The ACC feels like it’s going under a bit of a rebirth as a conference with strong programs like Miami, Virginia Tech, and Florida State hiring new coaches in recent years. The one constant, though, has been Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers. The Tigers have transformed into a top-two program in the country in Dabo’s ten years at the helm, winning 14 or more games three times. With two of the past three national titles, Clemson is a national powerhouse.
The famed 2018 defensive line is gone, but there is talent abound still, and with Trevor Lawrence, Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins, and Travis Etienne back on offense, Clemson is going to score a hell of a lot of points against a rebuilding ACC.
Clemson was pretty incredible last year on offense despite splitting time between Lawrence and Kelly Bryant at quarterback the first few weeks of the season. The Tigers averaged 7.3 yards per play, 44.3 points per game, and hung 44 on Alabama in the title game in a performance that boosted them to #1 in the final CSD Prime computer rankings.
Lawrence averaged 8.3 yards per throw as a freshman and was solid at running when he needed to. His top three targets from last year are back between Justyn Ross (1,000 yards, 21.7 YPC, nine touchdowns!), Tee Higgins, and Amari Rodgers. Highly touted recruits like Cornell Powell, Frank Ladson, Diondre Overton, Joseph Ngata, and TJ Chase make this perhaps the most potent group in the country.
Travis Etienne is back in the run game after exploding as a sophomore for 1,658 yards, 24 touchdowns, and an absurd 8.1 yard per carry average. Sophomore Lyn-J Dixon averaged 8.8 per carry on limited snaps as a backup and should step into a true #2 role. The line loses Mitch Hyatt and Justin Falcinelli, but Clemson has recruited so well that they might not be missed, which is incredible to say about a player of Hyatt’s caliber. With pretty much everyone back, this very well could be the best offense in the country.
The Clemson defense was incredible last year under maybe the best coordinator in the country, Brent Venables, allowing 13.1 points per game and 4.2 yards per play against some pretty tough competition, holding ‘Bama to 16 in the title game and Notre Dame to three in the semifinal.
A lot of the key pieces from that defense do depart though, including pretty much the entire linebacking corps and of course the famous D-Line. Big talent returns though. Five-star end Xavier Thomas somehow racked up 3.5 sacks and seven TFL as a freshman behind the talented rotation. Nyles Pickney and Justin Foster added two more sacks and 8.5 more TFL. The Tigers also add an incredibly highly touted end in KJ Henry.
On the second level, most of the two-deep departs outside of Isaiah Simmons, who was the leading tackler last year and added eight TFL and seven PBUs.
In the defensive backfield, most everyone returns, although it was probably the weakest of the three units last year. K’Von Wallace and AJ Terrell each brought in seven PBUs and return along with FS Tanner Muse (five). Starting opposite Terrell at the CB spot will be highly touted converted-receiver Derion Kendrick. Freshman Andrew Booth is someone that really has excited me in what I’ve seen of him, so I’ll be interested to see how Venables fits him into the rotation.
I think it’s fair to say that while this defense might not touch last year’s group, the talent is there to the degree that they’ll still be one of the best in the country.
Clemson is projected to be favored by double digits in every single game this year. Now, upsets happen and the model thinks they’ll drop about one game on average, but this is nonetheless one of the best teams in the nation and probably the group I’d be most confident about making it to the College Football Playoff due to a pretty favorable schedule.
|Date||Opponent||opp. rank||Proj. Margin|
|28-Sep||at North Carolina||62||21.4|
|9-Nov||at Nc State||35||17.6|
|30-Nov||at South Carolina||21||14.7|
Average Projected Record: 10.8 wins, 1.2 losses (7.1 wins, 0.9 losses)