Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.
When Clemson defeated Alabama in last year’s National Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA., 44-16, people were saying that Clemson had taken Alabama’s place as the king of college football. I don’t believe that. The Crimson Tide has a phenomenal team returning this year so they haven’t gone anywhere. But Clemson is no longer a ROY team (Rest of Y’all), they are in the first class cabin with the Crimson Tide.
Can the Tigers repeat? They certainly have the weapons on offense to do so. The awesome Trevor Lawrence returns for his sophomore campaign at quarterback. Lawrence completed 259-of-357 passes, 65%, for 3,280 yards with 30 TDs and only 4 interceptions in 2018. He is a Tom Brady like talent. He’s more like Tom Brady than Tua Tagovailoa in that he’s a pure drop back passer, and not a runner. Tua runs it well. Lawrence picks a defense apart with his rocket arm and his precise accuracy. He has terrific talent around him in the receiving and running games. Tee Higgins (59-936, 12 TD’s) and Justyn Ross (46-1,000, 6 TDs) are both All Americans and first round draft picks when they come out. Ross is 6’4”, 205 and Higgins is 6’4”, 205. All 3 (including Lawrence) will be top 10 picks when they come out. Higgins will come out in 2020 and Lawrence and Ross in 2021. If Lawrence keeps this up, he’ll be the No.1 pick in the draft in 2021. Ross should be a top 5 pick in 2021 and Higgins should go in the top 10 in 2020. Dabo Swinney has added a couple of talented freshmen in the mix this year in 98, 4 star Frank Ladson (6’3”, 190) and 97, 4 star Joe Ngata (6’3”, 205). They had excellent spring games and will be key players on the perimeter this fall. Cornell Powell and Diondre Overton are 2 others to watch on the outside. Amari Rogers, one of the most explosive players on the team, suffered a torn ACL in the spring, so his status is up in the air for this season. That will affect their punt return game, so they’ll need to find a replacement there.
The great Travis Etienne is back at running back. Etienne rushed for 1,675 yards on 204 carries, 8.1 yards per pop, and 24 touchdowns. That’s sensational production. Tavien Feaster, who rushed for 451 yards and 6 TDs, and Lyn-J Dixon, who rushed for 558 yards and 5 TDs, also return in the backfield. The offensive line features 4 seniors and a sophomore and is led by senior center Sean Pollard (6’5”, 320). Swinney is pretty high on tight end Bradley Galloway as well. Galloway, 6’4”, 235 sophomore, had an excellent spring game.
Chase Brice is a more than capable backup quarterback to Lawrence. He saved Clemson’s season last year when Lawrence was injured, completing a 4th and 6 with the Tigers behind Syracuse 23-20 with under 2 minutes left in the game then proceeded to lead them to the winning TD and a 27-23 victory. 4 Star Freshman Taisun Phommachanh looks very capable as well.
Defense is where there might be a few question marks, but there is young talent in the front 7 and some veteran talent at linebacker and in the secondary returning. 2018 5 star and 4th ranked player in the country Xavier Thomas (6’2”, 260) is the guy the Tigers are looking at to be the leader up front at defensive end. Swinney is very high on the other bookend, Justin Foster (6’2”, 265). Jordan Williams (6’4”, 305) and Nyles Pinckney (6’1”, 305) will form the interior at defensive tackle. They are replacing generational talent in defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who was the 4th overall selection in the 2019 draft by the Raiders, Christian Wilkins, who was selected 13th overall by the Dolphins, Dexter Lawrence, who was selected 17th overall by the Giants, and Austin Bryant, who was picked in the 4th round by the Detroit Lions. So major shoes to fill for this new crop.
At linebacker, outside linebacker Isaiah Simmons is the leader. Simmons led the team in tackles with 97 last season and added 9 1/2 tackles for loss. He is a 6’4”, 225 pound junior. Cornerback is well covered with junior A.J. Terrell, who had the pick 6 against Tagovailoa on the opening drive of the championship game last season that really started the avalanche in that game. Derion Kendrick is another superstar in the making at the other corner spot. Safeties are seniors K’Von Wallace and Tanner Muse. Both are highly talented.
The Tigers host Georgia Tech on Thursday, Aug. 29th at 7 PM CT on the ACC Network, which now will be comparable to the SEC Network and will be a national network. It premieres on August 22nd, somewhere around there, certainly before this game kicks off. Both Charter and DirecTV should carry it. Then Texas A&M comes into Death Valley to face the Tigers on Sat. Sept. 7th at 2:30 PM CT on ABC. Then the Tigers go to a tricky one @ Syracuse, Sat. Sept. 14th at 6:30 PM CT on ABC. Syracuse is going to be good this year and they knocked off Clemson 2 years ago at the Carrier Dome and took them to the wire last year in Death Valley, so Clemson will have to be on alert for this one. They then host Charlotte, Saturday, Sept. 21st. Then @UNC, Sat. Sept. 28th. Off on Oct. 5th. Florida State come to Clemson on Sat. Oct. 12th. FSU still trying to rebuild. May be bette this year. Would like to see that game become a marquee game again. @Louisville, Sat. Oct. 19th. Boston College at Clemson Saturday, Oct. 26th. Wofford at home, Saturday, Nov. 2nd. @NC State, Sat. 11-9, Wake Forest at home, Saturday, Nov. 16th. Off Nov.23rd, then @South Carolina Saturday Nov. 30th. Will Muschamp thinks this is the best team he’s had in his 4 years in Columbia, so that one should be interesting.
The Tigers have another great chance to make the playoff and win the national championship if their defense can come through. Their front 4 will have to step up and fill the tremendous void left by Wilkins, Lawrence, Ferrell and Bryant. Trevor Lawrence just needs to keep being himself and the talent around him is as good as you’ll find in college football. Awesome team, awesome coach and awesome coaching staff. Certainly they can win it all. Couple of tricky ones @ Syracuse and @ South Carolina, so they’ll have to survive those to have a shot at making the playoff along with winning the ACC Championship game. So it’s not a given, but the material is there to excel once again this season at Clemson.
****A few corrections. Running back Tavien Feaster has transferred to South Carolina. Tight end Braden Galloway is out for the year. Not sure if it’s injury or discipline related. *** as noted in the comment below.