Sammy Watkins

Clemson’s Daniel Rodriguez honored with Armed Forces Merit Award

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On Veterans Day we take time to pay tribute to all of those who served our country. With the day set aside to honor our nation’s veterans, the Football Writers Association of America has honored Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez with the Armed Forces Merit Award.

The Armed Forces Merit Award is presented to an individual or group with a military background who has found a way to leave an impact on the football field. Rodriguez, a senior playing special teams for the Tigers, served in the Army from 2006 through 2010 and saw action in Afghanistan in 2009. Rodriguez was wounded in battle against the Taliban and was awarded a Purple Heart.

Rodriguez went on to walk on to the Clemson program in 2012 and has since appeared in 35 consecutive games. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to have an impact on special teams for any team, and sometimes that effort can go unnoticed by many. But Rodriguez has helped teach Clemson’s players many lessons about leadership and commitment, and that has not gone without recognition from teammates past and present as well as head coach Dabo Swinney.

Swinney says of Rodriguez his “presence has helped the team, and he never forces his leadership. It has really made the team appreciate our military, and realize that there are a lot more problems in the world than our third-down conversion rate.”

“I loved having him on our team,” former Clemson wide receiver and current Buffalo Bills receiver Sammy Watkins said of Rodriguez. “He’s a motivator, and he brings fire to our team. Daniel’s hyped up every day, hyped up just to be living. We know what he’s been through. I like the way he comes in every day and goes to work, just like everybody else. He practices hard, he plays hard.”

Past recipients of the Armed Forces Merit Award include Nate Boyer of Texas and Brandon McCoy of North Texas. Rodriguez is attending Clemson on the GI Bill.

Clemson’s new weapon at WR carries No. 21 Tigers to 34-20 victory over Wake Forest

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Clemson quarterbacks have had the luxury of throwing passes to Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant in recent years. Freshman Artavis Scott is the program’s new emerging star.

Scott proved to be the deciding factor Thursday night with eight catches for 122 yards and a pair of touchdown receptions as the No. 21 Clemson Tigers claimed a 34-20 victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The second touchdown was pivotal with the game tied 20-20 in the fourth quarter.

The freshman pulled a Watkins by scoring a long touchdown on a fly sweep. After Wake Forest kicker Mike Weaver converted a 31-yard field goal, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris decided to get the ball into the hands of the team’s top play-maker. Scott raced around the Tigers’ right tackle on his way to a 66-yard touchdown romp.

It was the knockout blow for a Clemson squad that allowed a struggling Wake Forest program to hang around for far too long.

Scott wasn’t the only freshman to come up big in the game. Running back Wayne Gallman carried the ball 19 times for 106 yards and a touchdown. Gallman also got the offense on track in the second quarterback with a beautifully timed screen pass for 18 yards that resulted in the Tigers’ first touchdown.

The Tigers will have to continue to lean on these talented underclassmen since senior quarterback Cole Stoudt continues to be inconsistent.

Despite the two-score victory, some still weren’t impressed with the effort.

After all, Wake Forest entered the game with college football’s worst offense. Clemson’s talented defense was continually placed in poor situations, and the unit allowed the Demon Deacons to score multiple times despite only managing 122 total yards.

A win is still a win, and Clemson remains one game behind the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles in the ACC Atlantic. It’s a crucial to be the ACC’s No. 2 team to potentially earn a New Year’s bowl berth with Florida State expected to make the first College Football Playoff. That spot could belong to Clemson if the Tigers continue to find ways to win.

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: ACC Predictions

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As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the ACC. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. Florida State (Last year: 14-0; beat Auburn in BCS Championship Game)
It is easy to make the Seminoles the chalk favorite when evaluating the rest of the ACC. Despite losing some key players from a national championship roster, Florida State returns Heisman Trophy winning Jameis Winston and a deep roster that has benefitted and prepared for this moment since the day Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach. The depth is there with loads of quality all around. Karlos Williams should have a big year at running back and Winston’s top targets in the open field will be Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary. The defense has a few holes to plug, but that should not be of much concern. Florida State looks to have the top unit or second-best unit in the entire ACC at every position on the field. There is not one game on the 2014 schedule Florida State should not be the favorite in, and they could keep this winning streak going into the playoffs. This team is clearly in College Football Playoff or bust mode with this amount of talent and the level of expectations in Tallahassee. Of all teams around the country, Florida State looks to be the most likely to be able to afford a blip in the loss column and still be invited to the playoff. But who can beat them? Anybody?

