It wasn't a completely smooth ride during the course of the season, but here we are in December and the defending national champions are the No. 1 seed going into the College Football Playoff. After dismantling Miami to win the ACC championship, the Clemson Tigers are primed to take home the big prize this year as well.
The Tigers will once again tangle with Alabama, and either Oklahoma or Georgia will be a formidable foe in the title game. But here are five reasons why Clemson will become the first school since Alabama in 2011 and '12 to claim consecutive national championships.
5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Win the College Football Playoff
1. Defensive line
Mounds of praise has been heaped upon the Clemson defensive line over the past two years and the dominating performance against Miami on Saturday night proved that all the gushing reviews are justified. Tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence (above, right) were nasty once again and Clelin Ferrell was his usual disruptive self. Austin Bryant barely showed up on the stat sheet, but the senior end has had a huge campaign and also boasts a postseason pedigree. While the big four play the vast majority of the snaps, there is some depth waiting their turn. This is arguably the best defensive line in America. and if someone beats Clemson it will be by limiting the damage done by the Tigers' defensive front.
2. Defensive versatility
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is not married to one scheme and the diversity of his game plan is always hard to crack. Of course, for his system to work, Clemson has to have defenders that can do many different things. Safeties Tanner Muse and Isaiah Simmons have the size to sneak up close to the line of scrimmage, but also are solid in coverage. Dorian O’Daniel emerged as a star this year by not missing tackles, showing an ability to rush the passer, and being an effective cover linebacker. The Clemson defense’s ability to show multiple looks — and to be so effective in every situation — is a primary reason why the Tigers are No. 2 in the country in scoring defense (12.8 ppg).
3. Kelly Bryant’s development
The junior quarterback capped off a very strong season with a sensational performance in the ACC Championship Game. He has always been a threat running the ball, but he is now becoming a dangerous passer as well. Bryant (right) completed his first 15 throws against the Hurricanes and those completions accounted for 164 yards. In total, Bryant was 23 of 29 for 253 yards and a score. The Clemson pass catchers are a dangerous bunch and he is now getting them the ball in ideal spots. Everyone is aware that Clemson’s worst games this season — highlighted by the loss to Syracuse — occurred when Bryant was banged up. He is healthy now and has the look of a championship quarterback.
4. Offensive line
The 26 sacks allowed is in the middle of the pack nationally, but the protection has been much better since the loss at Syracuse. Tiger quarterbacks were sacked just four times in the regular season’s final five games and though Miami got to the quarterback four times in the ACC Championship Game, Bryant had time when he needed to make plays. Beyond giving their quarterback upright, the running game became a force in the latter part of the regular season. The Clemson offense has become well balanced and that is due in large part to the success of the offensive line in both pass and run blocking.
5. It’s the playoff and this is Clemson
It’s the Tigers' time of year. Clemson not only knows what it’s like to be in the playoff; the Tigers know what it takes to win it all. But really, it’s more than just the championship they won last year; it’s how the coaching staff pieced things together after midseason slumps. After the loss to Pittsburgh late in 2016, head coach Dabo Swinney righted the ship and Clemson played their best football leading into the four-team tournament. A similar scenario unfolded this fall as after falling at Syracuse, Clemson has ascended to the top seed in the playoff and is now the team to beat. With their top-end talent combined with high-level preparation, the Tigers will take home the third national title in program history.
— 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.