Clemson accomplished something in 2009 many had expected them to do a long time ago and that is play for an ACC Championship.
Now Head Coach Dabo Swinney hopes to take the Tigers to the next level and win their first outright conference title since 1991. Clemson will have to do this without CJ Spiller and a precarious situation at QB.
To get more insight into Clemson I contacted Shakin The Southland for their insight.
Q: With a full season under his belt now, how has Dabo Swinney changed this program?
A: The biggest thing is still just the energy and attitude in the football program. We aren't going out there every week not knowing what to expect. Dabo recruits as well as Tommy did, that hasn’t changed, but Dabo doesn't do things that make you think you're going to come out and be totally inept or unprepared.
I actually expect to improve week to week now whereas I did not before.....I usually expected us to either win by 30 or lose by 30 with Bowden.
Q: If QB Kyle Parker decides to go to baseball, then who is next in line and tell us more about them?
A: Tajh Boyd is it, [Michael] Wade is his backup. Boyd is highly talented and probably the highest rated recruit Clemson has brought into school at QB in a decade, but he just doesn't have the experience that Parker has. He is not a running QB but does have speed like Parker. He does not have Parker's cannon arm but throws with a little more touch than Parker.
The only thing worrying me going forward is that Parker has a year of reading defenses, and Boyd does not.
On the flip side, Boyd got more snaps this spring than Parker did last year as a RS Fr, and if Parker goes Pro then Boyd will get nearly all the snaps in August. Parker had to split all of his with [Wily] Korn.
Q: What is the offense's identity after after CJ Spiller?
until they show us they can do something. 4 starting A: Playing to their strengths, it needs to be a run-oriented offense with play-action passing. I-formation running and throwing to the TE Dwayne Allen, and play action passes to the WRsOL come back.
Ellington and Harper are both very capable backs, and Ellington will in my opinion be a better running back than Spiller was (not a better player, but a better RB).
Whereas CJ waited for a hole to open, Ellington sees a crease and hits it at 100mph. Ellington doesn't have the 6th gear that Spiller had, but he gets to his full speed quicker.
If Clemson has Parker, then I could see the offense opening up more but we don't have any proven WRs to throw to.
Q: I have always felt like the offensive line has held Clemson back, but last year stepped it up. How will this unit compare to last year's?
A: Same. As long as Brad Scott is here, it will be average to above-average. They will not dominate to their abilities.
Q: What is holding DE Da'Quan Bowers (former ESPNU #1 recruit) from a breakout year?
A: Himself. He likes to eat at Waffle House and put on weight last season, DURING the season, which is abysmal.
Bowers has the speed and first step to beat anyone he wants to beat, but I don't see the technique with his hand usage and pad level to get around great tackles. If he puts that work in and wants to get 10 sacks, he can do it, but its not a coach's fault in his case.
Q: I thought by far the weakest part of the defense last year was the LBs. How is DC Kevin Steele going to improve this unit?
A: I think he's going to punt. He'll go to more nickel sets until one of our talented young guys steps up. Clemson doesn't have the numbers at LB to play a true 4-3 for a whole season, and definitely not enough depth. Last year we didn't get to work on that depth either, as none of the freshmen really took a leap forward to get it.
The talent there, going by recruiting rankings, is quite good. Its certainly enough to do the job.
Corico Hawkins is a good player but has the same problem Maye has with lack of size. A MLB cannot go toe-to-toe daily against offensive guards without either superior technique or good technique with great size.
Steele has proven that he can teach technique at other stops, but Brandon Maye did not have it last year and that was a huge reason for our problems at LB. He couldn't get off blocks and couldn't read his keys properly. I think Maye's possible move to WLB is better for him.
SLB Quan Christian and WLB Tig Willard have been heralded and praised, but both are young and didn't do enough last season. They and Hawkins could really make or break the season for our defense.
I'm cautiously optimistic. I think one of these 4 guys is going to be really great, but who?
Q: The Tigers always recruit well. Who are some of the freshman that will see significant action this season?
A: Justin Parker at OLB will get snaps, but how much remains to be seen. I think one of the two CBs we brought in will avoid redshirt (Darius Robinson or Garry Peters, if he qualifies) and play quite a bit. Even though Josh Watson was an early enrollee at DT, we have enough there that I expect him to RS. That's it on D.
