Well we all know by now, especially after seeing the All-ACC projections from the media, that Clemson is THE team to beat in the Atlantic Division, as well as the ACC. The Tigers returned a ton of players who were draft eligible as head coach Dabo Swinney and company try to win the second National Championship in three years at Clemson.
This is of course bad news to pretty much everybody else in the ACC, as Clemson went 12-2 last year en route to its third straight conference championship, and 17 in history. This was effectively a rebuilding year for Swinney, so to make the CFP Semifinals it tells a lot about the team.
The Tigers are expected to be as good, if not better than last year, and S&P+ projects Clemson to go 11-1, and has it ranked 3rd in the NCAA.
Per S&P+, Clemson is a projected double-digit favorite in every game this season. Only two games (the trips to Texas A&M and Florida State) are projected within 15 points. The Tigers are only projected third overall in S&P+ because Ohio State and Alabama are similarly loaded and proven, but the odds of a fourth-straight top-five finish are high, and finishing outside of the top two would end up feeling a little disappointing.
One of the best possible problems to have is to decide between an elite returning QB in Kelly Bryant, and what could be a freshman phenom in Trevor (Sunshine) Lawrence. No matter who wins the starting gig there will set Clemson up for success on the offensive side of things, especially with the skill position weapons around them.
Sophomore running back Travis Etienne will look to show out again for the Tigers after running 107 times for 766 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman. That’s a 7.16 yard per carry average, which is very, very good obviously.
There is also rising senior Tavien Feaster, who also ran the ball 107 times, culminating in 669 yards and 7 TDs. That’s a heck of a one-two punch.
At the wideout position the Tigers have an embarrassment of riches as well, returning Hunter Renfrow for his 75th season in Death Valley, and also Tee Higgins.
The offensive line projected starting five has combined for 76 starts and should be more than good enough to provide the holes needed for Bryant, Etienne, and Feaster to get through.
Frankly the offense needs to just be good enough though, because the defense is projecting to be out of this world good.
It was a pretty big shock to a lot of experts and casual fans of the ACC alike when both defensive linemen Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant decided to return for their final season in orange and purple. The entire defensive line was picked Preseason First Team All-ACC, which I can only guess is the first time that has ever happened before.
The Tigers were the best team in the nation in Adjusted Sack Rate last year and return eight of the top nine lineman from the team. The depth behind the front four is absurd as well, as there are five-star sophomores waiting to take over after this year, and behind that there are two top-15 prospects in the 2018 class just chilling back there.
At the second level defensive coordinator Brent Venables welcomes back four of his top five linebackers, losing only Dorian O’Daniel.
Unless this defense is bitten by the injury bug it will be one of the top three defenses in the nation, and I feel bad for a lot of the offensive lines that have to face the teeth of that defense.
Overall the scheduling for Clemson isn’t all that bad, although they do have to make a trip to Texas A&M (kudos for that road game), and Tallahassee to take on the Noles.
As with most of the other so called “experts” I have Clemson winning the ACC for the fourth straight year, and making the national title game where it will probably have another chance to beat Alabama again.
The Deacs welcome the Tigers into Winston-Salem on October 6th, where S&P+ gives Wake an 18% chance to win at a 16 point underdog. This is a game that the Deacs will obviously have circled, but it is going to be a tall, tall task for anybody to bring down Dabo Swinney and the Tigers this season.