2. Clemson (Last year: 11-2; beat Ohio State in Orange Bowl)
The distance between Clemson and Florida State at the top of the Atlantic Division is not as widespread as last season’s meeting might suggest, but it did widen a bit heading into 2014 with the loss of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Having Vic Beasley back on defense is rather nice. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris could have his work cut out for him in 2014 and Clemson could fall behind early if adjustments are not made. Getting to October with a winning record is not exactly a given with road trips to Georgia and Florida State lined up. Clemson should be a better team by the end of the season once they go through some growing pains early on.

3. Louisville (Last year: 12-1; beat Miami in Russell Athletic Bowl as member of AAC)
This Louisville team may be a far cry from the team we saw a year ago, but they could have a better debut season lined up compared to last year’s ACC rookies at Syracuse and Pittsburgh (and they both went to a bowl game and returned home with a win). The question is what does Bobby Petrino to get the Cardinals off on the right foot and can he continue to work some quarterback magic as the Cardinals enter the post-Teddy Bridgewater era? For starters, he feeds Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer on the ground and gets the ball to DeVante Parker through the air. Will Gardner will be the likely heir to Bridgewater’s throne under center, with just 12 pass attempts last season. The defense should be prepared for an adjustment period after returning juts four starters from last season.

4. Syracuse (Last year: 7-6; beat Minnesota in Texas Bowl)
Syracuse turned out to be a nice little surprise last season, but running back Terrell Hunt is no longer a secret. The Orange will let him carry the offense with his legs and his arm once again. If he can cut down on the interceptions and tack on a few more touchdowns through the air he will give defenses a little something extra to think about. With 15 starters back, the Orange look to have a good amount of experience on both sides of the football. They are not at a level ready to compete for a top spot in the division, but Syracuse could make a push for a third place finish if some pieces come together. The Orange have a schedule that could set up for a great start, but a challenging October will see Syracuse go through some rough spots. How they play through it will tell how their season will end.

5. Boston College (Last year: 7-6; lost to Arizona in Advocare V100 Bowl)
Steve Addazio has already breathed new life into this program, but what happens this season could be crucial. Boston College only brings back a handful of players from last season’s 7-6 squad, and they must find a way to replace 2,000-yard rusher and Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams. The primary running duties will likely be handed off to Myles Willis, and quarterback transfer Tyler Murphy from Florida should embrace a fresh opportunity with a head coach who knows all about him. The spring showed Boston College will once again be likely to rely on the running game, but help could be on the way in the passing game with some receivers getting into the mix.

6. North Carolina State (Last year: 3-9)
The 2013 season was a painful one for the Wolfpack, somewhat literally. With a rash of injuries across the roster, NC State hardly got a chance to see what it could do with new head coach Dave Doeren on the sideline. With any luck that should change this season, with 14 starters due to return this season. There is plenty of work to be done on offense and defense in Raleigh, but having a steady quarterback situation with the transfer of Jacoby Brisset from Florida could help.

7. Wake Forest (Last year: 4-8)
New head coach Dave Clawson will have to be patient as he takes over a Wake Forest team in need of improvement across the field. The offense has averaged fewer than 19 points per game each of the past two seasons. Can that possibly go one more year? Competing in this division does not make anything easier for the Demon Deacons. They could jump out to a promising start (3-1 is not completely unrealistic), but once ACC play opens it could be a long fall.

COASTAL DIVISION

1. North Carolina (Last year: 7-6; beat Cincinnati in Belk Bowl)
The biggest thing going for North Carolina is momentum. After getting off to a rough start in 2013 (1-5), the Tar Heels kicked things in gear and ended the season winning six of the final seven games of the year, including a bowl victory. Larry Fedora finally seems to have things in order for a potential run to a division title, and he does so with 15 starters coming back this season. Marquise Williams will keep the dual-threat going for the Tar Heels after leading the team in rushing in 2013 and second to Bryn Renner in passing, but getting running back TJ Logan more involved should be in the plans. North Carolina may be a little in development on the defensive line, but the linebackers and secondary are in really good shape this fall.

