CBR's "Way Too Early" Top 10
No. 8 Clemson Tigers
Clemson couldn’t have finished the 2011 season on much more of a down note than the 70-33 beating the Tigers took from West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. A year later, Dabo Swinney’s squad took a turn for the better, polishing off LSU with a game-winning field goal on New Year’s Eve in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
Will 2013 be the year that the Tigers finally ride that wave of momentum – and talent – to a national championship?
The Good: The idea of Tajh Boyd declaring for the NFL draft would’ve seemed a little silly at the end of the regular season. Yet, following a virtuoso performance against LSU, few would have blamed him for ditching Howard’s Rock a year ahead of schedule.
Boyd decided to come back for another year in the minor leagues, which means one more season to pilot Chad Morris’ no-huddle offense. He’ll be pitching the ball to speedy wideout Sammy Watkins, who’ll be looking to rebound from a sophomore slump.
On defense, the Tigers should benefit from having a season under coordinator Brent Venables in the books.
The Bad: Early declarations haven’t been all sunshine and rainbows for Swinney. The NFL lured away explosive wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, he of the 18 touchdowns and 17 yards per catch. Productive running back Andre Ellington also used up all of his eligibility, creating a significant void at the skill positions.
Swinney needs to come up with some replacements, too, for three departing starters along an offensive line that struggled with protection this season.
The Uncertain: How will Clemson Clemson itself?
Come on, you know it’s coming. This is a program that has never been able to stay out of its own way. Somewhere out there lies a head-scratching loss or improbable implosion sure to tank a promising season. Don’t fight it.
Verdict: The Tigers will likely start the season in the relatively familiar position as the favorites to win the ACC. While the college football world waits for another Clemson to suffer another self-inflicted wound, Swinney and Venables will be working ways to shore up a pass D that finished 9th in the ACC in both passer rating and yards per attempt.
Keep the big plays on defense under control. Put the offense on Boyd’s shoulders. Get out of your own way.
If Clemson can do all three, the Tigers might find themselves for competing for more than just a conference title.
Be sure to check out the rest of CBR’s "Way Too Early" Top 10:
10. Florida Gators
9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish