Fresh off the best three-year stretch in Clemson football history, head coach Dabo Swinney has said he does not expect to rebuild, rather to reload and pursue winning the ACC championship. Swinney does have reason for optimism, with talented players in the fold, but in many cases college football handicappers those who review the betting odds live by the credo – All Prospects are Suspects until proven otherwise.
Tajh Boyd Not Irreplaceable, But….
Boyd established himself as one of most prolific passers in ACC history, breaking Philip Rivers' career passing touchdown record this past season. He was the heart and soul of the Clemson program over the past three years and will go down as one of the best to ever wear the orange and white.
However, this is college football and when players graduate or leave for the NFL, the coach has to have replacements in the ready and Swinney believes he does. Clemson’s head man does admit, “I have no idea who are starting quarterback will be next season, but I am confident whoever it is will be a team leader.”
At the forefront is senior Cole Stoudt who has the most experience in offensive coordinator Chad Morris’s offense. Next is redshirt sophomore Chad Kelly, whose advantage is his ability as a runner, making him more of a dual threat. Who excites Tigers fans the most is incoming freshmen DeShaun Watson, who arrived to campus a semester early, so he would be able to take part in spring practice. Scout.com had pegged him as a 4-star recruit and though he might not the starter this season, Watson is clearly Clemson’s future.
Receivers and Offensive Has Potential
Any program losing talented players like Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant is going to see some regression, as these two performed like they were NFL-ready last season. Yet, Clemson recruiters have focused on keeping the pipeline filled which keep the college football odds stacked in the Tigers favor looking ahead. Charone Peake, Germone Hopper, Adam Humphries and Mike Williams will look to fill the shoes of the former Tigers receivers.
The offensive line will bring back three starters and while this contingent is not loaded with All-ACC performers, seniors Gifford Timothy, Kalon Davis and junior center Ryan Norton are all penciled in as starters. Senior guard David Beasley could well the fourth starter for a group that will have to carry more the load with the inexperience at the skill positions.
Running Backs Have to Emerge
Senior Roderick McDowell handled all the important carries last season, but his eligibility has been used up. This leaves the running back position to upperclassmen D.J. Howard (senior) and Zac Brooks (junior), who do not push the pile at around 200 pounds. Both are fits for Morris’s offense, but a reliable third and short back would help.
Tigers “sandwich” Defense a Strength
With defensive end Vic Beasley forgoing the NFL draft, Clemson returns all four starters from its defensive line and they have quality depth. Fellow seniors Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson will man the middle and All-ACC first-teamer Beasley and Corey Crawford will be called upon to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Behind this talented group are two more seniors and other players that will have to perform exceedingly well to beat the Tigers studs on hand.
Those making college football picks and close followers of the ACC understand the Clemson secondary could be special. Safeties Robert Smith and Travis Blanks are fixtures and Martin Jenkins will hold down one the cornerback slots, with the other too be determined. Like the defensive line, this should make a strong last line of defense.
Stephone Anthony is the only returning linebacker from an area which has not been a strength for the Clemson program for some time. With all the athletes they have at other positions, it seems odd they have not been able to find the right individuals for the middle of the defense.
Clemson’s Fate Could Be Decided Early
Unless the offense comes together remarkably early, the Tigers will likely be play against material for those making sports picks in the first part of the season. The Tigers will open at Georgia and in the third game of the season have to travel to Tallahassee to face Florida State in the conference opener. A split would be a welcome.
Next is three home games with North Carolina, N.C. State and new partner Louisville and three victories would be a requirement if the Tigers were to lose their initial two away outings.
The rest of the schedule is balanced, but winning at Boston College or at Georgia Tech is never a given and as always is the Palmetto State battle with South Carolina, this year in Death Valley.
According to Rivals.com, Clemson brought in the third-best class in the ACC (Florida State and Miami rated higher) and No. 13 nationally, with a total of 8 five or four star recruits among the 22 that are coming in.
Way Too Early Conclusion
A fourth straight 10+ win season seems like a stretch with offensive inexperience likely to be exposed with two treacherous road games to start the year. The defense will have to carry this team in the front part of the schedule until the kinks can be worked out and a third loss could well happen somewhere along the line.
Sportsbooks could be expected to hang a nine-win tag on Clemson, which right now looks accurate.