2019 College Football Preview: Clemson Tigers

(Photo: Kyle Parker, 2010 Clemson Football)

Clemson Tigers

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney

2018 Record: 15-0, 8-0 Conference

Final: 44-16 Win over Alabama in National Title Game

Over/under 11.5 wins (O -125; U -105)

Make Playoffs? Yes -600; No +400

Despite entering the National Title game as underdogs, Clemson looked like anything but in winning it second National Title in three seasons with its 44-16 win over vaunted Alabama in the title game. Since its loss to Georgia Tech late in 2014, the Tigers have won 58 of its last 62 football games and appeared in four-straight NCAA Playoffs. While the defensive unit loses some key players, there is sufficient talent to plug every hole, and the offense has multiple superstars. Expect the Tigers to be there in the Final 4 again, with NCAA oddsmakers setting the “Yes” on that at -600. Clemson is a powerhouse to be reckoned with in the same breath as the Crimson Tide.

Offense

Trevor Lawrence has had hype building for this season since before it came. Destined to become a starter, he will be in this 2019-20 season. He eviscerated Notre Dame and Alabama last season in the playoffs, and he still has two full seasons of work to put in at this point. The Tigers are stacked at the skill positions around him, and this team could be scary good. Justyn Ross enters his sophomore season and Tee Higgins is now a junior, and this tandem of receivers could be one for the ages. Jeff Scott, Joesph Ngata, and Frank Ladson Jr. all will be very good WRs in their own rights. Dabo Swinney said the latter two, both freshmen, are ready to play now.

Running back will feature Travis Etenne, whose 8.1 yards-per-carry last season as a sophomore led the team. He had 24 rushing TDs, and behind him, sophomore Lyn-J Dixon will be ready as the No. 2 back. This pair is as good as the wideouts. Clemson is absolutely throttled with talent, and while it loses Amari Rodgers to an ACL injury, Swinney feels he could recover by the end of the 2019 season. The OL lost LT Mitch Hyatt and C Justin Falcinelli, but both are replaced by quality. LG John Simpson is primed to be one of the best-returning linemen of the group.

Defense

The defense returns a few that were expected to be gone to the NFL, which is a bad sign for the rest of the ACC. Clemson can use its 44-16 National title game as a benchmark, as a rare college team that was capable of slowing Tua and the Crimson Tide. DT Dexter Lawrence, corner Trayvon Mullen, LB Tre Lamar all left for the NFL. However, three big ones stayed in Isaiah Simmons, K’Von Wallace, and Tanner Muse. Due to retaining that trio gives this defense a ton of experience and talent, and they should stabilize it as a leadership group with the resume to back its words. The interior is an area of concern after losing Wilkins, Lawrence, and Albert Huggins. Expect Nyles Pickney and Jordan Williams to start at tackle, but both did miss time in the spring due to injury.

Xavier Kelly and Tyler Davis both should be in the rotation after strong springs. The corner spot opposite of AJ Terrell will have to be decided. It could end up being former WR Derion Kendrick, as he looked to be a top-two CB on the roster in spring. The losses of Lamar and Kendall at LB hurts, but both James Skalski and Shaq Smith offer some experience to fill those roles.

Special Teams

Greg Huegel is gone after starting 48 games over four seasons, and BT Potter will replace him at kicker. Punter Will Spiers was inconsistent last year as a sophomore, but he looked good in the title game. The punt returns will have to be settled, but Etienne will likely handle kick returns. Kendrick might be the option for punt returns, but once Rodgers returns from his ACL injury he may take the reigns there.

Final Word

Clemson is only getting better coming off a National Title season. The losses to Pittsburgh in 2016 and Syracuse in 2017 were strange inconsistencies in the dominance, but that might not happen this season. Even with the losses of such key defenders, the defense is rock solid, and it will not regress much at all. Clemson will just prepare for what many are now thinking is inevitable: Another meeting with Bama for all the chips.

Prediction: 13 wins (over)

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