Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
2016 Record: 14-1 (7-1 ACC)
Over 9.5 wins (-102); Under 9.5 wins (-118)
Odds to win ACC Championship Game: +425
Odds to win 2017 Title: +2973
Betting odds c/o Bookmaker
The Clemson Tigers secured a National title in 2016, but the program finds itself with a tough task in repeating given that it lost star quarterback Deshaun Watson and three other key stars. Deciding who will fill Watson’s shoes at quarterback is priority 1-A for the Tigers, and if they decide to go with junior Kelly Bryant, it can be expected Clemson becomes much more reliant on the run.
Bryant threw 18 interceptions already despite not having been starter, but he makes up for it somewhat in being a ground threat in his own right. It may be that Clemson becomes predictable on offense this year, and even with some decent receiving options, there are abundant questions as to whether Bryant can make the most of them at any rate.
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Other options exist at QB, though. Clemson could turn to either Hunter Johnson (a true freshman) or redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper. Sophomore Tucker Israel will be in the picture, too. Regardless of what Swinney decides to do, there is no replacing Watson, who is expected to have a great NFL career after having led Clemson to glory a year ago. The loss of TE Jordan Leggett is huge as well, and the team will also miss RB Wayne Gallman.
The backfield will instead be made up of the trio of CJ Fuller, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice. The OL also only returns one starter, which is probably the least of Clemson’s issues, but still a pressing one nevertheless. All of these question marks obscure the talent Clemson as at the WR positions.
Despite losing Mike Williams, Clemson returns Deon Cain (14 TDs the last two seasons) and Ray-Ray McCloud. Freshman Tee Higgins is also very promising. Former walk-on Hunter Renfrow should also factor in, and many will remember he caught the title-winning pass against Alabama in the BCS playoffs last year.
Clemsons question marks on offense can be replaced with exclamation marks on defense, however. The Tigers have perhaps the best defensive line in college football. Preseason All-American Christian Wilkins had 12.5 tackles for a loss last year, and he will move back to the inside after playing on the end last season. Adding to his dominance will be Dexter Lawrence, a 340-pound 2016 monster who won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year last year.
Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are solid on the other side. Clemson’s secondary has plenty of depth, and the Tigers should be able to keep fresh blood on the field. With so much incoming and returning talent, Clemson will win a lot of games just by virtue of shutting down opposing offenses. Defense is not the concern.
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Kicker Greg Huegel hit 41 of 51 field goals over the past two seasons, but his kickoffs leave plenty of room for improvement. Punter Will Spiers should be an upgrade after logging an impressive spring performance, and last year the Tigers got just 36.7 yards per punt from Andy Teasdell. That will be an easy mark to top for Spiers.
Clemson may be expected to drop off by a lot of experts given the losses it incurred offensively, but the Tigers have an elite defense and have established themselves as a forceful program. The loss of Watson will not reverse the steam and momentum the program has gained.
Perhaps it is expecting a bit much to see Clemson find its way back into the BCS playoffs given its question marks at quarterback, but the Tigers should pose a formidable threat to FSU in the chase for the ACC title. Of course, they will also have to leapfrog Auburn and Louisville, but the sheer amount of talent on the defensive end will keep Swinney’s crew in the mix with those other elite ACC programs.
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