Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 15 Clemson. The Tigers return the top offense in the ACC, but the defense has some key holes to fill.
Will Clemson Repeat as ACC Champions in 2012?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Clemson has a great chance to repeat as ACC champions. I have hunch second-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd will perform closer to the way he played early in the season instead of when he threw nine interceptions in his final six games. The Clemson defense also should perform better than the unit that allowed 70 points against West Virginia. Despite my optimism about Clemson, I tend to lean toward Florida State in the division. The Seminoles were a classic example of a bad luck team – injuries at the wrong time derailed the Seminoles against Oklahoma, the same spilled into the Clemson game the following week. In all likelihood, Clemson isn’t going to face FSU backup quarterback Clint Trickett, who still managed to pass for 336 yards and three touchdowns on the road against the Tigers. This time around, Clemson probably faces regular starter EJ Manuel in Tallahassee. The road trip to Florida State should be a major cause for concern for Clemson, no matter who is playing for the ‘Noles. In the midst of the Tigers’ collapse a year ago, Clemson struggled away from Death Valley. Clemson finished 1-4 in road games and neutral site games last season, including losses at Georgia Tech, N.C. State and South Carolina by a combined score of 102-43. Even in Clemson’s final true road win over the season, the Tigers needed second-half heroics from Sammy Watkins to beat 2-10 Maryland. In 2012, Clemson will be in 10-win territory again with a chance for revenge against Georgia Tech, N.C. State and South Carolina when all three return to Clemson, but the big game is in Tallahassee against a presumably healthy Florida State team. That prompts me to give the edge to the Seminoles.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
This is the ACC we are talking about here, and since the Tigers are loaded on offense and are the defending champs, they have as good a chance as any to win the title in 2012. But if the bet is Clemson or The Field, I am taking the field. The Tigers should be excellent on offense once again, but have to iron out some offensive line issues —and hopefully endure a summer without any more legal slip-ups. But defensively is where my concerns lie. Yes, they are talented. Yes, they should be improved with another year of experience and a new coordinator. And yes, they allowed 172 points in four losses to close the season 2-4 after entering the national championship picture for a few weeks.
Defense wins championships. It's a cliche...for a reason. Virginia Tech and Florida State might have two of the best defensive units in the nation much less the ACC and both will control the line of scrimmage against the Tigers. Clemson has to visit Florida State, and despite two relatively easy wins over the Hokies in 2011, the visit from Frank Beamer's bunch is guaranteed to be more difficult. Toss in other well-coached contenders who handled Clemson with ease a year ago — Georgia Tech and NC State, both of whom visit Death Valley — and it seems a tall order for this Tigers' squad to repeat. Especially considering Clemson has one conference title since 1991 and hasn't repeated since 1987-1988.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Clemson is a team that has struggled to match preseason expectations in recent years, but winning the ACC Championship last season could help this program finally get over the hump and contend for a conference title each year. There’s plenty of talent returning to Clemson in 2012, so there’s no excuse why this team should not be near the top of the ACC once again.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins will be one of college football’s top pass-catch combinations once again, while the rushing attack is in good hands with Andre Ellington and Mike Bellamy. The biggest issue on offense will be sorting out a line that returns just two starters. If Clemson struggles to block, the offense won’t match last season’s totals.
The defense returns eight starters, but the line was decimated by graduation. The Tigers have recruited well, so there is talent in the reserves. However, outside of end Malliciah Goodman, there’s not much in the way of proven commodities up front. The back seven of the defense should be solid, especially with the emergence of linebacker Stephone Anthony. New coordinator Brent Venables was a great hire, but this unit will struggle without a consistent pass rush.
The biggest obstacle to repeating as ACC champions will be a schedule that features a road date at Florida State and another matchup with Virginia Tech. Although Clemson beat the Hokies twice last year, the Tigers’ personnel losses will have an impact on the matchup. Considering the question marks on the offensive and defensive lines, traveling to Tallahassee to play Florida State in Week 4 is not the best possible timing.
I think Clemson is a solid top-15 team for 2012, but I see the Tigers falling short of repeating as ACC champs.
Clemson appears to be in excellent position headed into the fall to repeat as champions of the ACC. To begin with, Dabo Swinney's Tigers return seven starters on offense. Chad Morris' unit should not only be the best in the ACC, but one of the best in the entire nation, with quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins and running back Andre Ellington all at his disposal. If an inexperienced offensive line comes together, and all the key playmakers stay healthy, Clemson's O could be next to impossible to slow down, let alone stop.
The Tigers' repeat title hopes will probably come down to the defense. Statistically speaking, this was not a very good defense last year and that was before West Virginia torched it for 70 points and 589 yards in the Orange Bowl. The Tigers return eight starters on defense, including just about the entire back seven, and have a new defensive coordinator in Brent Venables. No one's expecting Venables, who had been Oklahoma's defensive coordinator the past eight seasons, to turn this year's Tigers into a top-10 unit, like the 2009 Sooners were (8th overall in total defense, 7th in scoring defense), however even improvement that mirrors how last year's Oklahoma defense performed would be a welcome sight.
Last season Oklahoma's defense finished 55th in the nation in total defense, giving up more than 376 yards per game, and 31st in scoring defense, surrendering less than 23 points per contest. Compare that to Clemson's defense in 2011, which gave up nearly 395 yards (71st in the nation) and more than 29 points per game (81st). The good news is that the Tigers' defense doesn't have to worry about trying to stop its own offense in a real game, as Clemson's unit is far and away the ACC's most potent. If the Tigers can figure out a way to somewhat slow down the offenses it will face in its conference schedule, allowing its own to do its thing, then Clemson should find itself in Charlotte in December for a second straight year with an excellent chance at making it two ACC titles in arow.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
Dabo Swinney’s crew has the offense to win another ACC title, but I would not pick the Tigers as the preseason favorite. With skill players like quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, we know the Clemson offense has vast potential. However, there were some key personnel losses in three starters on the offensive line and All-ACC tight end Dwayne Allen. There are also some concerns at the offense slowed down late in the season, scoring 17 points or less in losses to Georgia Tech. NC State and South Carolina.
The Tigers defense struggled for much of last year, except when playing against Virginia Tech. Eight starters return, but linemen Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson will be missed up front. If new coordinator Brent Venables can improve this unit, Clemson will have a great shot to repeat in the ACC. Right now, I think an improved Florida State and its loaded defense looks like the more complete roster in the Atlantic Division. With the head-to-head matchup in Tallahassee, I’ll take the Seminoles to advance to Charlotte.
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