Editor’s note – It’s kickoff week and no better time to take another look at all the teams in the ACC Nation Football Preview. Chris Bond takes a look at the team that currently owns the national championship, the Clemson Tigers.
In my book you’re the champ until someone beats you. Looking for an encore after racking up over 500 yards of offense on what many considered the best defense in college football will be a tall order for Dabo Swinney’s squad in 2017.
With everyone aiming for you and replacing nearly every leader at each skill position you could hardly ask for a more daunting task.
ACC Nation Football Preview – Next Man Up
How do you replace a once in a generation player like Deshaun Watson? The answer is simply, you don’t. You have to let the next man in line be himself and make his own name.
Until recently, Swinney has been mum and dodging the question of who that will be. Now we know it’s Kelly Bryant. The junior from Calhoun Falls was runner up for Mr. Football in South Carolina. At 6-3 he’s got great deep ball touch and he’s clicking with receivers in practice. He wasn’t handed the position without some work. Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson pushed him but Bryant made the better decisions in the practice pocket.
Another position in need of a new star is for the void left by Wayne Gallman in the backfield. The primary candidates to be his successor each have shown up for Clemson’s fall camp somewhat transformed. Tavien Feaster has packed on 15 pounds of muscle. Adam Choice has regained his confidence.
Feaster produced 222 rushing yards, third on the team behind Gallman and Watson on 37 carries over 12 games. He owned a team high 6.0 yards per carry among running backs.
Choice hasn’t been the same since a season ending knee injury against Boston College. There were too many stars and only one ball to carry so Choice didn’t get much of a chance to get back to form. This is his year to step up and fill some big shoes.
ACC Nation Football Preview – Two Pronged Attack
You’d figure with the loss of Mike Williams and Artavis Scott there would be plenty of drop off at wide out. That will not be the case as their understudies, Ray Ray McCloud and Deon Cain are ready to step up and make their own marks. Add in Hunter Renfrow who has scored 4 touchdowns in two games against Alabama in National Title games. It was lost on no one that the former walk-on torched a secondary full of blue chippers.
Until the skill positions find their chemistry it will help to have an offensive line bringing back six players with 83 starts between them. Justin Falcinelli is one of them though he’ll be new at center replacing the departed Jay Guillermo. All everything right guard Tyrone Crowder and left tackle Mitch Hyatt will make life easier for the green backfield. Watch for freshman John Simpson to force his way into the lineup.
ACC Nation Football Preview – The Tiger Roars
The strength of the defense, indeed the team in my opinion, is the line on this side of the ball. In fact it could be the best in the country and I’m quite sure the best in school history. At 6-4, 300 pounds is the mountain known as Christian Wilkins. With fellow tackle Dexter Lawrence next to him running backs would be advised to bump it outside.
However, waiting on the edge is Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant. Ferrill is know as the ‘Ferrill Cat’ and for good reason with a nearly unmatched first step burst. I expect Ferrill and Bryant to collect on sacks because of the attention put on the interior. There is one caveat to this line, depth. Beyond the starters there are two defensive tackle replacements and two ends. If the D-line gest the injury bug things will open up in a hurry for opposing offenses.
Backing up this formidable line is a rowdy group of linebackers centered by highly touted Tre Lamar. Lamar is a former 5 star recruit ready to make a name at middle linebacker. Kendall Joseph returns as the most experienced and productive member of the line-backing corps. He turned in an outstanding first season as a starter, filling in admirably for the departed B.J. Goodson. At the strong side linebacker Dorian O’Daniel fits defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ mantra of stopping the run at all costs. Dorian is one of the very few scholarship seniors on this team and should be counted on as a leader. The Tigers are 2 deep every position so injuries could be sustained more easily than the defensive line.
ACC Nation Football Preview – Experience Counts
Another year, another set of question marks for the secondary. But, this year the answers are more definitive with 6 of the 8 in the rotation returning.
On one corner Ryan Carter should be a day one starter for the Tigers. He started nearly every game last year and broke up seven passes. Marcus Edmond will start opposite of Carter to begin the season. He grew from a depth player to a regular in the secondary in 2016. He took a huge step forward and even started in three games last year. Tanner Muse is expected to be the physical force on the back end of Clemson’s defense. Thanks to a freshman campaign in which Muse gradually grew more comfortable and earned an increasing number of snaps, expect him to be in the mix. At strong safety Van Smith isn’t a physical specimen like Muse but is exactly what you want at the position as an aggressive roamer ready to lay down a hit.
ACC Nation Football Preview – King Of The Mountain
Where Clemson finishes this season begins and ends with the performance in the backfield. The difference between Clemson and rival Florida State is stability at quarterback. It isn’t about replacing Watson. Kelly Bryant must become his own man and deliver a consistent offensive threat for the Tigers.
Clemson has the advantage of playing this year’s match up against the Seminoles in Death Valley. The road schedule, however, is challenging. Louisville, Virginia Tech and NC State play host but fortunately none of these games are back to back.
I like the Tigers going 10-2. A win over Florida State at home would put them back in the playoff picture. Don’t count out the champs.