Check out all of my spring profiles here.
9/1 – vs Furman
9/8 – @ Texas A&M
9/15 – vs Georgia Southern
9/22 – @ Georgia Tech
9/29 – vs Syracuse
10/6 – @ Wake Forest
10/20 – vs NC State
10/27 – @ Florida State
11/3 – vs Louisville
11/10 – @ Boston College
11/17 – vs Duke
11/24 – vs South Carolina
The schedule shapes up pretty nicely with zero back-to-back road games over the course of the entire season, as well as no weekday games that proved fatal when the Tigers traveled to Syracuse last year. A home game against Duke is the crossover game from the Coastal (outside of Georgia Tech, who the Tigers play every year). Road games against Texas A&M and Florida State provide the most likely opportunities for losses.
Kelly Bryant did an admirable job stepping into DeShaun Watson’s large shoes in the 2017 season. Bryant threw for 2,802 yards and ran for another 665. However, he also struggled at times, throwing just 13 touchdowns to eight interceptions, and five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence, the #1 overall recruit in the class of 2018, is hot on his tail after wowing fans during Clemson’s spring game in an incredible 11/16, 122 yards, and one touchdown performance compared to Bryant’s 8/15, 35 yards, one interception game.
True freshman Travis Etienne (7.2 yards per carry) burst onto the scene last year, racking up 766 yards on just over 100 carries due to his explosive speed. Tavien Feaster (6.3 yards per carry), another speed back who rushed for 669 yards on a similar number of carries also returns, along with senior Adam Choice (4.9 yards per carry), who will play a depth role in the backfield.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud are onto the NFL and will be replaced on the outside by highly touted sophomores Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers. Higgins racked up over 100 yards and a touchdown in Clemson’s spring game. Senior Hunter Renfrow returns after a 600+ yard season in 2017, although he could be challenged by athletic five-star true freshman Derion Kendrick. Milan Richard returns at tight end, although his starting spot could be in jeopardy as Garrett Williams is back in the rotation after missing last year due to an ACL tear.
Mitch Hyatt will hold down the fort for another year as the Tigers’ reliable starting left tackle, as will first-team All-ACC center Justin Falcinelli. Sean Pollard (an All-ACC Honorable Mention in 2017) is also back at right tackle, but the Tigers will need to replace both guards. Juniors John Simpson and Tremayne Anchrum seem to be the front-runners for those spots, but five-star freshman Jackson Carman could see the field as well.
If you thought that the 2018 Clemson defensive line group was the best position group of any kind this decade, I wouldn’t call that hyperbole. This group returns not one, not two, but three All-Americans from last year in ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant as well as tackle Christian Wilkins. All-ACC D-tackle Dexter Lawrence will start at the second defensive tackle spot. They return Albert Huggins and Nyles Pinckney, who played roles as backup defensive tackles last year, and bring in two five-star freshman ends in Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry. Absolute madness.
Tre Lamar returns at the mike, and Kendall Joseph, who started at the will last year is rumored to shift inside as well. JD Davis is surprisingly listed as the new starting will linebacker, Davis played mainly a backup role last season. Safety Isaiah Simmons will slide down to start in the sam linebacker/nickel back spots. I’m not sure why Venables made the decision to shift Joseph inside, but I can only assume that JD Davis was showing out in spring ball.
Trayvon Mullen had a good 2017, but he will have to step into the #1 cornerback role, which will be big shoes for him to fill. AJ Terrell and Mark Fields will battle it out in fall camp for the other starting corner spot, and they will be backed up by incoming four-star freshman Mario Goodrich and Kyler McMichael, who will both need to step into roles where they can make an impact on day one. Tanner Muse returns after starting most of last year at strong safety, and the free safety spot will be battled for between juniors K’Von Wallace and Denzel Johnson
Four-year recruiting ranks
2015: #9 Nationally, #2 in ACC
2016: #11 Nationally, #2 in ACC
2017: #16 Nationally, #3 in ACC
2018: #7 Nationally, #1 in ACC
After in-state FCS foe Furman to start the year, Clemson opens with an interesting ACC vs SEC game @ Texas A&M, where Dabo will continue his rivalry with Jimbo Fisher at Jimbo’s new school. The two are currently tied 4-4 in their eight past meetings, and Dabo will be favored to win the tiebreaker. Clemson has paper soft start to ACC play with Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Wake Forest before a killer three-game stretch against the other top three teams from the Atlantic as they sandwich a trip to Tallahassee with home games against NC State and Louisville (who is EXTREMELY underrated by most). After that, they get Boston College and draw Duke as their Coastal crossover opponent before hosting an improved South Carolina team in the Palmetto Bowl.
Once again, I need to state that these are not my final predictions, just a spring look ahead.
WIN vs Furman
WIN @ Texas A&M
WIN vs Georgia Southern
WIN @ Georgia Tech
WIN vs Syracuse
WIN @ Wake Forest
WIN vs NC State
WIN @ Florida State
WIN vs Louisville
WIN @ Boston College
WIN vs Duke
WIN vs South Carolina
Projected Record: 12-0 (8-0 ACC)