#6 Clemson Football 2017 Preview

Clemson Tigers
Overall Rank: #6
#2 ACC
Coach Dabo Swinney has built a consistent winner at Clemson and it culminated with a National Championship last season. The Tigers lost to Pittsburgh late in the regular season, but they beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game and reached the playoffs. After crushing Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl 31-0, Clemson slipped past Alabama 35-31 to win the title.
2016 Record: 14-1, 7-1
2016 Bowl: Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State (W 31-0) National Championship Game vs. Alabama (W 35-31)
Coach: Dabo Swinney (89-28 at Clemson, 89-28 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tony Elliott, Jeff Scott
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Venables
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Tavien Feaster, RB, 221 yards
Passing: Kelly Bryant, QB, 48 yards
Receiving: Deon Cain, WR, 724 yards
Tackles: Kendall Joseph, LB, 124
Sacks: Dexter Lawrence, DT, 7.0
Interceptions: Van Smith, S, 2
Other Key Returnees: WR Hunter Renfrow, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, OL Tyrone Crowder, OL Mitch Hyatt, DT Christian Wilkins, DE Clelin Ferrell, K Greg Huegel
Key Losses: RB Wayne Gallman, QB Deshaun Watson, WR Mike Williams, WR Jordan Leggett, OL Jay Guillermo, DT Carlos Watkins, LB Ben Boulware, CB Cordrea Tankersley, S Jadar Johnson
The Clemson offense is going to look extremely different without quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Wayne Gallman and wide receiver Mike Williams. Junior Kelly Bryant is likely to take over for Watson at quarterback, although freshmen Hunter Johnson has a great arm and is the future of the program. Both Bryant and Johnson are mobile quarterbacks who fit into the Clemson system. At running back, C.J. Fuller and Tavien Feaster will look to replace Gallman’s 1,133 rushing yards. Fuller is the bruising back, while Feaster is the promising sophomore who has proven that he can run the ball. Feaster just needs to work on his blocking before Coach Swinney will give him the bulk of the carries. At wide receiver Deon Cain is a great deep threat. He caught just 38 passes last season, but they went for 724 yards and nine touchdowns. Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow are proven options too.
While the offense reloads, the defense will carry the Tigers. Last year Clemson ranked in the top ten nationally in total defense and scoring defense and this year should be even better. The line is absolutely loaded. Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins may be the best defensive tackle duo in the country. They will be flanked by Austin Bryant and Cielin Ferrell, who had a breakout game in the national championship. Kendall Joseph highlights the group of linebackers after tallying 124 tackles in 2016. Dorian O’Daniel was a regular starter last season too and totaled 60 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 10.0 tackles-for-loss. Clemson is loaded at cornerback. Ryan Carter, Marcus Edmond, Mark Fields and Trayvon Mullen are all experienced players who will battle it out for playing time. Van Smith recorded 114 tackles from his free safety position in 2016 and will again be one of the best tacklers on the team and Tanner Muse is ready to step into the starting strong safety spot after a very promising freshman campaign.
The Bottom Line:
Clemson has a great defense that will keep them in games while the offense retools. However, there is not much time for Coach Swinney to find his new offensive playmaker with games against Auburn and Louisville in week two and week three. The biggest game could again be against Florida State on November 11th. As usual that one will have ACC Atlantic Division title implications. This is not a Clemson team that is as dangerous as they were last year, but the program is one of the best in the country now and Clemson will reload. Even a down season should still result in Clemson competing for a major bowl, an ACC title and a shot at the playoffs. And you can be sure this group will not give up their reign as national champions without a fight.
Projected Bowl: Orange Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 169.7 (71st in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 333.9 (7, 1)
Total Offense: 503.7 (12, 2)
Scoring Offense: 39.2 (14, 3)
Rushing Defense: 129.6 (24, 6)
Pass Defense: 181.9 (14, 2)
Total Defense: 311.5 (8, 1)
Scoring Defense: 18.0 (10, 1)
Turnover Margin: -0.07 (71, 8)
Sacks: 3.27 (10, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.33 (22, 4)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#6        Christian Wilkins
#17      Deon Cain
#35      Mitch Hyatt
#63      Clelin Ferrell
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#15      Tee Higgins
#25      Hunter Johnson
#68      AJ Terrell
#71      Amari Rodgers
#99      Justin Foster
#164    LeAnthony Williams
#184    Jordan Williams
#226    Chase Brice