Clemson came into the 2018 college football season as the clear-cut favorite to win the ACC and things played out exactly according to plan. For the fourth year in a row, the Tigers (13-0, 8-0 ACC) are league champs and have earned a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Considering what the competition was like in the ACC this year, now comes the hard part. But Clemson is up to the challenge. While most consider Alabama as the team to beat after the Crimson Tide escaped Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, here are five reasons why the guys in orange will be hoisting another trophy on Jan. 7, 2019.
5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Win the College Football Playoff
1. The defensive line
With Clemson, it always starts there. Much like the team as a whole, the defensive line of Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell (ACC Defensive Player of the Year) and Dexter Lawrence came into the season with a lot of hype. And also like the team as a whole, those four delivered. The Clemson defense ranked in the top four in scoring defense, rushing defense, sacks and tackles for lost yardage. Those lofty defensive rankings are primarily based off the play of the front four. Plus, there’s depth along the defensive line. Xavier Thomas has shined at end as a true freshman and Albert Huggins and Nyles Pinckney can get the job done inside. No matter what kind of offensive line is on the other side, this group can wreck games.
2. The linebackers aren’t bad either
The line gets all the credit, but the defenders on Clemson’s second level are top-notch as well. Isaiah Simmons is a versatile performer that has excelled playing closer to the line this season, Kendall Joseph is a team leader that is stout against the run and is a more than capable blitzer, and Tre Lamar is a Butkus Award finalist. With the linemen getting so much attention, the linebackers have room to roam and as a result Simmons, Joseph and Lamar are the three top tacklers on the team.
3. Big-play potential in the passing game
Last season, quarterback Kelly Bryant was solid and did a good job leading the offense. But with Trevor Lawrence now at the helm, the Clemson offense can strike from anywhere on the field. Wide receiver Tee Higgins has become one of the true big-play threats in the ACC, as he has 14 receptions for more than 20 yards. Freshman Justyn Ross also has emerged as a prolific downfield option. Lawrence has a big, accurate arm and has some weapons that can get open behind the defense.
4. Travis Etienne and the running backs
The passing game is not the only way Clemson’s offense can get big chunk yardage, as evidenced by the first play of the ACC Championship Game. Etienne had a monster year, rushing for 1,464 yards and 21 touchdowns as he was named ACC Player and Offensive Player of the Year. The sophomore was second nationally in the number of rushing plays of over 20 yards and he is not the only dangerous runner in the Clemson backfield. Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice have had big moments at Clemson and freshman Lyn-J Dixon looks like a star of the future, as he was second on the team with 536 rushing yards. The balance of rushing and passing makes this an elite offense.
5. The Tigers are not scared of Alabama
It is true that the Crimson Tide did pound the Tigers in last year’s semifinal. But there are a ton of good memories of the victory over Bama in the 2016 title game bouncing around in the Clemson players’ heads. They also remember that they were just a play or two away from beating the Tide in 2015. And if Dabo Swinney’s guys feel that they can beat Alabama, they certainly have no doubts that they can take down Notre Dame on Dec. 29 in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, which will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. This is a supremely confident group and that is necessary if you are looking to win a national championship.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.