Vic Beasley almost certainly will play at TE and will play significant snaps there, because we just don't have a 2nd TE and our offense is heavy on H-back/TE usage. He doesn't have far to go to get the 2nd-string spot and after August I expect him to be there playing every week.
OG Kalon Davis was another early enrollee who needed to get his weight under control: the boy is big enough to play now, but I hate not redshirting an OL. OG David Beasley is someone I'm much higher on after seeing his film, and he could possibly avoid a RS. I think one of those two guards has to avoid one, just because we again don't have numbers thanks to Brad [Scott].
Q: Which is more important to Clemson fans this year: Beating South Carolina or winning the ACC?
A: Always winning the ACC.
Q: Clemson travels down to Auburn in Week 3. How do Clemson fans view the SEC?
A: Well we don't kiss their ass at every step like everyone else does, but we know its a great conference. I don't think any of us quake in our boots when we hear of the big bad SEC, but we don't hate them either. They deserve their respect.
We're more or less tired of hearing SC fans whine about their superior schedule beating them up, and causing them to lose to us, and just giving them an excuse for sucking at football year after year.....when they sucked at football for year after year as a SoCon member, independent, and in the ACC.
I went to LSU for 6 years, so I've been in the SEC atmosphere, and I don't think Clemson is any different from the SEC schools. Clemson is the most SEC-like of any non-SEC school in my opinion.
Q: It seems like Clemson always gets upset in a trap game that derails a potential double digit win season or national championship run. What game do you see as a potential trap this season?
A: I'm not sure, its a tough schedule after the first 2. @Auburn, Miami, @UNC all in a row. At Auburn is a game I currently predict we lose, at FSU later in the year is another. Miami at home will be very difficult. What happens if we win those 3 in a row?
We have Maryland at home to follow, so that's a trap. If we lose to them again I will not be happy with Dabo.
We have GT at home, and they're a thorn in our sides no matter who is coaching. At WF could potentially be a trap because we generally play poorly against [Jim] Grobe in Winston-Salem.
Q: Describe a successful season for this year. Describe a disappointing season.
A: 10 wins is the goal, and undefeated at home. A great year could be had if we win 2 of 3 against AU, 'Da U' , UNC and can keep it going. Maryland, GT without [Jonathan] Dwyer or [Demaryius] Thomas, @BC, and NC state are all winnable games. 10-2 would make me ecstatic really, and could signify that Clemson is finally getting over the hump.
Losing 2 of 3 early and falling into any traps against MD, GT, @BC or WF would really hurt. I could see them going 7-5 without Kyle Parker. Losing to WF and MD this year would be almost unforgivable and then if we lost to SC you could see Dabo on a hot seat.
Q: What is your prediction for the season?
and Miami are toss-ups. A: 8 wins, 2 losses, 2 toss-ups to make or break us. My two losses are Auburn and FSU. UNCDabo had his "gimme" year from me, so I expect 10 wins. Going back 5 years in recruiting rankings, which I take as just a relative indicator, only Auburn and FSU have more talent on the team than Clemson does (UNC doesn't get the offensive talent, and Miami is right there with us). I don't see anything wrong with expecting 10 wins.
Losing Parker stifles that enthusiasm however, and the toss-ups would likely go the other way and possibly one more, so 7-5 in that case.
My Take on Clemson…
I do not think the offense will be as good without C.J. Spiller. I have heard about the talents of Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper, but Clemson took off last year when they focused on getting the ball in Spiller’s hands as much as possible.
The Tigers are in the right division to get back to the ACC Championship Game, but their schedule this year presents a more difficult path to Charlotte.
They face their biggest divisional competitors on the road this year FSU and Boston College. Clemson has a tough draw from the Coastal as well facing Miami, UNC, and Georgia Tech in a four week span.
Parker has said he is retuning but he is still eligible to sign with the Colorado Rockies. Losing him would change the season outlook for Swinney and the Tigers.
The defense should be better in the second year of Kevin Steele’s scheme and the return on DeAndre McDaniel who turned down the NFL. Everyone is waiting for Da'Quan Bowers to have a breakout year, but evidently Waffle House has been holding him down Is this the year?
Clemson is good enough to beat anyone in the ACC, but can play bad enough to lose to anyone.
Their difficult schedule prevents me from picking the Tigers to win their division.
7-5, T2nd in Atlantic Division
Thanks again to Shakin The Southland for their insight.