Clemson is coming off the best two-year stretch in school history, but the program’s sights are set even higher in 2013.
With quarterback Tajh Boyd turning down the NFL for one more year in Death Valley, the Tigers are the preseason favorite to win the ACC title. In addition to Boyd, Clemson returns 12 other starters, including receiver Sammy Watkins and a handful of key defenders.
With a favorable schedule, the Tigers are positioned to make a run at the national title. A Florida State team that’s reloading on both sides of the ball will be Clemson’s toughest ACC opponent, while Georgia and South Carolina are in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
If Clemson can navigate its schedule for a 13-0 mark, this team should be in a good position to play for the national title. With games against potential top-10 teams in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State, the Tigers have opportunities for quality wins.
What will be Clemson’s record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Clemson's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
9/7 So. Carolina State
9/19 at NC State*
9/28 Wake Forest*
10/5 at Syracuse*
10/12 Boston College*
10/19 Florida State*
10/26 at Maryland*
11/2 at Virginia*
11/14 Ga. Tech*
11/23 The Citadel
11/30 at S. Carolina
* Indicates ACC game.
John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), Atlantic Coast Convos
If you're an ACC team, this is exactly how you need to lay out your schedule in order to compete for a National Championship. The Georgia and South Carolina bookends keep you top-of-mind for the media at both the start and end of the season, making it very likely the Palmetto State will be hosting ESPN's College Gameday multiple times this season, too. Clemson also received a gift with a couple weeks or so in between each of the four real challenges on this slate (Georgia, Florida State, Georgia Tech, South Carolina). I see Clemson going 1-1 against the two SEC teams, and while I picked them to beat UGA and lose to SC, you could easily flip that around, too. Unsure which is better for the team's title hopes, though: losing in the first or the last game. But with Tajh Boyd at quarterback, they may not have to worry about losing either contest.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
The opener against Georgia is a toss-up, but the Bulldogs have a checkered past with some of these high-profile opening games (see: Boise State and Oklahoma State). I like Clemson at home with the Bulldogs missing safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. Hard to believe Clemson hasn’t lost back-to-back games to Florida State in more than a decade, but I’ll take FSU coming off the bye week. The big surprise may be a loss to Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets give Clemson fits, handing the Tigers their first loss of 2011. Paul Johnson is 3-2 against Dabo Swinney, and Clemson has won seven of the last 10 overall.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Clemson might boast the best offense in the nation with an elite quarterback-wide receiver combination, a veteran offensive line and innovative play-caller pulling the strings. This team should be playing for an ACC title on Championship Saturday regardless of what happens in the two huge SEC bookends. The Tigers beat two such opponents last year — LSU and Auburn — and will have to do it again if it wants to be in the national title mix in 2013. While that seems unlikely, a one-loss, ACC title, BCS bowl bid campaign would have to be viewed as a major success.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Clemson has to be considered one of the top-10 teams to have a chance to win the national championship this year. Even though Florida State has plenty of time to reload on both sides of the ball by Oct. 19, I don’t see the Tigers losing in conference play. And if Clemson runs the table in the ACC, it essentially sets up a two-game schedule to stay in the national title picture. With Georgia’s defense breaking in a handful of new starters, the Tigers are playing the Bulldogs at the right time in the season opener. However, Clemson has lost four straight to South Carolina, and I think the Gamecocks make it five in a row in 2013.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Nothing too surprising out of my projections for Clemson this season. I don't believe the Tigers will go a perfect 8-0 in league play during the regular season, but I had trouble identifying which game (or games) they will lose. If you are looking for a potential upset, watch out for the trip to Maryland in late October. The opener against Georgia is obviously a huge game for both teams. It's a good time to play Georgia — the Dawgs will be breaking in a bunch of new starters on defense and will be without linebacker/safety Josh Harvey-Clemons — but it will hard for the Clemson defense to slow down the Georgia offense, which can be devastating on the ground and through the air.
I like Clemson a lot this season, especially on offense. The ACC Atlantic Division will most likely come down to the Tigers and Seminoles, and I am giving Clemson the edge based on the game with FSU being at home. Clemson's national title hopes will come down to the two non-conference games against the SEC, which just so happen to bookend its regular season. I think it's too much to ask of this Tigers team to beat both SEC powerhouses, as I have some skepticism of just how improved Brent Venables' defense will be. So I am going to play it safe and give Clemson a split against Georgia and South Carolina with the win coming over the hated, in-state rival Gamecocks. I know that's how Dabo Swinney would want it if he had to choose between the two.
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