Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Can Clemson Finish Number 1?

Tommy Bowden is not befuddled by his team's expectations

ACC Atlantic #1 Clemson Tigers

2007 Results and Offseason
Clemson got off to a hot start in 2007 before falling in late September to Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Still, the Tigers had an Atlantic title in their sights before Matt Ryan lofted BC to a come from behind win in Death Valley. Clemson had another banner recruiting year and retained the services of RB James Davis and WR Aaron Kelly who both flirted with the NFL. HC Tommy Bowden has his best team since he came to Clemson in 1999.

2007 Record: 9-4, 5-3
Ret. Starters: 16
Ret. Lettermen: 52
Off PPG 28.8 (2nd),RYPG 138.4 (3rd), PYPG 232.9 (4th)
Def PPG 18.6 (2nd),RYPG 97.4 (4th), PYPG 165.9 (1st)

Offense (8 Ret. Starters, 23 Ret. Lettermen)
It was thought before last season that then junior Cullen Harper would just be a placeholder at QB until highly recruited Willy Korn was ready to take the reins. But Harper turned his first season starting into an All ACC season and Korn was redshirted. The senior starts off the season as my top QB in the ACC. The Tigers have arguably the most talented running back tandem in the country (notice I said talented). Clemson must find a way to use Davis and CJ Spiller effectively to maximize their abilities. The weakness of Clemson is their o-line where they lost four starters again this offseason. Last year, the o-line had to replace four starters from '06 and struggled for much of the season to open holes for the backs. Kelly leads an experienced WR corps for Harper to throw to. Joining Kelly will be sure handed Tyler Grisham and speedster Jacoby Ford.

Defense (8 Ret. Starters, 27 Ret. Lettermen)
The defense will have an incredible 27 lettermen back from a unit ranking 2nd PPG and 1st in PYPG in ACC play. From the d-line DE Philip Merling is gone but three other starters return. True freshmen Da'Quan Bowers was ranked as the #1 recruit in the country by some services. He will be joined by Ricky Sapp, Dorell Scott, and Rashad Jackson (inj. recently). The Tigers lose all three starting LBs from a year ago. DeAndre McDaniel is good at pass coverage and had six pass break ups a year ago. Kavell Conner had two tackles for loss last season. The secondary returns all four starters from the unit ranked #1 in PYPG in ACC play. The safety duo of Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons is especially good.

Special Teams
K Matt Bucholz must improve his accuracy over last year when he was just 22-36. Jimmy Maners had a solid season with 16 punts inside the 20. Clemson will use Spiller and Ford on returns for a dynamite combo.

Newcomers of Note
The aforementioned Bowers will be joined by several other top recruits. OL Antoine McClain and Dalton Freeman could see time if the o-line returnees are not up to snuff. RB Jamie Harper is heir apparent to Davis and Spiller.

Schedule
Clemson starts off the season in Atlanta against Alabama. Also in the non-conf they play Furman, SC State, and in-state rival South Carolina. From the Coastal they play permanent opp Ga Tech, vDuke, and @UVA - the easiest draw you can get. Three of the final five are on the road.

Final Thoughts
Tiger fans have been waiting for a season like this since Bowden arrived. The expectations have always been high in Tiger Town, but not this high. For Clemson to get over the hump and into the ACCCG, they have to avoid that banana peel game or the 4th quarter letdown that has plagued them the last couple of years. Clemson is as good or better than every team on the schedule, so anything less than an Atlantic Division title is a disappointment.

Prediction
Likely Wins: vCitadel, vNC St, vSC St, vGT, vDuke, vMryld, @UVA
Likely Loss: None
Swing Games: vAlab, @Wake, @FSU, @BC, vSo. Car.
10-2, 6-2

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