Dabo Swinney has built a legitimate powerhouse at Clemson and the Tigers don't appear to be going away anytime soon
The vast majority of college football programs would trade places with Clemson in a heartbeat. Three straight College Football Playoff appearances with a national title and another runner-up finish is something that is the envy of every school not located inside the Tuscaloosa city limits.
But the ending to the season was disappointing for the Clemson faithful. Alabama did not just beat Clemson, the Crimson Tide controlled every aspect of the game — especially after halftime — and for the first time in three seasons the Tigers will not be participating in the national championship game.
Still, it is wonderful to be a Clemson Tiger. And here are five reasons why next year (and the year after and the year after) are so very promising.
1. The Dabo culture
Clemson’s head man can be tough when he needs to be, just ask wide receiver Deon Cain, who was suspended just before the 2015 playoff. But the players love Swinney and it’s because they know that he loves them right back. The combination of discipline and understanding sparked the Clemson revival and now a belief in the system is fully entrenched. Plus, because of the wins and the culture, Clemson is getting even better players that fit the program. That combination is a sweet recipe for long-term success.
2. The quarterback position
Kelly Bryant (above, right) did not have a very good game against Alabama, but that does not change what he accomplished over the course of the 2017 season. In his first year as a starter, Bryant completed more than two thirds (67 percent) of his passes for just under 2,700 yards while also contributing to victories by running the ball. He should get even better but coming right along is a five-star prospect from the class of 2017 in Hunter Johnson and all-everything incoming freshman Trevor Lawrence. The QB tradition begun by Tajh Boyd and enhanced by Deshaun Watson will live on for several more years.
3. Limited attrition
Simply put, Clemson isn’t losing many players. Even factoring possible early departures for the NFL by defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, the Tigers will most likely only have to replace just six members of their starting 22. The defensive front seven, which will also lose do-it-all linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, faces the biggest reshaping. But led by Dexter Lawrence (right) and a host of young, talented athletes, Clemson should still be solid on the defensive line and at linebacker. The secondary should again be a strength and the offense loses just starting guard Tyrone Crowder.
4. Growth of the rising sophomore class
Receivers Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers saw their playing time blocked by productive veterans. Though those same seasoned pass catchers will be in place next fall, the two current freshmen will be a bigger part of the offense in 2018 after a year in the system. Running back Travis Etienne was sensational this year and will probably see his role increase next season. Defensive back A.J. Terrell also will see more action in his second year and watch for defensive end Xavier Kelly, a coveted prospect from Kansas that played sparingly as a redshirt freshman.
5. Stability of the coaching staff
Following the 2014 season, Clemson lost its entire defensive front seven including sack master Vic Beasley. But defensive coordinator Brent Venables put together another dominating defensive unit in 2015, one that helped the Tigers reach the national title game. After that season, Clemson lost stars Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd up front and the result was more nastiness and a championship crown. So while there may be turnover up front on defense, Venables remaining at Clemson despite a slew of head coaching opportunities is an important factor in maintaining an intimidating defense. On offense, co-coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott will be back, meaning the returning players will have comfort in knowing that the systems that have been so effective for the past three years will not be changed.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.