With Christian Wilkins headlining a deep and talented defensive line the defending national champions are a threat to get back to the playoff
Remember when people used to joke about the quality of football in the ACC after Florida State? And remember around that same time those same people ripping Clemson for not being able to win the big game.
Over the past 30 Clemson football games, both of those items have been put to rest. Clemsoning now means winning titles and the Tigers have surpassed the mighty Seminoles as kings of the ACC. At least for the moment.
But what will 2017 bring for the guys in Orange? Here are three reasons why Clemson will make the next College Football Playoff and three reasons why they won’t.
Three Reasons Why Clemson Will make the Collge Football Playoff in 2017
1. Defensive line
Athlon Sports’ ranks Clemson’s first line of defense as the best in the nation and it’s tough to argue. Christian Wilkins is a beast inside or outside, but he will spend most of his time at tackle this year playing next to emerging star Dexter Lawrence. Clelin Ferrell shined in the playoff last season and is back at end. Austin Bryant, who was huge in the 2015 playoff run, is back after missing a good portion of last season with an injury. While end Richard Yeargin is out due to injuries sustained in a car accident and tackle Scott Pagano transferred to Oregon, depth should not be a problem.
2. Offensive line
Four starters return from an offensive line that did a good job protecting Deshaun Watson and opening up just enough holes in the running game to keep the offense balanced. While center Jay Guillermo is a major loss, left tackle Mitch Hyatt will contend for All-American honors and left guard Tyrone Crowder is a stalwart as well.
3. Still an abundance of receivers
Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, and Jordan Leggett will be missed, but don’t cry for Clemson in the pass-catching department. Deon Cain has the tools necessary to be a top receiver, Ray-Ray McCloud can do all the things that fellow Tampa native Scott could do, and Hunter Renfrow is still around as a reliable slot receiver. Plus, super freshman Tee Higgins looks like he will be ready to contribute on day one.
Why Clemson Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2017
This one is pretty obvious. Head coach Dabo Swinney has recruited the position very well. True freshman Hunter Johnson was considered by some to be the top quarterback in this year’s recruiting class. Zerrick Cooper and Kelly Bryant are both talented dual threats that fit the Clemson offense nicely. Of course, none of them are Deshaun Watson. Clemson lost one game last year and nearly lost a couple more with Watson leading the way. It stands to reason that his departure alone would keep the Tigers out of the playoff.
2. Running game
Clemson finished 71st in FBS in rushing offense in 2016 and with Watson now gone, that’s an area that needs to improve. But between Watson and running back Wayne Gallman, the Tigers lost 1,759 of their 2,546 rushing yards. While four starters are back on the offensive line, this group struggled at times opening up running lanes last season.
The Tigers went from Mackensie Alexander to Cordrea Tankersley as shutdown corners the past two years. Is there another one ready to emerge this fall? Ryan Carter is solid but is not on that level. Sophomore Trayvon Mullen is talented but has yet to really produce. Plus, the loss of safety Jadar Johnson will be felt too.
Like a lot of teams at the top this year, Clemson has question marks. It starts at quarterback and expands to the ground game and the secondary. But the positives Clemson possesses are elite. The defensive line is as good as it gets and the rushing attack should improve behind an experienced offensive line. Plus, when the Tigers needed to run the ball last year, they did.
A third straight College Football Playoff berth will likely come down to the game against Florida State. While the Seminoles have stars all over the field, there are two factors that favor Clemson in this game. First, it’s in Death Valley. And second, the Florida State offensive line is a major concern. That will be a big problem going against Wilkins, Lawrence and company.
Clemson will lose a game somewhere along the line. Maybe it’s versus Auburn in week two or at NC State when the Tigers could be looking ahead to FSU the next week. But by Nov. 11, the quarterback position should be settled and Swinney will once again have his team believing. Clemson wins that game, goes on to win the ACC title, and gets back to the playoff.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 7
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: (10-2, 6-2 in the ACC)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 9.5
— 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.