2. Miami (Last year: 9-4; lost to Louisville in Russell Athletic Bowl)

It is hard to believe but Miami is entering its 11th season as a member of the ACC and is still searching for a trip to the ACC Championship Game. Could this finally be the year for the Hurricanes? Al Golden certainly has a running back to lead his offense there with Duke Johnson and the defense did put up some better numbers in 2013 compared to 2012 by knocking off roughly four points and 60 yards per game. And for the first time in a while Miami posted back-to-back seasons with a positive turnover margin. Want more? The offense has increased its average scoring each season Golden has been in Miami. Yet, they can’t seem to take a firm grasp on the Coastal Division. Why? Inconsistent play. Miami will be challenged early with road games at Louisville and Nebraska and a home date against Arkansas State is no guarantee. Miami also catches Florida State on the schedule, which could hurt their chances in the division race when other possible contenders skip FSU (and Clemson).

3. Virginia Tech (Last year: 8-5; lost to UCLA in Sun Bowl)
Virginia Tech returns nine starters on offense, but the Hokies break in a new starting quarterback. Fortunately, transfer Michael Brewer is not without experience and could be ready to step right into action in Blacksburg. The offensive line has just one hold to fill as well, so stability and uniformity should not be a concern. Virginia Tech’s biggest concern will just be scoring points after averaging just 22.5 points per game last season. And that’s the catch. Virginia Tech only allowed 19.3 points per game last season, so the Hokies probably should have won more than eight games. There is a chance to get off to a good start too, because the road trip at Ohio State looks much more manageable now with Braxton Miller out for the season.

4. Pittsburgh (Last year: 7-6; beat Bowling Green in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl)
Pittsburgh loses a monster on the defensive line with Aaron Donald now in the NFL, and the secondary is extremely thin in light of some offseason news, so to say the defense is a concern is putting it nicely for the Panthers. The Panthers also allowed more points per game than they scored, which tends to be a rarity for a team with a winning record.  If the defense can clamp down just a bit more, Pittsburgh could easily play their way to a Coastal title, although they will win ugly at times. Pittsburgh has young receiver Tyler Boyd, already one of the top receivers in the ACC, and a steady running stable of James Conner and Isaac Bennett. The schedule is also extremely favorable for Pittsburgh, with no Florida State or Clemson and home games against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke.

5. Duke (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas A&M in Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Let us not attempt to take anything away from the great work done in Durham by David Cutcliffe and his Blue Devils the last two seasons. Duke going to back-to-back bowl games was something that could once only be dreamed of. Can they get back to the postseason for a third straight year? Absolutely, but will the rest of the division and the typical football powers rebound a little to block a return trip to the ACC Championship? Duke was set to return 14 starters, but injuries have already taken a toll with an ACL tear to All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown and another to tight end Braxton Deaver. On top of that, Duke lost quarterback Brandon Connette to a transfer to Fresno State. All is not lost though. Duke still has receiver Jamison Crowder, one of the best in the ACC, and the schedule avoids Florida State and Clemson once again. No school in the country will have an easier October either.

6. Georgia Tech (Last year: 7-6; lost to Mississippi in Music City Bowl)
Georgia Tech’s strategy will be the same as it has always been under head coach Paul Johnson; Run, run, option run. Will the Yellow Jackets be able to use that offensive style effectively enough to take the heat off of Johnson? The depth on offense is not great, although six starters return from 2013. One starter not back this season is quarterback Vad Lee, who decided to transfer this offseason. That opens the door for sophomore Justin Thomas under center, and he played sparingly last season. The big concern will be the defense. Georgia Tech allowed just 22.8 points per game last season, the lowest average since 2008, but just four starters return for the new year. Georgia Tech may still have enough to make a run at the wide-open Coastal Division (avoiding Florida State on the schedule helps, and they get Clemson at home).

