The Tigers are expecting big things in 2018. Coach Dabo Swinney is infamous for getting his team fired up for the big games and Clemson has a few of those this upcoming season. The talent level is elite across the board on both sides of the ball for the Tigers. Senior Kelly Bryant has been named the starter after an intense battle throughout fall camp with true freshman Trevor Lawrence. Bryant will be joined by five other starters on offense, including two on the offensive line. The defense is arguably the best in the nation for the 2018 season, especially the defensive line. Eight starters return on that side of the ball led by junior All-America defensive end Clelin Ferrell. Clemson has grown accustomed to college football playoff or bust type of mentality after reaching the post-season for three-straight years and that will be the expectation this fall.
Team strengths: The defensive line. Ferrell, along with Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant will wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, offensive linemen or whoever is lined up in the backfield. All four will be on NFL rosters around this time next year. The defense was No. 1 against the run in the ACC and 12th nationally. Bottom line, opposing teams won’t be able to run on the Tigers’ defense and opposing signal-callers better be on the lookout. Just imagine if Michigan star defensive end Rashaun Gary would’ve signed with the Tigers three years ago instead of the Wolverines!
Team weaknesses: Inexperience along the offensive line. With only two starters returning, the pressure will be on Bryant to get the ball to his receivers quickly instead of holding onto it for too long or trying to make a play with his feet as he often did last season. The offensive line and Bryant became a liability in last year’s losses to Syracuse and Alabama. If the boys up front can’t block for the quarterback its a domino effect on the offense, interrupting snaps and timing on throws. Clemson needs to do their best to avoid that scenario.
Players to watch: Running back Travis Etienne, wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, defensive ends A. Bryant and Ferrell. Etienne was electric with the ball in his hands as a true freshman last season for the Tigers. He led the Clemson with 13 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 766 yards. Renfrow is the veteran sure-handed receiver who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the national championship game two years ago. He led the team in receptions last season with 60 for 602 yards and three touchdowns. Renfrow’s body control is so fluid that he makes acrobatic catches look easy. A. Bryant had 58 tackles, including 15.5 from behind the line of scrimmage and 8.5 sacks last season. Ferrell added 63 tackles, including 18 for loss and 9.5 sacks. The two form the best pass rushing duo in the country.
The schedule: Favorable. Week two at Texas A&M against former Seminole coach Jimbo Fisher will be must-see television. Besides a road trip to Florida State in October every game is winnable and Clemson might run the table.
My take: Clemson has enough talent on both sides of the ball to get to its fourth-straight College Football Playoff. I’d be shocked if the Tigers don’t run the table this season. This team is that good.