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You can read the entire team preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 ACC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
ACC Atlantic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dabo Swinney, 29-19 (3+ years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chad Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brent Venables
The defense drew a lot of the blame for four losses in the final six games of 2011, but the offense wasn’t exactly lighting it up during that stretch. It started with a line that couldn’t open holes or pass protect. The Tigers rushed for fewer than 100 yards in four of their last five regular-season games and allowed 17 sacks over the last six games — including a total of 11 in blowout losses to NC State and South Carolina. After committing eight turnovers during an 8–0 start, Clemson totaled 16 giveaways thereafter. Add in a large number of three-and-outs during the late-season swoon, and there were plenty of things for Chad Morris to address during the offseason.
This offense was electric at times thanks to the presence of quarterback Tajh Boyd, receiver Sammy Watkins and others in Morris’ up-tempo, big-play attack. But Morris expects more in his second year as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator.
After throwing for 24 touchdowns and three interceptions in the first eight games, Boyd tossed nine touchdowns and nine interceptions thereafter.
Tailback Andre Ellington is back for his senior year after seriously considering an early jump to the pros, and his return is a major boost for the Tigers’ backfield. When healthy, Ellington is an elite weapon who can make one cut through a small crease and turn on the afterburners for a long run. Depth in the backfield is a question mark, especially after Mike Bellamy was ruled ineligible for 2012.
The line lost a bunch of experience, but that might not be such a bad thing given the mediocre play of those experienced players. Tyler Shatley has fit in well at right guard after moving over from defense. Gifford Timothy was a big spring surprise at right tackle, but the jury is still out on him. Left guard Kalon Davis needs to be more consistent to keep Morris from sweating. Brandon Thomas will kick out from left guard to left tackle.
The receiving corps is among the most talented in the nation, with Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Jaron Brown headlining.
Will Clemson Repeat as ACC Champions in 2012?
Coordinator Brent Venables came from Oklahoma and is getting paid a bunch of money ($800 grand per year) to turn around the Tigers’ defense. There’s nowhere to go but up after last year’s miserable showing under Kevin Steele.
The linebacking corps should be much improved after struggling the past two seasons. There’s just too much talent for them not to be better, and a simpler system under Venables should help Tig Willard, Quandon Christian, Stephone Anthony and Co.
The interior defensive line faces big questions after the loss of Brandon Thompson, Rennie Moore and Shatley, but Venables likes the fight and work ethic of his returning guys. The Tigers can’t afford an injury to ends Malliciah Goodman or Corey Crawford, because depth is shaky behind them.
The secondary is talented but needs to show it can cover after countless breakdowns in 2011. Look out for freshman Travis Blanks, who could be on the field a lot as a nickel back.
TE Dwayne Allen
Allen was a consensus first-team All-American last year and won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end. He chose not to return for his senior year after catching 50 passes for 598 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011.
Tajh Boyd, QB—First-team All-ACC in 2011 and finished with 33 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions. Not bad for a first-year starter.
Sammy Watkins, WR—Clemson’s coaches knew they had a star when they signed him, but they didn’t think he’d be that good that early.
Andre Ellington, RB—Had few holes to run through late last season but should benefit from more use of the Pistol formation.
|Sept. 8th||Ball State|
|Sept. 22nd||at Florida State|
|Sept. 29th||at Boston College|
|Oct. 6th||Georgia Tech|
|Oct. 20th||Virginia Tech|
|Oct. 25th||at Wake Forest|
|Nov. 3rd||at Duke|
|Nov. 17th||North Carolina State|
|Nov. 24th||South Carolina|
Clemson’s placekicking is in good shape with Chandler Catanzaro. Spencer Benton and freshman Bradley Pinion are battling for the punting job vacated by Dawson Zimmerman. There’s no shortage of big-play return men for the Tigers, including Watkins and Hopkins.
The questions up front on both sides of the ball create concern, but there’s a lot of talent in this program right now. The trip to Tallahassee will be a bear, but otherwise the schedule is manageable. This team is capable of repeating as ACC champs if it avoids injuries in the wrong places.