With bye week behind, Clemson’s season-defining stretch begins now

Monday is here, which means Clemson’s bye week is officially over and the Tigers turn to preparation for Georgia Tech this weekend.

Ideally, the open Saturday provided ample time for Clemson to evaluate what went wrong against Syracuse and how to correct it going forward. But the schedule isn’t getting much easier. Earlier in the year, I posited the question that perhaps the game against Virginia Tech might’ve been the toughest remaining game on the schedule after the Tigers cleared the hurdles of Auburn and Louisville with — relative — ease.

But Georgia Tech is 4-2, and each of the Yellow Jackets’ losses have come by a single point: a 42-41 loss to now-floundering Tennessee in overtime in the season opener and a 25-24 loss to Miami two weekends ago, which looks better and better as the Hurricanes continue to win and climb the polls.

Then Clemson faces a scrappy N.C. State team that’s been known to give the Tigers fits in recent history, and the Wolfpack are hovering in the middle of the Top 25 to boot. That’s not even counting the Florida State game — which, although it doesn’t seem as intimidating as it did before the year started, is still a candidate to be a weird game that Clemson shouldn’t chalk up as a win just yet.

But if the Tigers can take care of business, they’re in prime position to walk away with the ACC Atlantic title once again and play in the ACC Championship Game, which could portend a third consecutive spot in the College Football Playoff.

Dabo Swinney-coached teams are prepared and focused, and I’m sure he’ll have his guys acutely aware of what the stakes are of each game going forward. Mental lapses should be few and far between.

Kelly Bryant is out of concussion protocol, and the two-week break between games (actually, more than two weeks, since the Syracuse game was on a Friday) will have given Clemson enough time to get that injury list trimmed down. At this point in the season, it’s unrealistic to hope that everyone will be healthy — if you’re not nursing bumps and bruises, you’re probably lying — but the significant injuries that kept guys like Bryant, Travis Etienne, Marcus Edmond and A.J. Terrell should be well on their way to being mended.

Clemson needs all hands on deck starting this week, because other than the game against The Citadel in a few weeks, the Tigers aren’t getting another breather. Opponents are fighting for their lives as well, and the Palmetto Bowl looms on the horizon like always.

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