Clemson Tigers quarterback Boyd throws against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first quarter during the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl NCAA football game in Miami

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 12 Clemson

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2011 record: 10-4 overall, 6-2 in ACC (1st-tie in Atlantic)

2011 postseason: ACC title game (38-10 win over Virginia Tech); Orange Bowl (70-33 loss to West Virginia)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 22/No. 22

Head coach: Dabo Swinney (29-19 in four seasons at Clemson)

Offensive coordinator: Chad Morris (second season at Clemson, second as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 59th rushing offense (158.5 ppg); 21st passing offense (282.3 ypg); 26th total offense (440.8 ypg); 24th scoring offense (33.6 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: six

Defensive coordinator: Brent Venables (first season at Clemson, first as OC)

2011 defensive rankings: 83rd rushing defense (176.9 ypg); 50th passing defense (217.5 ypg); 71st total defense (394.4 ypg); 81st scoring defense (29.3 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Clemson, S.C.

Stadium: Memorial Stadium (81,500; grass)

Last league title: 2011

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Three of the most productive offensive players at their positions in the country — quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Andre Ellington — are back for another season of havoc-wreaking in the ACC.  Perhaps the scariest part of that returning trio for the conference is last season was the first in Chad Morris’ scheme; with another offseason under its collective belt, that three-headed offensive monster should be downright frightening in 2012.

The Bad
See those numbers a few inches above, the ones that state the Tigers owned the 71st defense in total yards allowed and was an embarrassing 81st in scoring defense?  Yeah, that was bad.  While most people will point to — and laugh at — the 70 points hung on Clemson’s defense by West Virginia in the bowl game, the Tigers gave up at least 30 points to Maryland (45), North Carolina (38), North Carolina State (37), South Carolina (34), Georgia Tech (31) and Florida State (30).  The good in the bad, though, is the fact that Swinney “parted ways” with coordinator Kevin Steele and replaced him with Brent Venables, who comes to the Tigers after overseeing stifling defenses at Oklahoma for the past 12 seasons.  Another issue that most certainly falls into the bad for Clemson is freshman wide receiver sensation Sammy Watkins’ suspension for the first two games of the season, which includes the season opener against Auburn.

The Unknown
As odd as it may sound, it’s fair to ask if there will be any carryover from the 70-33 beatdown at the hands of the Mountaineers to close out the 2011 season.  The biggest plus from that shellacking is that it led to the change at coordinator and, especially with the presence of Venables, any chance of a lingering hangover is a long shot at best.  However, it will be something to watch early on in the season, especially with games against Auburn and Florida State in the first month of the new football year.

Make-or-break game: at Florida State, Sept. 29
The Seminoles were one of the Tigers’ victims in a string of eight straight wins to open the 2011 season, although Clemson would win just two of its final five games as the Tigers spit and sputtered their way through the remainder of the schedule.  Traveling to Tallahassee to face a team that (once again) is expected to be a prominent player nationally, however, is a different animal entirely for the Tigers.  Fortunately for Clemson, it will have three games to get its new defensive legs underneath them, as well as one game to work Watkins back into game shape coming off the suspension.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Tajh Boyd
Boyd flourished in his first season with Morris as coordinator, and 2012 portends even bigger production for the junior.  Last season, Boyd passed for just over 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns, although the 12 interceptions — some at critical junctures — remain a lingering concern.  Not enough, however, to keep Boyd out of the Heisman mix as continued improvement is not only expected but being counted on to help elevate the Tigers to that next level nationally.

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Steve Spurrier discusses retirement; Gamecocks name Shawn Elliott interim coach

Steve Spurrier

Odds are pretty good Steve Spurrier has coached his final game as the Head Ball Coach, but Spurrier let it be known he is not going to go away quite as easily as you might think. Spurrier addressed the media today as South Carolina made its transition between coaches official. Spurrier noted he is resigning as head coach, but he is not necessarily retiring. As previously reported, Shawn Elliott will take on the role as interim head coach of the Gamecocks effective immediately.

The first thing Spurrier wants to remind everybody is he is not retiring. This is simply a resignation from his current position. Spurrier left the door open to possible options down the road for him in his post-coaching career. The idea of Spurrier walking away from the football world never to be heard from again is a startling one, so it is good to know he is not going to let that happen.

“College football is a game of recruiting, as well know,” Spurrier said when assessing why it was right for him to leave his job now. “That’s another reason I need to move on. I don’t know if coaching is completely over or not. It is fun being on a team. I might be a consultant for someone. I doubt if I’ll be a head coach again, but who knows?”

Spurrier said he realized Sunday the time to walk away was now and explained he always knew he would need to step aside the moment he saw himself holding the program back. That echoes the sentiment he has shared over the years, especially when asked about coaches like Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden as they each got up in the years. This season South Carolina is off to a 2-4 start, so the writing was on the wall for Spurrier, who also said it was in the best interests for all if an inevitable change was handled immediately.

“We’ve slipped. It’s my fault. I’m the head coach,” Spurrier said of South Carolina’s recent struggles.”We haven’t lost it. We’ve got a dang good team.”

“Our team is not in shambles despite what some might say,” Elliott said when he was given a chance to speak to the media. “We’re going to do everything we can to make the University of South Carolina proud of this football program.”

Elliott will now have the rest of the season to show what he can do as a head coach, and he knows this will be a bit of an open audition for the job as South Carolina starts searching for its next head coach.

Mark Dantonio quickly tosses aside South Carolina discussion

Mark Dantonio

Michigan State has become a national power under the coaching of Mark Dantonio. The grizzled and confident coach has put together a master plan in East Lansing and has taken the Spartans to the top of the Big Ten along the way, capturing a Big Ten title and victories in the Cotton Bowl and Rose Bowl as well as in-state dominance over the Michigan Wolverines. Danotnio is preparing his Spartans to take on the Wolverines this week, but with the new vacancy opening up at South Carolina following the sudden retirement of Steve Spurrier, Dantonio has already been presented with the question about his thoughts on coaching at South Carolina.

He did not seem all that interested in discussing the vacancy when meeting with Michigan State media this morning.

“Coach Spurrier’s had an outstanding career there, it’s alma mater, and we’re here to talk about Michigan,” Dantonio said when asked about it today. Video below from the Big Ten Network

Dantonio played defensive back for the Gamecocks in the mid 1970s, which helps make Dantonio an interesting name to mention in any coaching future discussion out of Columbia. While Dantonio may have played at South Carolina for Jim Carlen, Dantonio grew up in Ohio and has coached the bulk of his career within Ohio and the Big Ten. He is also one win away from picking up his 100th career coaching victory, 81 of which have come at Michigan State.