2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in ACC (2nd in Atlantic division)
2013 postseason: Orange Bowl vs. Ohio State (40-35 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 8/No. 7
Head coach: Dabo Swinney (51-23 overall; 51-23 in 6 years at Clemson)
Offensive coordinator: Chad Morris (4th season at Clemson)
2013 offensive rankings: 56th rushing offense (175.62 ypg); 9th passing offense (332.9 ypg); 9th total offense (508.5 ypg); 8th scoring offense (40.2 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 4
Defensive coordinator: Brent Venables (3rd season at Clemson)
2013 defensive rankings: 53rd rushing defense (155.69 ypg); 16th passing defense (200.6 ypg); 24th total defense (356.3 ypg); 24th scoring defense (22.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Clemson, South Carolina
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (81,473; Grass)
Last conference title: 2011
At first glance it may look as though Clemson is likely to be in a bit of rebuilding mode after losing some talented players (including Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Roderick McDowell) but the Tigers return more seniors in 2014 than any previous season in the Dabo Swinney era. This year’s senior class needs eight wins to set a new school record for wins by a recruiting class, and that certainly looks attainable this season. Cole Stoudt is ready to take over the responsibility as starting quarterback after playing the role of Boyd’s understudy each of the past three seasons. The strength of Clemson could actually come on the defensive side of the football, with a deep defensive line led by defensive end Vic Beasley, who had 13 sacks last season. This Clemson team may not be as good as they have been in recent seasons, but Swinney’s recruiting in recent years have assured Clemson of a very good team once it gets going.
Clemson plays in the same division as Florida State. With as far as Clemson has come in recent seasons, the bar has been set to a height that may not be able to be cleared by Clemson this season, in part because they happen to play in the same division as the best team in the country (and defending national champions, and Clemson has to play on the road in Tallahassee). It could be a rough start for this Clemson team with road games at Georgia and Florida State in September, so it may be unfair to truly judge Clemson until later in the season. Clemson should be one of the best teams in the ACC by the end of the season, but they will likely be playing from behind Florida State the entire way.
How much will Clemson have in the tank at the start of the season. As just referenced above, the Tigers are going to be thrown right into the fire in September with rod games at Georgia, a team some expect to compete for the SEC East and perhaps even the SEC championship this fall, and later at Florida State, defending ACC and national champions and looking prime for a repeat bid out of the gate. Clemson could very well lose those two games, but will they be able to at least make them look respectable? No coach or player will take much solace in a lose, but proving worthy of going toe-to-toe with Georgia ad Florida State regardless of the outcome could go a long way in setting the tone for the remainder of the season. Clemson beat Georgia last year in a wild game at home, but failed to show up for the home game against the Seminoles. Revenge is one thing, but respect is an entirely different aspect.
MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. South Carolina
Regardless of what happens against Georgia or Florida State in September, the time has come for Clemson to prove it can compete with and beat South Carolina. Even Clemson’s best teams the past few years have been crippled by their in-state rivals from the SEC. Clemson has lost this game five straight years, and those games have not been all that close either. Each game has been decided by a minimum of 10 points, giving Steve Spurrier and his program some in-state bragging rights. Clemson gets this year’s meeting at home, and it would be a great way for the Tigers to put a bow on what could turn out to be a double-digit win season.
HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Defensive end Vic Beasley
We know that defensive players are probably never going to win the Heisman Trophy, but it should not go without mention just how good Vic Beasley is for the Tigers. He could have joined Boyd and Watkins in the NFL Draft this past spring but he opted to return for one more year at Clemson, and that is fantastic news for the Tigers. If he gets off to a fast tart in high-profile games at Georgia and Florida State, and helps Clemson’s defense lead the way to victories in each, then the campaign will quickly emerge as the latest defensive hopeful to snag the Heisman.
(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)