Clemson is coming off its best three-year stretch in school history, recording 32 wins and an Orange Bowl victory during that span. The Tigers have to rebuild on offense with the departure of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, but there is enough returning on both sides of the ball to expect another top-25 team. New quarterback Cole Stoudt has experience, and the defense is loaded with talent. And it certainly doesn’t hurt Clemson has a favorable schedule, which could allow it to win 10 games once again in 2014.
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Previewing Clemson’s Offense for 2014:
This fall, change is the biggest constant for Clemson’s offense. Sure, offensive coordinator Chad Morris, the man behind the hurry-up, no-huddle, high-tempo system that averaged 40.2 points and 5
07.7 yards per game in 2013, is back for his fourth season running the Tigers’ offense. But most of the key weapons that fueled that run are gone. Quarterback Tajh Boyd, the ACC’s second-leading all-time passer, graduat
ed. Gamebreaking wideout Sammy Watkins left early for the NFL, and standout deep threat Martavis Bryant followed. Rod McDowell, a 1,000-yard rusher, also graduated, leaving the Tigers in the unenviable position of replacing their top passer, rusher and top two receivers.
However, Clemson has recruited well and believes in reloading, not rebuilding. Steady senior quarterback Cole Stoudt (79.7 percent completion rate in 2013) ended spring leading true freshman DeShaun Watson in the race to replace Boyd. That followed Chad Kelly’s post-spring dismissal after a spring-game sideline blowup, the last straw in what coach Dabo Swinney called “a pattern of behavior that was not consistent with the values of our program.”
Sophomore wideout Mike Williams has drawn comparisons to former NFL first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins, and senior Adam Humphries is a steady presence. Coaches are high on a trio of freshman early enrollees: Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott.
If a lead back can emerge from the pack of junior Zac Brooks, senior D.J. Howard and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman, and the new receivers are capable, the Tigers will be dangerous.
Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast Previews the Clemson Tigers for 2014:
Order a copy of Athlon's 2014 ACC Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.Previewing Clemson’s Defense for 2014:
Entering his third season, defensive co-coordinator Brent Venables has turned Clemson’s defense from a liability into a strength. Venables’ defense is smart and aggressive and knows its assignments.
The core of that defense returns, highlighted by most of the defensive line two-deep. Senior end Vic Beasley (13 sacks as a junior) is one of the nation’s top pass-rushers, a consensus All-American who turned down a chance to enter the NFL Draft. Senior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is a run-stuffer and underrated talent.
The Tigers’ linebackers are also deeper than when Venables arrived three years ago. Senior Stephone Anthony is the leading returning tackler, with 131 tackles (13.5 for loss) and four sacks. He rebounded from a disappointing sophomore year to become a defensive leader, fierce tackler and impressive presence in the middle of the field. Former five-star recruit Tony Steward appears primed to step in for graduated senior Spencer Shuey (119 tackles in 2013).
In the secondary, Clemson will miss junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland, a gritty player who left early for the NFL Draft. But senior Martin Jenkins showed toughness in playing through wrist and shoulder injuries and is an excellent cover man, and touted redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander appears primed for a breakthrough.
Previewing Clemson’s Specialists for 2014:
With the departure of kicker Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson must replace the ACC’s No. 2 all-time scorer. Junior Ammon Lakip, who left the program briefly last summer, has a strong leg and is the favorite to replace Catanzaro. Junior Bradley Pinion is consistent and has a booming leg.
Clemson has established itself as one of the nation’s most consistent programs with three consecutive 10-win seasons and back-to-back 11-win seasons. But the Tigers have yet to solve rivals Florida State and South Carolina, going 0–4 against them in the past two years. Swinney and Co. have a stingy, improving defense and the talent to replace major offensive losses, but it’s hard to see how this group could take the leap from consistent program to national title contender this fall.
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Five Reasons Why Athlon Sports is Picking Clemson No. 21
1. Chad Morris back as the team’s offensive coordinator
Despite receiving interest from programs to be a head coach, Morris is back in Death Valley for 2014. Morris is regarded as one of the top offensive minds in college football, and his return should ensure Clemson’s offense doesn’t suffer too much despite the loss of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.
2. Best defensive line in the ACC
It’s hard to pick against Florida State at any position, but Clemson’s defensive line could be among the nation’s best in 2014. End Vic Beasley is back after recording 23 tackles for a loss, while tackle Grady Jarrett should be one of the top interior linemen in the ACC. There’s also quality depth, and this unit registered nearly three sacks a game in 2013 (2.9).
3. Favorable schedule
Yes, the opener at Georgia, the finale against South Carolina and ACC games against Florida State and North Carolina in September are a challenge, but Clemson has enough winnable games on the 2014 slate to push for 10 wins. Louisville is a key swing game for the Tigers, but the Cardinals have to come to Death Valley.
4. Offensive line concerns
Clemson’s roster doesn’t have many holes, but the line is a concern with the departure of tackle Brandon Thomas and guard Tyler Shatley. Center Ryan Norton is the anchor, and there’s talent returning with Isaiah Battle, David Beasley, Shaq Anthony and Kalon Davis. But how quickly will this unit mesh with Beasley and Anthony suspended for the opener?
5. Cole Stoudt should be solid at quarterback
Tajh Boyd leaves big shoes to fill at Clemson, but Stoudt appears to be a capable replacement. In relief work last year, Stoudt completed 47 of 59 passes for 415 yards and five touchdowns. Asking Stoudt to replicate Boyd’s numbers is a tough assignment. However, with experience, mobility and a good grasp of the offense, Stoudt should have a solid senior year.