The building of the Clemson brand is just about complete. The success of the past two seasons, culminating in a recent national championship, has proven to the college football world that the Tiger program has no ceiling.
Now, it is about maintaining the success and that can be as difficult as building a champion. The Tigers face the daunting task of replacing all-everything quarterback Deshaun Watson as well as several other stars that helped Clemson reach the promised land.
That replenishment started on Wednesday, National Signing Day. Here is a look at five things we learned about Clemson now that their 2017 recruits have put pen to paper and are officially part of the Tigers’ future.
1. The Class is Short in Numbers, Long in Talent
Despite losing a number of key components from last season’s title team, Clemson does not have a large total number of players walking out the door. There were only eight scholarship members of the senior class, meaning that even with the four early entries to the NFL, head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff could only sign 14 prospects. As a result, the team’s recruiting rankings were held down despite landing a very talented group of high school stars. But the average rating of each player would place them sixth in 247Sports’ Team Recruiting Rankings. Clemson may not have signed many, but those the Tigers got are really good.
2. Clemson Knows How to Fill Gaps
Even though the class is not large, it filled the gaps created by the departing players. The Tigers lose two quarterbacks, including arguably the best in the country. They signed two quarterbacks, including one of the highest-rated prep prospects. Wide receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott turned pro and Clemson brought in two quality replacements, including a 6-foot-4, five-star guy in Tee Higgins. Good-bye top running back Wayne Gallman, hello 5-foot-11, 210-pound Travis Etienne. On defense, Cordrea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson depart the secondary, A.J. Terrell and LeAnthony Williams arrive. Linebacker Ben Boulware’s spot has been taken by Logan Rudolph and with Carlos Watkins gone, Clemson added a couple of coveted defensive linemen. Clemson will certainly not get the same immediate production from the incoming freshmen that they got from the guys that graduated or left early. But from a roster management perspective, the Tigers’ coaching staff nailed it.
3. Clemson is on its Way to Being Quarterback U
First, it was Tajh Boyd. Then came the incomparable Deshaun Watson. Now Clemson has brought in Hunter Johnson, a five-star recruit that is the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the 247Sports Composite Rankings. Even though he enrolled early, as a true freshman Johnson will face an uphill battle to win the starting spot next year. And things will get even more difficult next year when Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2018 and a player some believe is a once-in-a-decade talent, slaps on the orange uniform. Without a doubt, Clemson is well positioned at quarterback going forward.
4. With Trevor Lawrence, the 2018 Class Could Be Special
Since the Tigers could only add a small number of players this year and they had 12 commitments before the 2016 season even began, the national championship did not have a big impact on this class. But the title is already having a major influence on the Class of 2018. Along with Lawrence, the Tigers have four other commitments, including two four-star players that committed this past weekend, picking Clemson over some of the other top programs in the country. Next year’s senior class will again be small, so for the second straight year Clemson's recruiting numbers may be down. But the talent level may be even better than this year’s group.
5. The New Football Complex is Amazing
When South Carolina built its new football facility a few years ago, the Gamecocks got a leg up on their rivals to the Northwest. But now, not only have the Tigers blown by their in-state competition, but they have a claim on boasting the best football facilities in the entire country. The brand-new, $55 million Allen N. Reeves Football Complex was unveiled for the first time on National Signing Day and it includes a 20,000-square foot weight room, dining rooms with a state-of-the-art nutrition center, and a high-tech rehab and training area. Also, the players will enjoy a movie theater, nap rooms and a plunge pool. Clemson is investing its recent riches to achieve future success.
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of Clemson Football's Facebook page)