How Will Clemson Defends its Title as National Champs?
The 2016 season offered the Clemson Tigers (14-1) quite a ride. The Tigers performed in an extraordinary fashion, losing one regular season game 42-43 when they hosted Pittsburgh. Clemson played Virginia Tech for the ACC title and beat them 42-35 and then went for the CFB Playoff Semifinal where they beat Ohio State 31-0. They met Alabama for the CFB Playoff National Championship and won in stunning fashion 35-31. What can coach Dabo Swinney and team possibly do for an encore? Where does our 2017 Clemson Tigers college football preview see this team finishing? We feel that although they have lost important experience and talent, they will still be very competitive this season.
QB Deshaun Watson (67.0 COMP%, 4,593 YDs, 41 TDs, 17 INTs), a Heisman Trophy runner-up and one of the finest players Clemson has ever produced, is gone. Along with posting superior passing numbers, Watson was a solid ground gainer, rushing for 626 yards and nine TDs while averaging 3.8 YPA. Also gone is star running back Wayne Gallman (1,133 YDs, 17 TDs, 4.9 YPA). In addition, Clemson’s two top receivers are gone.
QB Kelly Bryant, a junior with some actual game experience, will likely get the nod from coach Swinney. He’s mobile and accurate. Junior WR Deon Cain, who had 38 catches with nine going for TDs, returns as the primary passing target. He averaged 19.1 YPC last season. Also back are junior wideouts Hunter Renfrow (44 REC, 11.2 YPC, 6 TDs) and Jay-Jay McCloud (49 REC, 9.6 YPC, 2 TDs). At running back, it will be sophomore Tavien Feaster and junior C.J. Fuller. Feaster averaged 6.0 YPA and scored two TDs last season. The O-line includes two All-ACC players and should be exceptionally efficient and productive.
In 2016, Clemson had the top-ranked defense in the ACC and 10th-ranked nationally as they allowed just 18.0 PPG. They allowed just 311.5 YPG (1st ACC, 8th Nationally). Despite losing some key players, the Tiger D will still be stern and stingy. Sophomore DT Dexter Lawrence has quite a freshman season as he recorded 78 tackles, seven sacks and six QBH. Junior DT Christian Wilkins notched 56 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 9.5 TFL. He also had 10 passes broken up and five quarterback hurries. Not to be outdone, last year as a freshman DE Clelin Ferrell made 50 tackles while recording six sacks, 6.5 TFL and nine QBH. This is an amazing frontline.
The LB unit includes WLB Kendall Joseph, a junior and senior SLB Dorian O’Daniel. Joseph took down 125 opponents while posting 3.5 sacks, 10 TFL and five QBH, while O’Daniel was good for 60 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 7.5 TFL and three QBH. The secondary will see various younge players moving up, including exceptionally talented sophomore corner Trayvon Mullen. Look for another sophomore, Tanner Muse, to excel at SS.
The kick and punt returns will be handled by Feaster and McCloud. Feaster has big playmaking chops. The Tigers must replace their punter, long snapper, and holder. Placekicker Greg Huegel, a junior, returns. He’s one of the most reliable kickers in the ACC, hitting 14-of-19 field goals and 71-of-73 extra points.
2017 Clemson Tigers College Football Preview: Final Word
This Tiger team looks loaded and ready to go. They do face a tough schedule, but you can be sure that coach Swinney (89-28 Overall, 7-4 Bowls), who’s in his 10th season at Clemson, will make sure that this team is ready to meet the challenge. This Tiger team will give the division a run for its money.
The initial major contest for this team will be held on Sep 9 when Auburn visits. After that, Clemson has two big road games with the first being against Louisville on Sep 16 and the second versus Virginia Tech on Sep 30. The Tigers host Georgia Tech on Oct 28. Clemson has dominated this matchup for the past five seasons. Then on Nov 11 Florida State visits Clemson for a game that could determine the ACC Atlantic title. The Tigers finish up at South Carolina, a team that they annihilated in 2016 by a score of 56-7.
Top Three Takeaways
Watson is gone and Kelly has to step up
Can Tigers average 39.2 PPG again this year?
Defense is solid and deep
2017 Clemson Tigers College Football Preview Projection: Record: 11-1 Overall/7-1 ACC; Finish: Tied 1st ACC Atlantic