Clemson Football: Tigers Will Challenge for the National Title Again in 2020

Clemson loses a lot, but returns top talent on both sides of the ball

The College Football Playoff National Championship game didn't turn out as Clemson had hoped, but it was fourth time in five years that the Tigers played in the season's final game. That means that once again their talented roster will look different in 2020.

 

It also means that Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff have had plenty of experience in dealing with major personnel losses. Last year, the bulk of the change came on the defensive side of the ball. This time around, there will be huge voids to fill on offense.

 

But Trevor Lawrence returns. Swinney is still the head coach. And the roster is filled with talented offensive and defensive players. For those reasons, national title expectations will remain in place next fall.

 

Offense

 

Key Returnees

QB Trevor Lawrence

WR Justyn Ross

WR Amari Rodgers (could declare for the NFL draft)

RB Lyn-J Dixon

OT Jackson Carman

 

Key Departures

RB Travis Etienne (expected to enter NFL draft)

WR Tee Higgins (expected to enter NFL draft)

OT Temayne Anchrum

OG Gage Cervenka

OG John Simpson

C Sean Pollard

 

Defense

 

Key Returnees

DT Tyler Davis

LB James Skalski (could enter NFL draft)

DE Xavier Thomas

DE Justin Foster (could enter the NFL draft)

CB Derion Kendrick

S Nolan Turner

LB Baylon Spector

 

Key Departures

LB Isaiah Simmons

LB Chad Smith

DT Nyles Pinckney (expected to enter NFL draft)

CB A.J. Terrell (expected to enter NFL draft)

S K'Von Wallace

S Tanner Muse

 

Three Offseason Storylines to Watch

 

1. Rebuilding the offensive line

Four Clemson offensive linemen were named either first- or second-team All-ACC by the Associated Press. All four of those blockers will have to be replaced next season. Jackson Carman, the only starter that will be back in 2020, is a good piece to build around, but others will have to assume more important roles up front next fall.

 

Both guard positions will be open and look for 2019 recruit Will Putnam to make a strong push for one of those spots after appearing in 11 regular-season games this fall. Veteran Matt Bockhorst appeared in every game and it may be his time to shine next season. Cade Stewart has played in 27 games during his time at Clemson could be next up at center and reserves Chandler Reeves and Jordan McFadden will battle for the vacant tackle job.

 

But there are players that were not on this year's two-deep roster that will try to move up the depth chart. Tackle Blake Vinson will return from injury, Kaleb Boateng and Hunter Rayburn were able to redshirt this season, and Walker Parks, Mitchell Mayes, Bryn Tucker, and John Williams are high-level prospects from the most recent signing period.

 

2. Offensive skill position development

Barring some major unforeseen event, 2020 will be Trevor Lawrence's last season as the Clemson quarterback. He will do so without his two top offensive playmakers: Travis Etienne and Tee Higgins. It also is possible that Amari Rodgers bypasses his final year of eligibility and goes pro. Classmate Justyn Ross will be around to help out Lawrence, but young skill players will have to emerge.

 

Fortunately, there are plenty of electric athletes waiting their turn. At receiver, Joseph Ngata flashed his potential as a freshman, catching 17 passes for 240 yards and three scores. A big body, Ngata could easily slide into Higgins' role on the outside. Frank Ladson was just as decorated as Ngata coming into college and he should see his role expand in 2020.

 

In the backfield, Lyn-J Dixon has had two productive seasons backing up Etienne. This season he had more than 600 rushing yards and six touchdowns while also proving to be a weapon in the passing game. Fellow running back Chez Mellusi was a valuable reserve during his freshman campaign and the two holdovers will get challenged by five-star incoming freshman Demarkcus Bowman.

 

3. Putting the defensive backfield pieces together

One thing that makes Clemson's defensive transitions smoother is that coordinator Brent Venables uses a big rotation of players, giving future starters plenty of time in reserve roles. That was the case once again this season, especially in the secondary.

 

Safeties Tanner Muse and K'Von Wallace are moving on, but Nolan Turner, whose interception clinched the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Ohio State, is back. As for the second safety, sophomores-to-be Landen Sanders and Joseph Charleston have the most experience, which isn't a whole lot. R.J. Mickens and Malcolm Greene are incoming freshmen that want to see action early.

 

Derion Kendrick is set at one corner, but A.J. Terrell is thought to be eyeing the NFL. The highest-rated recruit in the class of 2019 was cornerback Andrew Booth, who played in just four games this season, preserving a season of eligibility. But if he lives up to his high school hype, he won't be around for a fifth season. Mario Goodrich should see a playing time bump in his third season and the 2020 recruiting class features Fred Davis, the No. 26 overall prospect, according the 247Sports.

 

— 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.

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