Author’s Note: Thanks to my brother and Clemson football aficionado Robert Foster for the knowledge on the Tigers’ players.
Continuing in our series of previewing Wake Forest football’s 2017 opponents, today we take a look at the reigning national champion Clemson Tigers.
The Demon Deacons will travel to Death Valley to take on the Tigers on Saturday, October 7th.
Check out our Q&A with our SBNation partner blog covering all things Clemson athletics, Shakin the Southland.
Team: Clemson Tigers
Location: Clemson, South Carolina
Total Enrollment: 23,406
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference (Atlantic Division)
Home Stadium: Memorial Stadium, aka Death Valley (81,500 capacity)
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (9th season, 89-28 record, 7-4 in bowls)
2016 Record: 14-1 (7-1 in ACC, 1st in Atlantic Divison, won conference, won national championship)
Best Win: Obviously the National Championship game over Alabama 35-31
Worst Loss: They only lost once, a 43-42 loss to Pittsburgh
Vegas Over/Under: 9.5
Being the National Champion is obviously a huge accomplishment, and for Clemson it was their first title since 1981 with Danny Ford as coach. Perhaps making it even sweeter was that they defeated an Alabama team that they had lost to in the championship the year prior. Dabo Swinney is now among Clemson’s greatest coaches along with Frank Howard and Ford.
But with a national championship comes the decision of a lot of players to leave and start their professional careers after that season, figuring they have already accomplished all they possibly could at the collegiate level. The Tigers had 6 players taken in the draft and 4 more who signed as undrafted free agents. They must now replace top receiver Mike Williams, quarterback Deshaun Watson, defensive back Cordrea Tankersly, running back Wayne Gallman, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, tight end Jordan Leggett linebacker Ben Boulware, safety Jadar Johnson, backup quarterback Nick Schuessler, and wide receiver Artavis Scott. Punter Andy Teasdall, whom everyone will remember from when he called a play for himself on a fake punt in the 2015 ACC Championship Game, also graduated.
Clemson still features a ton of talent on offense, but will have a lot to figure out in camp. The quarterback position is wide open. Kelly Bryant was the third string last year, but he’s being challenged by Zerrick Cooper (a redshirt freshman), and 5 star recruit Hunter Johnson. The running back position position will likely be done by committee, much like Wake with CJ Fuller, Adam Choice, and Tavien Feaster all rotating at the position. Deon Kaine, Hunter Renfrow (who had the game winning touchdown catch in the national championship game), and Ray Ray McCloud will all return at receiver from last year.
The defense is still stacked, and is probably the reason the Tigers are ranked in the top ten in most preseason poles. Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are back at defensive tackle and will likely be preseason All-Americans. Both have been nominated for the Nagurski Trophy, given to the top defensive player in the nation. Clelin Ferrell, who had a huge game against Ohio State will be back at defensive end. Kendall Joseph will start at Mike linebacker, taking over Boulware’s spot.
Look for Clemson to be at the top of the ACC and in the top 25 all season for yet another year under Dabo Swinney.