for ACC opponents.

WHO: at Syracuse

WHEN: Nov. 14, time and TV TBD

SERIES: Clemson leads 2-1, including 1-0 on road

LAST MEETING: Clemson 16, Syracuse 6 in Clemson (Oct. 25, 2014)

LAS VEGAS LINE: None yet posted

THE SKINNY: It’s only Year 3 for Scott Shafer, but the arrow isn’t particularly pointed upward. Syracuse was pretty good on defense last year, but what’s worrysome is all the new faces now playing much larger roles besides budding defensive end Ron Thompson. Terrel Hunt looks good stepping off the bus at 6-3, 235 pounds, but the dual threat QB has fought injury and ineffectiveness over his college career.

WHO: vs. Wake Forest

WHEN: Nov. 21, time and TV TBD

SERIES: Clemson leads 62-17-1, including 36-7 at home

LAST MEETING: Clemson 34, Wake Forest 20 in Winston-Salem (Nov. 6, 2014)

LAS VEGAS LINE: None yet posted

THE SKINNY: Talent acquisition is everything, and Dave Clawson hasn’t yet had enough time to woo some of the better difference-makers to Wake, so it’s not expected the Demon Deacons will stray far from the last-place rung in the ACC Atlantic. Quarterback John Wolford had his moments as a true freshman meandering his way through the helm of an ACC offense.

WHO: at South Carolina

WHEN: Nov. 28, time and TV TBD

SERIES: Clemson leads 66-42-4, including 49-32-3 on road

LAST MEETING: Clemson 35, South Carolina 17 in Clemson (Nov. 29, 2014)

LAS VEGAS LINE: Clemson by 3

THE SKINNY: Pharoh Cooper was first-team all-SEC as a sophomore, and almost certainly will want to put on a show in late November for those NFL scouts who’ll probably be picking apart Cooper in the spring of 2016. Someone’s got to get the ball to Cooper, though, and it’ll be someone with very little prior experience.

Defensively, the Gamecocks will have to do much better than last Nov. 29, when it was far too simple for Artavis Scott, Wayne Gallman and the injured Deshaun Watson.