2011 Record: 10-4 overall, 6-2 ACC Atlantic
2011 Bowl Result: Lost Orange Bowl 70-33 to West Virginia
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney
Odds to win ACC and ACC Atlantic: 5/1 ACC, 11/4 ACC-Atlantic
Odds to win 2013 BCS Championship: 50/1
Over Under Regular Season Wins: Over 8 1/2 -110 / Under -110
All odds courtesy of Bovada
Last Season, Clemson, coached by Dabo Swinney, started off 8-0 and Tiger fans were dreaming of a trip to the BCS Championship game. The wheels came off the Tiger bandwagon,as they lost 3 of their last 4 regular season. games. They still won the ACC Atlantic Division, and were a heavy underdog to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game. However, the Tigers won handily 38-10. Clemson also beat Virginia Tech 23-3 in the regular season. Clemson earned a trip to the Orange Bowl as ACC Champs against Big East Champ West Virginia. I would like to tell you the Clemson season had a happy ending, but the Tigers got hit by a truck. Not Literally, but it might as well have been
Clemson actually led that game 17-14 at the end of the first. The turning point of the game came in the second quarter when Clemson drove all the way to West Virginia’s one yard line. The Tigers looked like they were going to score to take a 24-21 lead, but they fumbled and West Virginia ran it all the way back for a touchdown. The Tigers never recovered and were outscored 35-3 in the second. West Virginia took a 49-20 lead into halftime and cruised to a 70-33 victory. Clemson gained 443 yards, but 4 turnovers doomed them. West Virginia racked up 595 yards.
Clemson must put that game behind them as they have the talent to compete for another ACC title. Though they will have competition from Florida St and Virginia Tech.
It was a tale of two season for the Tigers, last season under first year offensive coordinator Chad Morris. The offense was almost unstoppable in the first 8 games, but sacks and turnovers caused the offense to sputter in the last 4 games of the regular season. Clemson allowed 17 sacks and had 16 turnovers in the last 6 games of the season. Not surprisingly, they went 2-4 in those games.
It wasn’t all bad for Clemson, as they improved a moribound offense from 2010 to one ranked in the top 20 overall last year and #12 in passing. Morris uses a pistol style offense.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd returns to run the offense after he completed 59.7% of his passes for 3,828 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He was sacked 31 times, and rushed for 218 yards on 142 carries, with 5 touchdowns. Boyd struggled in the last 6 games like most of the offense throwing 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Cole Stoudt is the back-up, should somrthign happen to Boyd.
Clemson got lucky in signing receiver Sammy Watkins, a five star recruit less than a month after Morris became the offensive coordinator. Watkins was nothing short of spectacular during his freshman year last season. Watkins caught 82 passes, for 1,219 yards, and 12 touchdowns. He also rushed for 231 yards, and averaged more than 25 yards per kickoff return. He had an 89 yard touchdown return. Many thought he could have been a Heisman contender during his sophomore year, but in May he was arrested for drugs. He was suspended for the first two games of 2012. Other receivers include DeAndre Hopkins who had 72 catches, 978 yards, with 5 touchdown catches. Jaron Brown had 31 catches, 406 yards, and 4 touchdowns. The Tigers do have to replace tight end Dwayne Allen who had 50 catches, 698 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Brandon Ford will take over as the starting tight end after he had 14 catches and 2 touchdowns last year. Sophomores Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake will also get some targets from Boyd.
Running back Andre Ellington considered leaving early for the pros but returned to Clemson. He had 223 carries, 1,178 yards, and 11 touchdowns last year, and also caught 22 passes out of the backfield. D.J. Howard will be the back-up after he had 41 carries, 230 yards and a touchdown last year. Mike Bellamy was supposed to be the back-up but he is academically ineligible. He rushed for 343 yards and 3 touchdowns last season. Depth could be an issue if Ellington or Howard get hurt.
Last season, eight Clemson players started on the offensive line but only 2 of those players return. There could be a serious drop-off from last year. That could lead to more offensive struggles if Boyd is constantly scraping himself off the turf or Ellington can’t find running lanes. Center Dalton Freeman was All-ACC last year, so he should anchor the line and give veteran leadership to the young kids around him.
As much as the offense improved, the defense regressed just as much if not more. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was fired after what was an elite unit in 2010 to one of the worst in the country last season. In their 4 losses the defense gave up at least 31 points. Even when they won, the defense struggled to stop teams. Clemson won by such scores as 35-27, 38-24, 35-30, 56-45, and 59-38. When the offense was clicking, it could cover up the defensive deficiencies. However, when the offense went in the tank, the defense was exposed.
Clemson hired Brent Venables, the offensive coordinator from Oklahoma. He looks to shore up the defense that was so awful last year. If he doesn’t then Clemson could be involved in more Arena Football type shootouts.
The line will be led by ends Malliciah Goodman and Corey Crawford. The tackles are young led by sophomores DeShawn Williams, Tavaris Barnes, and Josh Watson. Freshmen Carlos Watkins and Kevin Dodd will also battle for playing time.
The linebackers return most of their starters and should be much better this year. Sophomores Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward are the class of the unit. Anthony tore his ACL as a senior in high school, and then tore his other ACL last year. He insists he is healthy, as do Clemson team doctors. Seniors Corico Hawkins and Jonathan Willard are experienced and talented to boot. Lateek Townsend, Justin Parker, and Travis Blanks add depth to the unit.
Like the linebackers, the secondary returns a lot of depth and should be much improved. The Tigers return their top 3 safeties and 3 of the top 4 corners. The secondary wasn’t terrible last year, but had to make way too many plays because the line and linebackers struggled to stop teams. Rashard Hall, Jonathan Meeks, and Xavier Brewer are the safeties. Bashaud Breeland, Martin Jenkins, and Darius Robinson are talented corners. Linebacker Blanks sometimes plays nickelback. Freshman Cortez Davis and Ronald Geohaghan could crack the rotation as well.
Junior placekicker Chandler Catanzaro made 22 of 27 field goals last year, including 9 of 12 from 40 yards or more. He was second team All-ACC last year and returns this year.
Punter Dawson Zimmerman graduated. Senior Spencer Benton handled kickoffs for the Tigers last year. He will battle during fall camp with freshman Bradley Pinion for the punting job.
Watkins and Hopkins will handle the returns. Hopkins does mainly punts but will likely handle both during Watkins’ suspension.
Watkins will miss the season opener in Atlanta against Auburn, and a home game against Ball St. The Tigers host Furman before a two game road trip to Florida St and Boston College. Clemson return to Death Valley for home games against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. The Tigers then travel to Wake Forest and Duke, before a 3 game home stand to close out the season against Maryland, North Carolina St, and Palmetto state rival South Carolina.
If the offensive and defensive lines can hold up after lots of personnel changes, Clemson has plenty of talent to make another run to the ACC title and a BCS bowl. Auburn could be tough, especially without Watkins. The trip to Tallahassee to face Florida St will likely decide the ACC Atlantic title. Other tough games include Virginia tech and South Carolina but both come to Death Valley. I see 9 wins for the Tigers, but 10 wouldn’t be surprising.
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