The Tigers rank No. 1 in Athlon's Top 25 for 2020
Clemson is operating as a well-oiled machine that doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. The Tigers have been the most consistent program in the country over the past five years, reaching the College Football Playoff all five times, with four national title game berths and a pair of national championships.
Clemson just completed its most successful decade in school history and one of the most successful in college football history as Dabo Swinney’s program finished 117–23 during the 2010s, tying for the third-most victories in a decade in major college football since 1890. Clemson has won at least 10 games in nine consecutive years, and in a conference where no one is recruiting or developing talent anywhere close to the way the Tigers are, there’s no telling when that streak will end.
Previewing Clemson's Offense for 2020
Clemson’s offense was already going to be one of the best in the country in 2020 with Trevor Lawrence back at the helm, even before Travis Etienne announced he was returning for his senior season. Lawrence is arguably the top quarterback in the country, and Etienne is arguably the top running back in the country. The two just so happen to be on the same team.
Lawrence, who passed for 22 touchdowns and no interceptions in his final eight games last season, has plenty of targets to throw to, led by Frank Ladson, Joseph Ngata and Amari Rodgers. Rodgers has proven he can make big plays in big games, but even more will be asked of him in 2020 after top target Justyn Ross was ruled out for the year due to a neck injury. Look for Rodgers to take his game to another level as a senior now that he doesn’t have to wear a brace on his surgically repaired knee.
Sophomores Ngata and Ladson Jr. will battle to replace Tee Higgins, who is off to the NFL. Ngata received plenty of hype heading into last season but made a minimal impact, as did Ladson, who is one of the fastest players on the team. The two should be much more involved in the offense this year. And with Ross sidelined, Clemson will lean more on senior Cornell Powell for contributions on the outside.
Speaking of being more involved in the offense, the tight end position was a small part of Clemson’s offense in 2019, but that should change with Braden Galloway available for the entire season after serving a year-long suspension. Galloway is big (6'4", 240) and fast and should be a matchup nightmare.
The biggest question mark is the offensive line, where the Tigers must replace four starters. Only left tackle Jackson Carman is back up front. Clemson’s staff does feel good about its four new starters, particularly left guard Matt Bockhorst and right tackle Jordan McFadden, who both received extended playing time last season.
Previewing Clemson's Defense for 2020
Clemson has plenty of talent to replace, most notably All-American Isaiah Simmons, but the good news is that Brent Venables excels at remaking defenses. Last year, the strength of Clemson’s defense was its back seven, and Venables got creative, often utilizing three-defensive-linemen sets and moving Simmons all over the field. The result? Clemson finished in the top 10 nationally in total defense for the sixth straight year.
This year’s strength should be the front four, as Clemson must replace three of the four starters in its secondary and two of its three starting linebackers.
Starting up front, this is a put-up-or-shut-up year for defensive end Xavier Thomas, who is one of the most talented players on Clemson’s roster but who underperformed his first two seasons on campus. Look for defensive tackle Tyler Davis to blossom into a star after earning All-ACC honors as a freshman last year. And freshmen defensive linemen Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee should contribute right away. Both were five-star recruits.
As for the back seven, the two returning starters could be two of the better defenders in the ACC. James Skalski finished second on the team in tackles a season ago in what was a breakout year and should take his game up another level in 2020. Cornerback Derion Kendrick is back after an All-ACC season last year in his first year playing defense after switching over from receiver. There is plenty of young talent capable of stepping into larger roles on Clemson’s defense, but right now it is unproven.
Previewing Clemson's Specialists for 2020
Kicker B.T. Potter has a huge leg but was up and down last season, connecting on only 13-of-21 tries and spending some time on the bench due to his inconsistency. However, Swinney said Potter was 35-of-36 on field-goal attempts during the abbreviated nine-practice spring session. Punter Will Spiers is back for his senior season after averaging 42.3 yards per punt last year. Clemson has plenty of dynamic playmakers ready to contribute in the return game, including Ngata, Kendrick, Etienne and Rodgers.
Clemson is expected to be back in the College Football Playoff for a sixth consecutive season and has as good a shot as anyone to finish 2020 on top. The Tigers should be heavily favored in every regular-season game with the exception of their trip to South Bend to face Notre Dame in early November. Clemson will likely be favored by a touchdown or less for that showdown, but if the Tigers can overcome that hurdle, expect them to be squarely in the national championship hunt once again.