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College Football Preview 2014-2015: 18. Clemson Tigers

Charone Peake
18. Clemson Tigers

Coach: Dabo Swinney (6th year)

2013-2014 Record: 11-2 (7-1 ACC)

August 30th @ Georgia
September 6th vs. South Carolina State
September 20th @ Florida State
September 27th vs. North Carolina
October 4th vs. NC State
October 11th vs. Louisville
October 18th @ Boston College
October 25th vs. Syracuse
November 6th @ Wake Forest
November 15th @ Georgia Tech
November 22nd vs. Georgia State
November 29th vs. South Carolina

Dabo Swinney has a huge challenge on his hands this season, replacing three-year starter Tajh Boyd at quarterback and stud receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, coming off an 11-2 season. Although it was pretty much a very successful season as the Tigers beat Georgia (when they were healthy) and also beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. It will be somewhat of a rebuilding season with those studs gone but don't overlook Clemson, who is always in the mix inside the ACC no matter what they lose.

Backfield: Boyd was a fantastic quarterback in his time with the Tigers, but he could never get Clemson over the top and win a national championship, despite winning the conference and making multiple BCS bowls in his time. Senior Cole Stoudt is likely to replace Boyd and he has the arm strength and football knowledge to be pretty successful, even with many offensive weapons around him missing. True freshman Deshaun Watson was one of the nation's top quarterback commits and he could be a great package quarterback this year for Clemson; coming in near the red zone or in short-yardage situations, where they need his great running ability. The unfortunate thing for Stoudt is who tough Clemson's schedule is early in the season, road meetings against Georgia and Florida State don't give the quarterbacks much time to get adjusted to the starting role. The running back situation is a question mark as Roderick McDowell graduated. That leaves senior D.J. Howard, junior Zac Brooks and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman competing for the bulk of the snaps. Howard had 213 yards last year as a junior and is ready to step up after a career as a backup in Clemson. Brooks' health is a concern and although Gallman is quick he is not a proven ball carrier.

Receivers: The loss of Watkins and Bryant means Clemson is missing 2,292 yards, 143 receptions and 19 touchdowns. Senior Adam Humphries is ready to step up in a big way, he is a speedy possession receiver who is a great route runner. Returning with him is junior Charone Peake, who tore his ACL early last season. When he was healthy, Peake proved to be a very dangerous receiving option making a number of big plays. Humphries and Peake are very talented and experienced but it will be interesting to see if they can handle the increased workload as the top receiving options now. Also returning is explosive sophomore Mike Williams who landed 316 yards and 3 touchdowns, he is a major big-play target. This recruiting class is stocked with young receivers with potential including four-star recruits Artavis Scott, Trevion Thompson and Demarre Kitt. All three have great hands with some playmaking potential and gives these receiving corps some serious depth. At tight end, junior Stanton Seckinger and Sam Cooper will hope to make an impact, but Swinney and staff brought in two tight end commits that make plays in Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

Offensive Line: The O-Line is not really a strength but it does have some solid pieces including junior center Ryan Norton. Norton is tenacious with pretty nice athleticism for a center. At the two guard slots, expect two seniors to start in David Beasley and Kalon Davis. Both have great size and versatility, they could possibly play multiple positions along the line. The big question on this unit is who will protect Stoudt's blind side at left tackle? Junior Isaiah Battle is a 6'7" beast of a linemen that can push around smaller pass rushers. Three-star Justin Falcinelli is a talented product from Maryland who could compete for playing time either at that left tackle position or possibly on the right side.

Vic Beasley
Defensive Line: Throughout Swinney's team with the Tigers the offense has been one of the best in the nation while the defense has been more of a nuisance, blamed for most of their struggles, including when they let up 70 points to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl. But, this year they could be one of the nation's best and it starts with the defensive line. Senior Vic Beasley, who would have been a 1st or 2nd round selection, is back for his final season with the Tigers after a monster 2013 season. He put together an All-American campaign, recording 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. He will spend most of his time at defensive end but he has the athleticism off the edge to make plays as a standup linebacker. The other defensive slot will be manned by senior Corey Crawford who is also a pretty decent pass rusher. He isn't as quick off the edge as Beasley, relying more on instincts and his great size and strength. Up the middle, another senior, Grady Jarrett will hope to make plays. Jarrett doesn't get a lot of respect but he has the motor and size to rack up a lot of tackles at the defensive tackle position. Senior DeShawn Williams will compete for playing time with some others and some true freshman for the other DT spot.

Linebackers: The return of senior Stephone Anthony is also very important for this defense, as the middle linebacker is a great tackler who had 131 tackles in 2013. Anthony has the speed to become a great pass rusher and has a nose for the ball. Along with Anthony, the move of former safety Travis Blanks to linebacker really helps this unit. The junior will likely play the "Sam" position on defense, a safety/linebacker hybrid who will roam all across the field. He has proven to be a hard hitter who can find ways to make plays in the backfield, although he struggles with consistency. The third linebacker position is made for senior Tony Steward. Steward was a former big time commitment for the Tigers but he has struggled with knee problems and finding general consistency throughout his tenure with Clemson. If he can stay healthy he could really make an impact as a pass rusher, because Beasley and Crawford will open up lanes for these linebackers, occupying blockers. Fort Lauderdale product Richard Yeargin III will add important depth at outside linebacker.

Secondary: The move of Blanks to linebacker does mean there is one less impact safety in this defensive backfield, but this unit should still be strong and still does have experience. Senior Robert Smith is an important returner for this secondary, he is a smart veteran who put together a great 2013, collecting 79 tackles. Joining Smith will be another safety in sophomore Jayron Kearse, an athlete who has great size and could be a real help in coverage situations. At cornerback, redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander could put together a fantastic year after being a five-star stud in the 2013 recruiting class. He has turned heads in the spring with his speed and it is clear he oozes with potential. He could possibly start at cornerback but he also has the versatility to compete for snaps at safety. Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables will need experience at cornerback though, meaning senior Martin Jenkins could start or Garry Peters.

Special Teams: Clemson will definitely miss kicker Chandler Catanzaro, the ACC's No.2 all-time scorer. Whoever will replace him will have huge shoes to replace, it will likely be junior Ammon Lakip. Junior punter Bradley Pinion returns he was pretty impressive last year, averaging nearly 38 yards per punt.

Even with some big names gone, Clemson has turned into a program that can reload and has players ready to step in and make an impact. If weapons step up around Stoudt (like Humphries, Peake or any one of the freshman) this offense could still definitely be explosive and the defense has the chance to be one of the nation's stingiest. Inside the relatively weak ACC, the Tigers are still competitive enough to hang with Florida State inside the Atlantic Division.

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