HEAD COACH: Dabo Swinney, 40-21 (4+ years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Chad Morris | DEF. COORDINATOR: Brent Venables

Clemson returns 13 starters from last season's 11-2 team.


Tajh Boyd’s decision to return for his senior season was a huge recruiting coup for Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. Boyd took a major step forward as a junior, emerging as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. He earned ACC Player of the Year honors and was also named first-team All-America by the American Football Coaches Association. Boyd threw for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns (an ACC single-season record) against 13 interceptions.

Senior tailback Roderick McDowell thought about transferring two years ago. Now, he holds a slight edge to be the No. 1 back, replacing standout senior and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. Junior D.J. Howard, sophomore Zac Brooks and freshman Tyshon Dye will compete for time behind McDowell.

Junior Sammy Watkins had one of the best freshman seasons ever for a receiver, but his numbers slipped last fall thanks to a drug arrest-related suspension and injuries. He’ll be counted upon to pick up the slack left by DeAndre Hopkins’ early NFL departure. Fellow juniors Adam Humphries, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant will also help; Peake and Bryant are former 4-star recruits.

A year ago, the offensive line paved the way for an attack that averaged 512.7 yards and 41.0 points per game. With four starters returning, it should be a major strength once again. The only loss, however, was a big one — center Dalton Freeman, a two-time Rimington Award finalist. 

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Brent Venables’ defense improved steadily as 2012 progressed. The Tigers finished third in the ACC in scoring defense and capped the year by holding LSU to only 219 yards of total offense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Despite the loss of leading tackler Jonathan Willard and starting safeties Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks, the Tigers’ defense should be even better this fall.

The defensive line was much-improved in 2012 and figures to build on that success after losing only starting end Malliciah Goodman. Junior Vic Beasley (eight sacks in only 288 snaps) is poised to move into Goodman’s strong-side end role, while juniors Josh Watson, DeShawn Williams and Grady Jarrett form a formidable three-man rotation at defensive tackle.

Senior Spencer Shuey (93 tackles) and junior Stephone Anthony lead an improved linebacker rotation, and Travis Blanks, a 2012 Freshman All-American, is a star in the making at safety. Blanks should shore up a thin secondary that was, at times, a disaster. Junior Robert Smith is working as a starter at the other spot. Veterans Martin Jenkins, Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson all struggled with injuries to various degrees, but should provide experience this fall. 

Key Player

Sammy Watkins, WR – Struggled with suspension and injuries as a sophomore, but few possess his speed and game-changing ability.

Tajh Boyd, QB – The linchpin of the Tigers’ high-powered offense led the ACC and ranked sixth nationally by averaging 9.1 yards per pass attempt in 2012.

Spencer Shuey, LB – Not the biggest or fastest guy, but he racks up tackles with effort, competitive fire and leadership.



Following a rocky freshman season, Chandler Catanzaro has emerged as one of Clemson’s most consistent kickers in school history. Catanzaro made 18-of-19 field goals as a junior, including the game-winner as time expired against LSU in the bowl game. Sophomore Bradley Pinion is the odds-on favorite to replace Spencer Benton as the punter and kickoff specialist; he has a booming leg and split kickoff duties with Benton a year ago. 


Clemson is the favorite in the ACC and should be ranked in the top 10 in every preseason poll. Swinney believes he can bring the program’s second national title back to Death Valley. Is this the year? That remains unclear. But with a solid base of talent returning, Clemson fans have sky-high expectations.

“I’m proud of what we have done, but there is so much more to do,” Swinney says. “We have realized some accomplishments that haven’t been done here in 20 or 30 years, but we have higher goals. This is a program that has the resources, the tradition, the fan support, the overall infrastructure to compete for the national championship.”


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