Clemsonhas made a habit of getting into the College Football Playoff and those expectations haven't changed for 2018. Dabo Swinney has built one of the nation's most talented and consistent programs, allowing Clemson to reload instead of rebuild even though it's replacing seven starters on both sides of the ball. There's some uncertainty at quarterback but no lack of talented options, a familiar theme throughout this roster. The defense is in much better shape, headlined by an NFL-caliber front. Even with a few question marks, Swinney's team has earned its status as not only the team to beat in the ACC but also one of the elite programs in the nation.
Previewing Clemson Football's Offense for 2018
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Dealing with an offseason of disappointment following a 12-2 record qualifies as a first-world problem, but a 24-6 dismantling at the hands of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl sent a painful jolt through a program that is not accustomed to such misery. Where Deshaun Watson's wizardry delivered a national title in 2016 and darned near another in 2015, last season presented a lesson: Watson, Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett and others were really freaking good.
The arrival of stud quarterback Trevor Lawrence introduced a fascinating subplot that lasted the entire offseason and will probably stretch into the season. Incumbent Kelly Bryant performed far better than anyone anticipated as a first-year starter, and his running ability is hard for most defenses to contain. But the Tigers are probably going to have to be more explosive in the downfield passing game to close the deal and knock off elite postseason competition. And the lavishly talented Lawrence brings precisely that quality.
The receiving corps has lost a load of talent the last two years, but they don't call Clemson "Wide Receiver U." for nothing. Junior Diondre Overton and sophomore Tee Higgins are poised for breakout seasons. Amari Rodgers and Derion Kendrick are more than capable. And don't forget about little Hunter Renfrow.
The offensive line lost guards Tyrone Crowder and Taylor Hearn, but there's enough talent up front to open holes for dynamic backs Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne.
Previewing Clemson Football's Defense for 2018
This is just unfair. The Tigers would've been hard to block even if Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant had gone pro. None of them did, meaning this is basically an NFL starting line when you add junior Dexter Lawrence to the equation. This defensive line just comes at you in waves, and Brent Venables should be able to rotate frequently this season with an assortment of backups who would be starters at most other places. Freshmen K.J. Henry and Xavier Thomas bring even more elite talent at end.
Outside linebacker Dorian O'Daniel is gone after a monster senior season, and he was extraordinarily versatile. But coaches are intrigued about the idea of rangy, fast Isaiah Simmons holding up against the run while also performing well covering slot receivers.
The linebacker corps is anchored by senior Kendall Joseph and junior Tre Lamar, who bring a nasty, physical edge. There's plenty of depth behind them, too.
The secondary endured a wave of injuries last year, and it needs to stay healthy in 2018 after losing Ryan Carter, Van Smith and Marcus Edmond. At corner there's no experience behind Trayvon Mullen, A.J. Terrell and Mark Fields, but freshmen Kyler McMichael and Mario Goodrich are deemed capable of providing immediate backup help. K'Von Wallace and Tanner Muse are solid starters at safety, but depth is an issue there too.
Previewing Clemson Football's Specialists for 2018
Kicker Greg Huegel is back after missing most of last season with a torn ACL. Punter Will Spiers was a valuable weapon as a freshman. The Tigers need to replace Ray-Ray McCloud's explosiveness on punt returns.
Upsets happen, as Clemson knows after losing to Syracuse last year and Pitt in 2016. But this team is just so much more talented than almost everyone it will play. A fourth consecutive playoff appearance seems like the baseline for this team. Clemson-Bama Part 4 sounds fun.