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
2011 statistics: [view]
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.
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.
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.