Clemson enters 2015 looking to reload after the departure of several key players from last year’s team. However, momentum in Death Valley remains strong, as the Tigers have won at least 10 games in four consecutive seasons. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is a Heisman contender, and there’s no shortage of young talent in the mix for a breakout season on both sides of the ball. Even with five returning starters for 2015, Clemson is one of the favorites to win the ACC.
The first season of the college football playoff was a huge success. With less than 50 days until kickoff, it’s time to evaluate some of the top contenders for the 2015 playoffs.
Here’s a look at three reasons why Clemson will make the playoff, followed by its schedule and three reasons the Tigers won’t finish in the top four.
Three Reasons Why Clemson Will Make the CFB Playoff in 2015
1. Deshaun Watson and a Loaded Group of Skill Players
It’s not far-fetched to suggest Deshaun Watson could be the nation’s best quarterback by the end of 2015. The No. 41 overall recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite lived up to the hype as a true freshman, completing 93 of 167 passes for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Watson also added 200 rushing yards and five scores. An ACL injury from November will be healed in time for the opener, and the sophomore is Athlon’s pick to be the first-team All-ACC quarterback in December. But it’s not just Watson leading the way on offense for Clemson. Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman is back after rushing for 769 yards last year, and the Tigers are loaded at receiver. Sophomore Artavis Scott and junior Mike Williams are the top targets for Watson, but freshman Deon Cain is too talented to sit on the sidelines. The offense should be explosive once again in 2015.
Related: ACC 2015 All-Conference Team
2. Talent Waiting in the Wings
Similar to Florida State, Clemson has a promising core of young talent waiting to emerge. But here’s the million-dollar question: How quickly will the young talent mesh? Can everything come together before the road trip to Louisville on Sept. 17? Or is the Oct. 3 date against Notre Dame more realistic? Using team recruiting rankings over the last five years, Clemson ranks as the No. 2 roster in the ACC. The five-year average among all 128 teams is 13.2, while Florida State has a 4.4 mark. The Tigers won’t have many senior starters this season, but that’s not a bad thing considering all of the talent in the freshman, sophomore and junior ranks.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
It’s unfair to say Clemson’s schedule is easy, but the Tigers did catch a few breaks. Florida State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech all visit Death Valley this year, and coach Dabo Swinney’s team should be favored in its other crossover game with the Coastal (Miami). A road trip to Louisville in mid-September will be tough, and the rivalry matchup at South Carolina certainly won’t be easy. Clemson is 0-3 in its last three trips to Columbia and has won just one out of the last six meetings against the Gamecocks.
Clemson's 2015 Schedule
Athlon Projected Rank for 2015
at NC State
at South Carolina
Three Reasons Why Clemson Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. The Offensive Line
The Tigers had question marks up front at the conclusion of spring practice, and the concerns grew after Isaiah Battle declared for the NFL supplemental draft. With Battle leaving, Clemson returns only one starter (center Ryan Norton) and true freshman Mitch Hyatt will likely start at left tackle. Additionally, this unit wasn’t necessarily a strength in 2014. The Tigers allowed 27 sacks last season, while rushers only generated 3.5 yards per carry. With Deshaun Watson coming off a torn ACL, protecting the quarterback is even more essential for Clemson’s offense in 2015. This unit will be under the spotlight early in the year.
2. Too Many Holes to Fill on Defense
As mentioned above, it’s no secret Clemson has a plethora of promising young talent. However, will the personnel losses on defense be too much to overcome? The Tigers were hit hard with departures at each level. End Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett will be missed up front, the linebacking corps must replace Stephone Anthony, and the secondary lost second-team All-ACC cornerback Garry Peters. On the positive side for Clemson, coordinator Brent Venables is one of the best in college football. Junior end Shaq Lawson is a good place to start the rebuilding effort up front, and sophomore cornerback Mackensie Alexander is already one of the best in the ACC. However, can this unit count on bring contributions from true freshmen like Albert Huggins, Mark Fields and Christian Wilkins?
3. Departure of Chad Morris
This is the biggest x-factor surrounding Clemson in 2015. Chad Morris was one of the premier play-callers in college football and will be missed. Swinney promoted from within to fill Morris’ position, tapping Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott as co-coordinators. Elliott is expected to call the plays, and his first audition in the Russell Athletic Bowl (40 points against Oklahoma) was a huge success. However, developing a gameplan for a bowl with weeks to prepare is a different task than the grind of the regular season. How much will Morris be missed in Death Valley this year? If Elliott and Scott continue to keep this offense performing at a high level, Clemson will push Florida State for the ACC title.
The Sept. 17 game at Louisville will be a huge chance for Clemson to show its offensive line and rebuilt defense is up to the task of winning the ACC title. With Watson under center, combined with one of the best sets of skill talent in the nation, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. Of course, Morris’ departure is something to watch. Athlon Sports picked Florida State to win the ACC in 2015 but little separates these two teams. The oddsmakers like Clemson around the nine-win mark this year. If that scenario plays out, the Tigers’ losses could look something like this: at South Carolina, Florida State and at Louisville. That’s reasonable. However, it’s also reasonable to expect Clemson to win all three of those games but lose against Georgia Tech or at NC State. The Tigers will be entertaining and explosive on offense. However, there’s just enough personnel concerns to miss out on a playoff spot.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 14
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: (9-3, 6-2 ACC)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 9
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 8.5