For the first time in more than a decade, Clemson is coming off a season that was truly a disappointment.
The Tigers went 10-3 and had their streak of six consecutive ACC titles and six consecutive College Football Playoff berths come to an abrupt end. Clemson spent this offseason working to get its offense back on track and trying to get healthy, as those were the main two factors that led to struggles last year.
Dabo Swinney feels good about where his team is heading into 2022.
"The guys that we think are going to be dominant players, they've been what we need all spring. And then the guys that we needed to really mature and grow and get better, we were able to do that this spring," Swinney says. "When we put it together, I think we've got a chance to be a really good football team around here."
Previewing Clemson's Offense for 2022
In order for Clemson to get back to the College Football Playoff, its offense is going to have to take a huge step forward. Everything starts with quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who struggled in his first full season as a starter.
Expectations were high for Uiagalelei coming into the 2021 season after he impressed in starts against Boston College and Notre Dame as a freshman, but he was inaccurate and made poor decisions far too often last season. Uiagalelei entered the year as one of the Heisman favorites but finished the year with more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (nine). The California native completed only 55.6 percent of his passes, which ranked No. 98 nationally. As a team, Clemson's passing offense was No. 103 nationally in yards per game.
"We've got to get some confidence in the passing game, and we lost our confidence last year," Tigers tight ends coach and passing game coordinator Kyle Richardson says. "Once we lost it, it was hard to get it back. We've made some tweaks."
Richardson and first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter are working with Uiagalelei to make him more comfortable. The junior is being pushed by five-star freshman Cade Klubnik, although Swinney is on the record saying that, as of now, this is Uiagalelei's job.
While Uiagalelei had his share of struggles in 2021, the rest of the unit had problems as well. The offensive line was inconsistent, particularly early in the year. And the backs and receivers had a hard time staying healthy.
The Tigers do return their top three running backs in Will Shipley, Kobe Pace and Phil Mafah. The offensive line returns four starters and should be improved.
As far as pass-catchers, tight end Davis Allen is a player to watch. He could emerge as one of the top tight ends in the country. At receiver, Beaux Collins and Joseph Ngata are the top two guys. Clemson has plenty of talent behind them, but it's unproven.
Previewing Clemson's Defense for 2022
Despite the loss of longtime coordinator Brent Venables (hired as Oklahoma's head coach), this should be one of the best defenses in the country.
First-year defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin has elite talent all over the field to work with, but everything starts with the defensive front. Swinney believes that seven defensive linemen will be drafted next year, and he very well could be right.
At end, Myles Murphy, Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll are all starter-level players. At tackle, Tyler Davis and Bryan Bresee are two of the best in the country, while Ruke Orhorhoro, Tre Williams and Payton Page will provide depth. This has the chance to be the best defensive front Clemson has ever had.
Clemson lost a couple of experienced linebackers in James Skalski and Baylon Spector, but the Tigers should be more athletic at the position as a group.
Trenton Simpson and Barrett Carter are two of the best athletes on Clemson's team. Simpson, in particular, could be an All-American this season after recording 64 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss and six sacks in 2021. The North Carolina native is moving inside the box for his junior season.
On the back end, Clemson has to replace three very good starters in Andrew Booth Jr., Mario Goodrich and Nolan Turner. If there's a question mark on this unit, it's at cornerback, where the Tigers are talented but inexperienced.
Clemson ranked eighth nationally in total defense last season, allowing 310.2 yards per game. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Tigers post even better numbers on that side of the ball this year.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2022
Previewing Clemson's Specialists for 2022
B.T. Potter is back for a fifth season and should be one of the best kickers in the country this year. Potter has a huge leg and was 21-of-26 on field goals last season. He holds the school record for field goals of 40-plus yards and 50-plus yards for a career. Potter could handle punting duties as well. He worked at punter this spring and was impressive.
As for the return game, Clemson has several athletes who could get a look. Shipley and Collins are a couple of guys to keep an eye on.
This defense is good enough to win a national title. Everything comes down to the offense. The running game should be dependable, as the Tigers have a three-headed monster at running back and an experienced offensive line. But Uiagalelei is going to have to make some plays in the passing game for Clemson to have the year it wants to have. If he struggles early, it's certainly possible Klubnik gets a look.
National Ranking: 4
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