Coach: Dabo Swinney (61-26, entering 8th season; 61-26 overall)
2014 record: 10-3, 6-2 in ACC; tied for third in Atlantic Division
Look back: Any hope of playing in a major bowl game ended abruptly when Clemson fell 23-17 to FSU in overtime, giving the Tigers two losses in their first three games. But Clemson rebounded, with a stingy defense that ranked No. 1 nationally (260.8 yards allowed per game) and budding star quarterback Deshaun Watson leading the way. The Tigers lost just one more game the rest of the season and finished the year with back-to-back wins over ranked opponents South Carolina and Oklahoma.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 4
Defensive starters lost: 7
Key losses: DE/LB Vic Beasley, LB Stephone Anthony, DL Grady Jarrett, OL Isaiah Battle, CB Garry Peters, LB Tony Steward, DE Corey Crawford, QB Cole Stoudt, P Bradley Pinion, OL Kalon Davis, DB Robert Smith
Top returnees: QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, WR Artavis Scott, DB Mackensie Alexander, DL Shaq Lawson, RB Wayne Gallma, OL Ryan Norton, DB Jayron Kearse
Strengths: Injuries prevented Clemson’s offense from reaching its full potential last year and the unit could be elite if Watson is at full strength following an ACL tear. Watson (93-of-137 for 1,466 passing yards, 14 TDs and 2 INTs) proved he was capable of running an offense and making every throw necessary as a true freshman, leading some publications to list him as the top returning quarterback in the country. Watson has to prove he can produce over the course of an entire season, but the talent is there. So are the weapons. Mike Williams (57 catches, 1,030 yards, 6 TDs) and Artavis Scott (76 catches, 965 yards, 8 TDs) form the best receiver duo in the ACC.
The defense loses a lot of talent, but the secondary has a cornerstone in Mackensie Alexander, who could evolve into a shutdown corner as a sophomore. Jayron Kearse is inconsistent but has the skills to be a top-tier safety.
Weaknesses: The only glaring issue for Clemson appears to be along the front seven after losing defensive end/outside linebacker Vic Beasley and linebacker Stephone Anthony – both first-round NFL Draft picks — as well as defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. The cupboard, however, isn’t completely bare. Defensive end Shaq Lawson was second on the team with 3.5 sacks last season while also logging 11.5 tackles for loss.
Outlook: ACC media members picked Clemson to win the conference, a reasonable prediction given the firepower the Tigers have on offense. Clemson’s ability to make a playoff run will largely depend on how quickly an unproven defensive front can gel.
Sept. 5 Wofford
Sept. 12 Appalachian State
Sept. 17 at Louisville
Oct. 3 Notre Dame
Oct. 10 Georgia Tech
Oct. 17 Boston College
Oct. 24 at Miami
Oct. 31 at NC State
Nov. 7 Florida State
Nov. 14 at Syracuse
Nov. 21 Wake Forest
Nov. 28 at South Carolina
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com