Due to the current circumstances, Clemson's football schedule, like everyone else's in college football this year, looks very different. The Tigers will be playing Notre Dame in a conference game. There are no divisions in the ACC so it doesn't matter that Clemson won't be playing Atlantic rivals Louisville and NC State. As a matter of fact, the Tigers will have more games against Coastal teams than Atlantic squads.
But as some things change — at least for this year — other things stay the same. As has been the case since 2015, Clemson is a serious contender for the national championship. They are No. 1 in Athlon Sports' rankings and they also hold that honor in the preseason Coaches Poll.
With the change in schedule, it presents a unique look for Dabo Swinney's guys. Some of us at Athlon are here to tell you whether we think Clemson is up for the challenge.
Clemson Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Dabo Swinney’s team fell short of winning back-to-back titles after a loss to LSU last season, but the Tigers are primed for another run at the trophy in 2020. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne are back for one more year in Death Valley, headlining an offense that ranks among the best in college football. Play-caller Tony Elliott doesn’t have many concerns about the offense, but the line features four new starters and the receiving corps needs playmakers to emerge after Justyn Ross was lost for the year due to injury. Clemson’s defense is also overflowing with talent, and despite some personnel losses in the back seven, don’t expect this unit to fall from last season’s production (13.5 points a game allowed). The revamped ACC schedule still features a trip to Notre Dame in early November, but the rest of the slate is very manageable. It will be a major surprise if Clemson loses a game before the CFB Playoff.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Clemson was already looking at replacing 10 starters, seven of which were NFL draft picks, before wide receiver Justyn Ross was lost for the season due to injury and defensive end Xavier Thomas decided to redshirt due to complications after he contracted COVID-19. But the best teams in the country don't rebuild, they reload, and as long as the Tigers have studs like Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne leading the way on offense and a bevy of highly regarded recruits waiting in the wings to fill other holes, Dabo Swinney's team will be a threat. And let's face it, Clemson has dominated the ACC for five straight years and even with Notre Dame joining this season I don't expect that to change. The only thing I see getting in the Tigers' way of another shot at a national title is a significant injury (or the season getting shut down).
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
For those people that want to see Clemson go down, there are holes that can be poked. Except for left tackle Jackson Carman, the offensive line will have all new starters. The injury to Justyn Ross makes the receiving corps, outside of veteran Amari Rodgers, very green. Linebacker James Skalski and corner Derion Kendrick are the only returning starters in the defensive back seven.
But of course, let's not kid ourselves. Clemson is loaded. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne alone are able to make the offense hum. The inexperienced receivers are also exceptionally talented. Most of the new starters along the O-line have been part of a rotation in the past and have played a fair amount of snaps. On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is so strong that it will make up for some possible deficiencies on the next two levels. And most importantly, few can rebuild a defense like coordinator Brent Venables.
The game at Notre Dame won't be easy, but on the whole Clemson got some breaks with the scheduling. The Tigers won't be playing Louisville and North Carolina, missing perhaps the next two best teams in the ACC after themselves and the Irish. They do go to Tallahassee and Blacksburg, but Clemson doesn't fear road games and home-field advantage will be mitigated this year.
Whether or not Clemson will win another national title, I'm not sure. What Clemson and everyone else looks like by the postseason is anyone's guess. But the Tigers will be victorious in all of their scheduled games and will again earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.