Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Clemson Tigers

Clemson Tigers
The Tigers are coming off the best two year run in school history, with back to back national title game appearances, with one title to show for it. The question, as it stands, is how do they keep up that tempo with the losses that they suffered across the board after the title season of 2016?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
We can start with the offensive line, where three starters return. LT Mitch Hyatt, LG Taylor Hearn, and RG Tyrone Crowder all return to build a foundation for the offense.
WR Hunter Renfrow now has the chance to be the leading man after catching 44 passes and six TDs last fall. He is the last of the receiving corps from the two championship runs remaining. Ray Ray McCloud will also be in line for a bigger role after catching 49 passes last season as a reserve and primary kick return man. Deon Cain is another exciting option, as he has averaged over 18 yards per catch over his career.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
QBs like Deshaun Watson are very hard to find, and he is now gone after passing for 41 TDs and rushing for nine more. Kelly Bryant and true freshman Hunter Johnson appear to be the two guys who are in the lead for the job, with Bryant being named the spring starter early on. Bryant was the third string backup last season, and Johnson was named Mr. Quarterback in Indiana last fall as a high school senior.
With Wayne Gallman gone at RB, not one other Tiger RB carried the ball as many as 50 times last fall. CJ Fuller, Adam Choice, and Tavien Foster are all in the mix to replace Gallman, but a starter has not been named as we head into fall camp.
There are huge losses at WR, with Mike Williams and Artavis Scott both gone. Williams was a massive big play threat who will be very difficult to replace. Look for a bevy of young players to get looks in fall camp to step up with Renfrow and McCloud.
Losing Jordan Leggett at TE could hurt as well, as having a TE on the roster who can grab 46 receptions and seven TDs these days is a rarity. THe nephew of Hershel Walker, Milan Richard, is a candidate to replace Leggett, as is Cannon Smith and DJ Greenlee.
The Tigers also must find new starters at both RT and C in fall camp.
Greg Huegel is back as a junior at PK, but hit on just 14/19 FG attempts in 2016.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Tigers were dominant at times in 2016, allowing just 18 points per game, and seven starters return from that unit.
Despite the loss of DT Carlos Watkins, the line is still loaded. Clelin Farrell and Christian Wilkins are both back at DE, while Dexter Lawrence will return up the middle at DT. Wilkins finished with 13 TFLs last fall, while Ferrell finished with 12. Lawrence was a plugger up the middle, and could collapse a pocket, as he finished with nine TFLs as a freshman. Scott Pagano has transferred away, but Richard Yeargin, Austin Bryant, and Albert Huggins return to provide for competition and rotational depth up front.
Ben Boulware is gone at LB, but two starters return in Dorian O'Daniel and Kendall Joseph. Joseph finished with 12.5 TFLs last season, and could be one of the more underrated LBs in the nation coming into 2017. O'Daniel added 10 TFLs in one of the more pressuring defenses in the nation. Joseph finished with 108 tackles overall, the second most on the team behind Boulware.
Ryan Carter (CB) and Van Smith (S) both return in the secondary. Carter finished with seven PBUs, while Smith finished with 95 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles.
Andy Teasdall is gone at Punter, and that may be addition by subtraction, as sophomore Michael Batson comes in to win the job. He is highly thought of, and nailed a 46 yard punt in his lone attempt last fall. Carson King is in the mix as well.

Update: Richard Yeargin was injured in a car accident over the weekend, and will not play in 2017. Xavier Kelly and Jordan Williams, both freshmen, will pick up any slack left over from this injury. 
Scott Bilo 6/6/17

What To Be Concerned About: Defense
This unit is going to be very good, but the losses cannot be ignored. With Boulware gone at LB, he takes away 118 tackles from the production line, and was the heart and soul leader of this defense. A new leader will have to emerge to take over the middle of the field.
Watkins was a primary force in the middle, led the team in TFLs with 13.5. There was depth behind him, however, and that takes some of the sting away, but someone will have to step up to his abilities.
Losing Cordrea Tankersley and Jadar Johnson in the secondary are probably the two biggest losses on defense. They combined for nine INTs last fall, and 18 PBUs as well. We also cannot dismiss the 113 tackles combined that will be missing from their output as well.
The Punting game was not great last fall, and the Tigers need to find a new punter this season. Batson seems to be the guy, but he has to prove over the course of the season that he has the big leg that people think he has.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Kent State, 9/9 Auburn, 9/16 at Louisville, 9/23 Boston College, 9/30 at Virginia Tech, 10/7 Wake Forest, 10/13 at Syracuse, 10/28 Georgia Tech, 11/4 at NC State, 11/11 Florida State, 11/18 The Citadel, 11/25 at South Carolina
Final Overview
With all of the losses on offense, and a few on defense, it is hard for me to see the Tigers making yet another ACC and national title run in 2017. There are far to many questions across the board for me to be able to say it and not laugh at myself. That said, this is still a dynamic Tiger team that can make a solid run for a good bowl birth, but to say that this is a title team once again is just not accurate. The early schedule is very tough, with games against Auburn at home and Louisville on the road, and Florida State comes to town in mid-November. I see Clemson as an eight or nine win team in 2017.

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