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2019 Football Opponent Preview: the Clemson Tigers

The National Champions look to defend their title and roll through the ACC once again

NCAA Football: Clemson Practice Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The Clemson Tigers are the defending National Champions after finishing last season undefeated at 15-0. Head Coach Dabo Swinney looks to lead the Tigers to a repeat of that success this season.

Coming as no surprise to anyone, the Tigers are the preseason favorites to win the ACC once again, receiving all but two votes in the preseason poll to finish at the top of the Atlantic Division.

Clemson lost a lot of players from last year’s team to graduation and the NFL, but returns last year’s freshman phenom quarterback in Trevor Lawrence, and is loaded with guys ready to step up.

The entire defensive front four of Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, and Austin Bryant that caused so many problems for opposing offenses are now gone. Hunter Renfrow finally graduated as a fan-favorite and one of the best short-yardage receivers in the country.


There is absolutely no question that sophomore Trevor Lawrence will return as the starting quarterback. Sophomore Chase Brice, who led the Tigers to a comeback win over Syracuse when Lawrence went down with an injury, will serve as Lawrence’s primary backup.

Also of no question is that Junior Travis Etienne will return as the primary running back after rushing for 1658 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. Sophomore Lyn-J Dixon will serve as the backup after rushing for 547 yards and 5 touchdowns last year.

Junior Tee Higgins, and sophomore Justyn Ross will lead the receiving corps along with senior Diondre Overton. Junior Amari Rodgers tore his ACL in spring practice, but should be back mid-season.

The offensive line features four returning four starters (some part-time). Seniors Tremayne Anchrum, Sean Pollard, Gage Cervenka, and John Simpson all return from last season, and former five-star recruit sophomore Jackson Carman are all expected to start.

Clemson should once again feature a high-powered offense that is considered to be one of the best in the country.


You don't simply replace the defensive line Clemson had last year, but the Tigers are loaded up and ready to go with strong players at each position.

Sophomore Xavier Thomas will start at one defensive end, and redshirt freshman KJ Henry (from Clemmons, NC and West Forsyth High School), junior Logan Rudolph, and junior Justin Foster will all see significant time at the other defensive end position.

At defensive tackle, junior Nyles Pinckney and redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams should start.

Junior Isaiah Simmons returns as the strong side linebacker, and senior Chad Smith looks to replace Kendall Joseph at middle linebacker. James Skalski will take over for J.D. Davis at weak side linebacker.

In the secondary, junior A.J. Terrell has a lock on one of the corner positions. Sophomore Derion Kendrick, true freshman Sheridan Jones, sophomore Mario Goodrich, and sophomore Kyler McMichael all look to split time between the other corner spot and nickel position.

Seniors K’von Wallace and Tanner Muse will start at safety, and junior Nolan Turner will also see some time in nickel packages.

The defense may not be quite as dominant as last year’s, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables will be sure that they cause plenty of problems for opposing offenses and be among the nation’s best yet again.

Special Teams

Sophomore B.T. Potter will take over the kicking duties after the graduations of Greg Huegel and Alex Spence.

Junior Will Spiers struggled somewhat last season punting the ball, and may be replaced by freshman Aidan Swanson.

Cornell Powell and Derion Kendrick will handle kick return duties, at least until Amari Rodgers returns from his torn ACL mid-season. Kendrick will also handle punt returns.

The Deacs will travel to Death Valley to play Clemson on November 16th, and look to pull off a major upset.