In order for Clemson to not make the playoff, they would have to lose at least one game next season. Given the Tigers’ schedule and returning talent level, that seems extremely unlikely.
Clemson opens against Georgia Tech, which will feature a different style of offense than the option attack it ran under departed head coach Paul Johnson. Clemson will be Georgia Tech’s first test with its new offense.
The Tigers then get Texas A&M. It is notoriously difficult to play at Texas A&M, and Clemson nearly lost there. Clemson had played the Aggies before freshman quarterback sensation Trevor Lawrence established himself for the Tigers. Plus, they get the Aggies at home.
Clemson’s other non-conference opponents will be cupcakes Charlotte and Wofford and SEC bottom-feeder South Carolina. The Tigers have beaten South Carolina by at least three touchdowns in each of the past three seasons.
Clemson plays in perhaps the weakest Power 5 conference, the ACC. Next season, it gets to avoid traditional powerhouse Miami. Clemson will host Boston College, which has one noteworthy weapon in running back A.J. Dillon and that’s it. The Tigers also face Florida State, which has underachieved tremendously the past two years because of a bad culture of quitting and coaches whose philosophy doesn’t mesh well with current personnel. Clemson also plays Louisville, another team in disarray that will try to improve from its one-win season with a new head coach. Clemson beat both FSU and Louisville by a combined 136-26.
Wake Forest is another soft opponent. The Demon Deacons fielded one of the worst defenses nationally, ranking 102nd in opposing scoring. Their offense will feature an undeveloped quarterback and miss its top playmaker in Greg Dortch to the NFL. The Tigers beat them, with Dortch, 63-3 last season. The Tigers also get to face Syracuse and N.C. State. Both teams will be led by a new quarterback since seniors Eric Dungey and Ryan Finley departed from Syracuse and N.C. State, respectively. Finally, the Tigers face North Carolina, which finished 2-9 last year behind a defense that ranked just behind Wake Forest’s in opposing scoring.
I expect Clemson to be heavily favored in every game. They don’t face a single threatening opponent.
Clemson’s offense will feature two potential Heisman finalists in Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne. As a freshman this season, Lawrence completed 65 percent of his passes and achieved a 24-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In the semifinals, he continued his dominance against one of the highest-ranked pass defenses in Notre Dame’s, going 27-for-39 for 327 yards and three touchdowns. PFF grades Lawrence as the best quarterback at avoiding mistakes because he throws the lowest rate of turnover-worthy passes.
Etienne was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the best running back. A loaded receiving crew returns, including Clemson’s leading receiver, Tee Higgins. Between its returning starters and new recruits, Clemson’s offensive line will continue to be top-ranked.
The Tigers’ defense ranked No. 1, allowing 13.4 points per game. It ranked 11th in the category two years ago, third last year, and continues to improve its elite quality under perhaps the best defensive coordinator in college football, Brent Venables. Its secondary has been its weak spot this season. As a result, Clemson has focused on recruiting top-level cornerbacks. A five-star and four-star have committed. Andrew Booth is ranked second nationally in his position and he could make an immediate impact for Clemson next year. His scouting report indicates that he has long arms and vertical ability that allow him to compete with wide receivers for jump balls, and he has elite speed and acceleration. These physical tools would allow him to match up much better with speedy wide receivers such as South Carolina’s Shi Smith, who had torched Clemson.
Clemson is elite on both sides of the ball, a big fish in a small pond called the ACC.