The Clemson Tigers quickly rose to power under head coach Dabo Swinney thanks to their ability to stack talent around an explosive quarterback. Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson allowed the program to become an elite one nationally, and then Trevor Lawrence supplanted Watson. Clemson has finished in the top-four of the final AP poll every year since 2015, and did again last season.
Dealing with transfer losses and underclassmen fleeing to the NFL is part of the difficulty when a program is this successful. Clemson lost Lawrence, cornerback Derion Kendrick, and offensive tackle Jackson Carmen this past offseason on top of senior graduations. But their odds of getting back to the Playoff remain as strong as anyone.
We’re going to look at the reasons why Clemson will not win the College Football Playoff, continuing our series of breaking down top competitors to the crown.
Most of the contenders are in the same boat as Clemson, which is preparing to host a competition along several offensive playmaker spots. Clemson is in the same boat. The uncertainty at running back and receiver means there’s more likely to be committee approaches over reliance on stars.
That’s tough for a new but talented quarterback in D.J. Uiagalelei. He’ll need a young back to emerge like Travis Etienne did, and hope Justyn Ross is a star once again. Competing on the highest level requires dominant talent, not just a deep depth chart with notable recruits.
Lyn-J Dixon and Darien Rencher are seniors who can hopefully handle the load all season, but watch for 5-star freshman Will Shipley to break into the backfield at some point to give more explosiveness. Clemson will hope he’s the real deal early on to give them an edge against Playoff competition.
The same type of competition is setting up at receiver. There’s battles at every receiver role, and freshmen will be involved. Whether 5-star Troy Stellato, or 4-stars Beaux Collins and Dacari Collins can immediately help could swing the Tigers’ season.
Making a good offense work with young playmakers is one challenge but the toughest task is to get an inexperienced set of blockers to gel quickly. Clemson faces JT Daniels’ Bulldogs right out of the gate, and will need their line humming right away. This is another spot where freshmen could enter into the mix and change the game, though.
Performance could keep this unit from settling in for quite some time because of all the turnover. Right now it seems as though two sophomores will start between left tackle Walker Parks and center Mason Trotter. Then the rest of the line features two juniors in right guard Will Putnam and right tackle Jordan McFadden, and then grad transfer Matt Bockhorst at left guard.
Uiagalelei will have to overcome growing pains throughout the year on top of his own developmental curve. This is not an easy task.
On top all of the youth on offense, Clemson still has to worry about their foes. Playing a more experienced Georgia team out of the gate looks like a tall task, and then the middle of the schedule has quality ACC teams who are ascending. Clemson can’t afford to sleepwalk through the games they’ve been prone to taking for granted the last several years.
Their danger zone is between early October to November, where they play Boston College and Florida State at home, and travel to Syracuse, Pitt, and Louisville. Young players will feel the pressure in these moments as the season grinds on, and mistakes will be made.
Of course Clemson will be the NCAAF picks favorite in the vast majority of their games, if not all of them until we see them take the field. We can’t count out Swinney and his talented coaching staff. But this is his most difficult challenge in years, and it’s possible Clemson loses a handful of games in the regular season.