It's all right there for them again. After winning two national titles in three years and despite losing a slew of defensive stars, Clemson is once again in everyone's top two entering the 2019 season. It would be a major surprise if come the first Sunday in December that Clemson is not selected as one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff for the fifth consecutive year.
Talent is certainly a major component. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence should be even better in his second year, if that's possible, and he has electric offensive weapons all around him. On defense, coordinator Brent Venables has successfully done this rebuild thing before and it' not like the Tigers are lacking for talent.
Then there's the schedule, which is a thing of beauty for a contending team. The ACC does not have another team even close to Clemson's level, South Carolina hasn't won in this rivalry since 2013, and the game against Texas A&M is at home and early in the season, meaning an unexpected stumble doesn't necessarily make it a death blow.
From twelve to one on the difficulty scale, here's how Clemson’s schedule shapes up.
12. Nov. 2 vs. Wofford
The Terriers are expected to be one of the top teams at the FCS level in 2019 and defending their triple option could be a problem for many FBS teams. But the Tigers fared well against Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech teams pretty well in recent years and the talent gap on both sides of the ball means that Clemson will win this game by a wide margin.
11. Sept. 21 vs. Charlotte
First-year head coach Will Healy inherits a team led by 1,200-yard running back Benny LeMay and a solid defense that is loaded with senior leadership. Getting to six wins and achieving bowl eligibility is possible this fall but this team is projected towards the bottom of Conference USA and beating the mighty Tigers will not happen.
10. Oct. 19 at Louisville
New coach head Scott Satterfield has 14 returning starters on his roster. Unfortunately, those returnees were part of a group that finished 122nd in scoring offense, 128th in scoring defense, and lost to Clemson 77-16. But at least they get the Tigers at home this time, if that's any consolation.
9. Aug. 29 vs. Georgia Tech
The Clemson game could not come at a worse time for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets also welcome in a new head coach and Geoff Collins will be completely changing the offensive system. In week one, it’'s doubtful that things will be running smoothly and the Tigers are not the team you want to face in a still-learning situation.
8. Sept. 28 at North Carolina
While Mack Brown doesn't have to deal with the same type of overhaul on offense that Geoff Collins does, he will be starting an inexperienced quarterback behind a youthful offensive line. Plus, the defense has had huge issues against the run and that Travis Etienne guy for Clemson is pretty good in that respect. Though the game is in Chapel Hill, this should be an easy Clemson victory.
7. Nov 16 vs. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons have to figure out a way to replace star receiver Greg Dortch as well as seven starters on defense. In Cade Carney, Wake returns a 1,000-yard rusher and linebacker Justin Strnad will get preseason All-ACC consideration. But Clemson's 63-3 victory last year was their 10th straight win in the series with those victories coming by an average of 27 points per game.
6. Oct. 26 vs. Boston College
Unlike the wins over Wake, the last two Clemson-BC games have been fairly competitive, though the final scores may not have indicated as such. In 2017 at Death Valley, the teams were tied at seven entering the fourth quarter and last year the Eagles were down just six at the half. Boston College has to replace some key parts on defense, but running back AJ Dillon is a beast.
5. Oct. 12 vs. Florida State
It's been a rough couple of seasons in Tallahassee and the offensive line has to improve immensely if Florida State is going be a factor in the ACC. But the Seminoles have some scary options on offense in running back Cam Akers and wide receiver Tamorrion Terry plus the defense should be their usual athletic selves.
4. Nov. 9 at NC State
After three hard-fought battles with the Wolfpack, Clemson blew the doors off NC State last October at a time when the Tigers were really starting to turn it on. The Pack will have to revamp their offense as several key pieces – including quarterback Ryan Finley and offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz – are no longer around.
3. Nov. 30 at South Carolina
Last year, quarterback Jake Bentley threw for 510 yards and five scores against Clemson. And the Gamecocks still lost by 21 points. Despite the loss of star receiver Deebo Samuel, the South Carolina offense should still be solid. But the Gamecocks have to find a way to slow down the Tigers, who have scored 44 points per game during their five-game winning streak in this rivalry.
2. Sept. 14 at Syracuse
The biggest irritant for Clemson over the past few seasons has definitely been Syracuse. There was the loss to the Cuse at the Carrier Dome in 2017 and the comeback victory at home last September. But even in 2015, the 3-6 Orange trailed the top-ranked Tigers by just seven points deep in the fourth quarter. The Syracuse fans will be loud and proud when Clemson heads north in week three.
1. Sept. 7 vs. Texas A&M
Yes, the A&M pushed Clemson to the brink last year at Kyle Field. But the positive feelings surrounding this year's Aggies have more to do with how the team closed the 2018 season, winning four straight and blowing out NC State 52-13 in the Gator Bowl. There will be changes on defense, but quarterback Kellen Mond, who threw for 430 yards and three touchdowns in last year's game, is back.
— 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.