7. Virginia (Last year: 2-10)
If there is one coach that is latched into the hot seat in the ACC, it may just be Virginia’s Mike London. The head coach of the Cavaliers. Virginia lost their top offensive player in tight end Jake McGee (he went to Florida), so the need for returning players to step up in 2014 cannot be overstated. Virginia does return eight starters on offense, with a handful of young players scattered throughout. Running back Kevin Parks should be the focus of the offense after a 1,000-yard season with 11 touchdowns. The defense returns nine starters from 2013, and the hope is playing experience last season will help slow down a trend in allowing more points per game each of the past three seasons. The defense was gashed for 404 yards per game last season, the highest per-game average dating back to 2007. One positive might be the number of sacks (28) was the highest sack total for Virginia since recording 29 in 2008. But Virginia has a long way to go to improve on two wins from last season.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 16 Clemson

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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

THE GOOD
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.

THE BAD
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.

THE UNKNOWN
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)

 

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 19 Duke

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2013 record: 10-4 overall, 6-3 in ACC (1st in Coastal division)
2013 postseason: Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Texas A&M (52-48 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 23/No. 22
Head coach: David Cutcliffe (75-73 overall; 3144 in 6 years at Duke)
Offensive coordinator: Scottie Montgomery (First season as offensive coordinator)
2013 offensive rankings: 54th rushing offense (178 ypg); 50th passing offense (248.1 ypg); 47th total offense (426.1 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 8
Defensive coordinator: Jim Knowles (6th season as defensive coordinator)
2013 defensive rankings: 76th rushing defense (174.14 ypg); 84th passing defense (243.9 ypg); 83rd total defense (418.0 ypg); 64th scoring defense (26.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 6
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Stadium: Wallace Wade Stadium (33,941; Grass)
Last conference title: 1989 (shared with Virginia)

THE GOOD
Duke returns a good number of starters from last season, including star wide receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Braxton Deaver. The two should make for a strong 1-2 punch in the passing game with Anthony Boone taking on full-time responsibilities this fall. Boone brings a good amount of experience to the position and should feel comfortable despite a change in offensive coordinator. Dukes defense returns three starters in the secondary, a position that was ready to rise to the occasion in 2013. Duke also plays n a division that sees nobody ready to step up and grab firm control of the division race, something the program benefitted from at least in part last fall. Duke may not have the overall skill that others may have, but the ability to play together may be unrivaled in the ACC Coastal Division and that has to count for something at some point.

THE BAD
Duke’s defensive line was not particularly great in 2013 and now must replace three starters on the line. The line will see Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo move into a more prominent role after leading the Blue Devils in sacks in 013, but Duke needs to find a way to slow down opposing offenses capable of running the football to take the pressure off the secondary. Duke allowed a little more than four yards per play in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State and then allowed Texas A&M to storm back with some big plays in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The holes of the defense have been exposed, giving the Blue Devils something to work on in 2014 before taking whatever the next step is for the program.

THE UNKNOWN
How much of Duke’s success the past couple of seasons has been based on the work being done in Durham and how much has been influenced by the sputtering of the rest fo the ACC Coastal? In 2014, will Duke prove worthy of division champion favorite status or will Duke start to fall back in the wide open division as North Carolina, Miami or Virginia Tech potentially start to work back up the division?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Miami
Duke will get an early chance to set themselves apart from the rest of the ACC Coastal Division when they travel to Miami for a late-September contest, the first in ACC play for Duke. When they arrive in Miami Duke could (should) be 4-0 and already sniffing another bowl berth before flipping over to October. The contest against Miami could prove pivotal in the Coastal race so if Duke can slow down Duke Johnson‘s running and force any mistakes by a questionable quarterback situation, Duke could return home with a 5-0 record and feeling very good heading into a light and easy October with a pair of bye weeks to work with.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Wide receiver Jamison Crowder
Without much doubt, Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder is the most outstanding offensive player on the Blue Devils roster. Last season Crowder was second in the ACC in receiving with 1,360 yards (trailing only Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, who was pretty good too). Crowder will continue to be the go-to receiver for Duke and he will pile up the yardage along the way, proving why he was voted a preseason All-ACC receiver.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)