In some ways, it seems like just yesterday that Clemson lifted up the national championship trophy. While it's been a great offseason, one with wonderful memories of the glory of last season along with the promise of what a sparkling new football facility will mean for the future, the Clemson faithful are more than ready for Saturday.
For the second time in school history, Clemson begins a season as the reigning title holder. In 1982, the only other time that the Tigers defended a championship, Clemson opened the season by losing to Herschel Walker and the Georgia Bulldogs.
This year, there is no Herschel on the other sideline. Kent State was 3-9 last season, and after the loss of 11 starters from that team, there’s not a lot of optimism heading into the fall.
Kent State at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 2 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Clemson -40
Three Things to Watch
1. Kelly Bryant
All eyes will be on Clemson’s new quarterback. Everyone realizes that the junior from Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, is not going to be the next Deshaun Watson. He just happens to play the same position for the same team. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to be Watson. With a stellar offensive line, receivers like Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow, and a group of talented running backs, Bryant just has to get the ball to the right guy at the right time.
2. Kent State offensive line
The Golden Flashes have just two returning starters up front and moved last year’s center, Stefano Millin, to left tackle. Nick Holley is a dual-threat quarterback who is a stronger runner than thrower, so in order to be successful, the Kent State line will have to open up holes in the running game first and foremost. With Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and company in their grills for 60 minutes, it won’t be easy in week one.
3. Channeling the excitement
It will be an amazing atmosphere at Death Valley this Saturday. The 2016 team will be celebrated, and there is no way that the players and the fans won’t get caught up in the fanfare. But after the pre-game festivities are over, there is a game to play. While the Tigers should not be threatened by the Golden Flashes, head coach Dabo Swinney wants his team to start the season the right way, especially with Auburn looming in week two.
For Clemson fans, this game really is more about the past than it is about the present or the future. But the Tigers have enough talent to contend for another national title, and getting the ball rolling in proper fashion is important. That is especially true at the quarterback position. Dabo Swinney would love to see Kelly Bryant play well and develop some confidence heading into the Auburn game. It would also be nice to spread the ball around offensively to get as many players involved as possible. Against a one-dimensional team like Kent State, especially one that struggles throwing the ball, the Tigers' defense should dominate, which it will. There will be little hangover as Clemson rolls to open the new season.
Prediction: Clemson 49, Kent State 7
— 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.