Can Christian Wilkins and the Tigers win enough games to have a shot at another national title?
The 2017 college football season is about to begin and it will get exciting really quickly for Clemson fans. On Sept. 2, the 81,500 in attendance at Death Valley will honor the defending national champions in their first game since winning the title in January. Then in week two, the Auburn Tigers – along with their lofty expectations – will come rolling into town.
Speaking of lofty expectations, after the success of the past two seasons, Dabo Swinney has put Clemson in a position where his Tigers will be looked upon as a national contender every year. Despite the significant personnel losses, 2017 will be no different. Clemson should once again be among the nation’s best teams this fall.
But just how good will the defending national champions be? Athlon polled a few writers for their take on the Tigers’ realistic win/loss projections in 2017.
Clemson Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
Clemson may win in different ways this year, but I still think the Tigers are going to win a lot. The defense is going to be very strong and there are still plenty of weapons on offense to go with a very good offensive line. Obviously, the quarterback position needs to be settled, but the pieces are in place for another big year. It’s not like the Tigers won’t be tested, though. Auburn will come into Clemson with a lot of confidence, playing at Lane Stadium is never easy, and Georgia Tech has a lot returning on both sides of the ball. Of course the big game will be against Florida State. I like Clemson in that game because I’m not sure how well the FSU offensive line will be able to block the Tigers’ defensive front. Plus, the game is in Clemson. I do think the Tigers could be caught looking ahead to the Seminoles when they go to Raleigh the week prior and will get bitten by an improved Wolfpack squad. Still, I see Clemson winning the Atlantic and playing in the ACC Championship Game for the third year in a row.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Despite losing Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman and Ben Boulware, Dabo Swinney’s team is still one of the nation’s top teams in 2017. The Tigers have more than enough talent to return to the College Football Playoff, provided the right pieces fall into place on offense. Junior Kelly Bryant leads the battle to replace Watson under center, and he’s surrounded by a solid supporting cast at receiver and by one of the nation’s top offensive lines. Once again, the defense will rank among the best in college football. A line that’s anchored by Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence is No. 1 in the nation, while junior Kendall Joseph anchors the linebacker unit. A potential obstacle to a third consecutive playoff bid is the schedule. Clemson hosts Auburn in non-conference play in Week 2, which is a huge barometer test for the new starters (including Bryant). The Tigers also have road tests at Louisville, Virginia Tech, NC State and South Carolina and face Florida State in Death Valley on Nov. 11.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
So much of the offseason discussion around Clemson has been about who the team lost off of their national championship squad but that does a disservice to what Dabo Swinney has built with this team and who remains on the roster for 2017. Yes, there should be concerns about fresh faces at quarterback and on the defense plus replacing some of the key leadership that guided the team to the mountain top. But the Tigers still have explosive playmakers like Deon Cain and the nation’s best defensive line that should be even better with youngsters Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence spending another offseason in the program. Some regression is expected but this is still going to be a team that will be in the running to make it to a third straight title game.
Adam Kurkjian (@AdamKurkjian)
It's possible that, by the end of the season, the Tigers are near the level of play that they've grown accustomed to over the past few years under head coach Dabo Swinney.
However, at the moment, it's hard not to imagine a slow start, especially considering the schedule they face in the early going.
A year ago, the Tigers limped a little out of the gate, and that was with a much more experienced group, most notably quarterback Deshaun Watson, who's now with the Houston Texans. His replacement, who currently has yet to be named, will likely need a few games to get his bearings. But a home date with what should be an improved Auburn team and road trip to a Louisville squad that nearly knocked the Tigers off in Death Valley last year could be losses.
The line play on both sides of the ball should hold up the rest of the team until everything else comes together. The defensive front, in particular, is the best in the country. Maybe, by the time Florida State visits on the second weekend of November, the skill spots catch up. For now, though, this appears to be a team that is still in the nation's upper echelon, but not quite in the College Football Playoff.
Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
Clemson should have a very good offensive line, but when it comes to players at the skill positions, the Tigers are replacing a lot. Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett are all gone and Clemson still hasn't decided on a quarterback.
The good news for Clemson is that the defense and particularly the defensive line will be one of the best units in the country. Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins lead a deep front and are virtually unblockable.
As far as the schedule goes, things are tough early. Clemson hosts Auburn in Week 2 and visits Louisville one week later. The Tigers have the luxury of getting Auburn at night and have the horses to contain Louisville's Lamar Jackson. The date to circle on the calendar however, is Nov. 11 against Florida State. The winner of that game has gone on to win the ACC every year since 2011.