2013 ACC Previews: Clemson
By Eric Russell
As the college football season draws closer it is time to take a look at each team in the ACC and their outlook for 2013. We will look at what to expect from your favorite team and what it will take for 2013 to be a success. We will follow the predicted finishing order released during ACC media day, alternating between the Coastal and Atlantic Division. Next up is Clemson.
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (Fifth (full) season)
Last Season: The Tigers finished the season in the Top 10 in the final coaches poll after their thrilling victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Clemson offense was one of the most productive in college football last year. Tajh Boyd and Deandre Hopkins led the way for Clemson to finish with its first 11-win season in three decades, and for the fourth time in the schools history. The only blemishes came against Florida State and in-state rival South Carolina.
Key Losses: Deandre Hopkins chose to skip his senior season and enter the draft. He now plays for the Houston Texans, but Boyd isn't lacking for targets despite Hopkins' departure. Another big loss on the offensive side of the ball was center Dalton Freeman as well as running back Andre Ellington. Defensively Clemson only returns six starters, and they lost some key players in the secondary.
What To Expect On Offense: Through most of the early stages of the offseason it appeared the question wasn't if Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris was leaving, it was where would he land. However, despite several teams courting the coach, he chose to stay at Clemson.
What that means is ACC defenses can expect more of the same headaches they faced last season trying to stop Boyd and the Tigers. Everywhere they lost talent in terms of skill positions they have more than capable replacements. Hopkins and Ellington are gone, but Sammy Watkins has been said to rededicate himself this offseason and Roderick McDowell has shown that he can produce big plays. The offense is a big part of the reason the media chose Clemson to win the conference.
What To Expect On Defense: The biggest question mark on defense is with the defensive backs. Clemson hasn't exactly decided on a starting cornerback on either side. When the depth chart was released on Monday, co-starters were listed at both cornerback positions. Travis Blanks will line up at the safety position and is the Tigers' leading returning tackler.
Up front, Vic Beasley is someone to watch out for this year. He got to the quarterback eight times last season in limited action. The added time on the field as the starter for Beasley will help the Tigers. Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony will lead the linebacker group.
Breakout Star: Freshman tight end Jordan Leggett will be a big factor for the Tigers this year. He will miss the season opener as her recovers from a knee injury suffered in mid-August. Tajh Boyd likes to utilize the tight end in the Tigers' offense attack, and at 6-foot-6 Leggett gives him another large target to pass to.
Big Games: The season opener against Georgia is one of the most anticipated quarterback matchups in recent seasons. Boyd and Murray can make early statements in the Heisman campaign with a big performance. Fortunately for the Tigers, they get home-field advantage for two of their biggest games on their schedule. Florida State will come to Clemson on Oct. 19 for a matchup that could decide the Atlantic Division. As always, Clemson will close its regular season campaign with South Carolina.
Outlook: Clemson is a legitimate national title contender. With a relatively easy conference schedule, the Tigers could realistically run the table in the ACC. The reason they will be in the national title picture should they perform as expected is their non-conference slate, which includes two SEC heavyweights. The computer rankings won't be able to hinder their BCS rank as they have done to ACC schools in past seasons.
Predicted Record: 11-0 (8-0 ACC)