Clemson heads into the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed, so a lot of positive things happened for the Tigers over the past three months. Here are some awards for Dabo Swinney’s guys.
Offensive MVP: Kelly Bryant, QB
The stats say that Bryant competed 66 percent of his throws for 2,426 yards and 12 touchdowns while running for 639 yards and 10 more scores. But his true importance went beyond the numbers and was obvious to anyone that followed Clemson this season. When Bryant was hobbled, the Clemson offense sputtered. When he was healthy, it roared. The bad news for the three other teams in the College Football Playoff is that Bryant appears to be 100 percent once again.
Defensive MVP: Dorian O’Daniel, LB
O’Daniel is the selection over a handful of other Clemson stars because of his versatility. He leads the team in tackles and is third on the team in both tackles for a loss (10.5) and sacks (5.0). He also fared well in coverage from his linebacker position, as proven by his pick-sixes that put both the Louisville and Virginia Tech games out of reach. Whatever defensive coordinator Brent Venables asked O’Daniel to do, it was done well.
Best Freshman: Travis Etienne, RB
Clemson lost one of its toughest all-time runners when Wayne Gallman went off to the NFL after last year’s national title. But with Etienne — and sophomore Tavien Feaster — leading the way, Clemson averaged 45 more yards per game on the ground than they did in 2016. Etienne (above, right) has provided a big-play threat, as he's averaging 7.4 yards per carry and has 13 rushing touchdowns.
Best Play of the Season: Austin Bryant’s One-Handed Interception vs. Virginia Tech
The game was well in hand when Bryant made the pick. But it was amazing to see a guy his size (6-5, 265) reach up with one hand and snatch the Josh Jackson pass out of the air.
It certainly wasn’t Bryant’s only highlight of the season because...
Best Performance by a Player in 2017: Austin Bryant vs. Auburn
On the first play of the game, Bryant sacked Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. On Auburn’s final offensive play of the night, Bryant sacked Stidham. In between, Bryant got to the Auburn quarterback two other times, starring in what was one of the most impressive team defensive performances of this college football season.
Best Game (Team Performance): Miami in the ACC Championship Game
If you tuned in a bit late, you missed what you needed to see. Kelly Bryant was on target right from the start and the Clemson defense suffocated the Hurricanes all night long. Not only was it Clemson’s best performance of the year, it also ranks as one of the Tigers' more complete efforts over the past three years and gives them a ton of confidence heading into the College Football Playoff.
Defining Moment: Surviving in Raleigh
Just two weeks after the loss at Syracuse, Clemson was challenged by NC State. For most of the first half, the Wolfpack held the lead and even after the Tigers seemed to gain control following the break, NC State would not go away and had a chance to tie the game late. But Clemson survived and that win essentially gave Clemson the Atlantic Division title while serving as a building block for the rest of the season.
Biggest Surprise: The Loss at Syracuse
It is true that Kelly Bryant was hobbled from an ankle injury suffered the previous week against Wake Forest and was then knocked out of the game in the second quarter. But it was still shocking that the Tigers fell to a Syracuse squad that finished the year 4-8. The usually dominant Clemson defense couldn’t get off the field and a running game that averaged 215 yards per game only managed 113 yards against the nation’s 98th-ranked rushing defense.
Biggest Disappointment: Kicking Game
When Greg Huegel went down, the placekicking went south. Alex Spence was just 1-of-6 on field goal attempts longer than 30 yards. In the game against Syracuse, Spence missed from 35 and 38 yards, costing the Tigers six points in a 27-24 loss. This aspect of Clemson's special teams has to be a concern going into the College Football Playoff.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Dorian O’Daniel, LB
Unless a bunch of juniors declare for the NFL draft, Clemson won’t be losing a whole lot off of this year’s team. But O’Daniel will be hard to replace. As mentioned earlier, O’Daniel does so many different things that his production will have to be replicated by multiple players.
Player to Watch in 2018: A.J. Terrell, CB
The freshman from Atlanta played valuable minutes this season but look for his role to expand next year with corner Ryan Carter out of eligibility. At 6-foot-1, 190-pounds, Terrell is a big corner that has the athleticism needed to excel in the Clemson secondary.
Offseason Storyline: Dealing With Expectations Again
For the past couple of offseasons, much of the talk surrounding the Clemson program has been about the amount of talent the team has had to replace. That will not be the case going into 2018. They will lose seniors Dorian O’Daniel, Ryan Carter and Austin Bryant, and junior Christian Wilkins may leave early for the NFL. But next year’s Tigers team will be loaded again and will be in everyone’s preseason playoff bracket. Clemson is now firmly entrenched as one of the hunted and Dabo Swinney undoubtedly has a plan in place for dealing with the lofty expectations.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.