Teams & Conferences

Clemson Preview 2016: Tigers Taking Next Step

Clemson’s football outlook for the 2016 season. The Tigers are looking to take the next step into becoming a superpower.

After making it to the national title game, Clemson is bucking to take the next step in its evolution as a national powerhouse.

Last season was a breakthrough campaign for the Tigers, which came within a touchdown of capturing their first national championship since 1981. It was the logical progression for a program that had become so consistently good under Dabo Swinney, yet had struggled to step outside of Florida State’s shadow and into the national lexicon.

Now that Clemson has knocked on the door, it’s determined to ram through it in 2016.

Even with the 45-40 loss to Bama back on Jan. 11, the 2015 Tiger squad may have been the most talented one in school history. From that group, a number of key figures, namely QB Deshaun Watson, are back. And many need to be replaced, with the lure of the NFL Draft taking an especially big bite out of the D.

Swinney continues to do a remarkable job of upgrading the talent of his team. He’s fostered a winning culture and a family atmosphere that’s been very appealing to four and five-star recruits from along the Eastern Seaboard. The coach has created a machine at Clemson, which will be most evident this year on offense.

No one is stopping the Tiger attack in 2016. No one. Watson is the embodiment of what Swinney is achieving at Clemson, poised beyond his years and gifted enough to be the first player selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.

And the junior will be flanked by so much explosive skill talent, like RB Wayne Gallman, receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott and TE Jordan Leggett, that keeping this juggernaut below 40 points ought to earn an opposing coordinator a raise and a pat on the back.

It’s on defense—again—that the Tigers will face their biggest hurdles to repeating as the ACC champion.

Over the last two seasons, Clemson has been gutted on D, with a steady flow of alums continuing their careers on Sundays. And while raw talent may never be an issue as long as Swinney is in charge, the defense figures to be more vulnerable than it was in 2015. The ends are new, the secondary will have three first-time starters and depth is a concern.

In other words, new stars will emerge, Brent Venables will show why he’s one of the nation’s top coordinators and Watson might have to rally the team back in a shootout or two.

Swinney has erased the divide with Jimbo Fisher and Florida State. He darn near caught up to his alma mater, Alabama, earlier this year. The coach has something special brewing at Clemson. But while his model for success is an enduring, long-term one, he only has one more year with Watson, so there’s a sense of urgency to grab that national crown while No. 4 is still an amateur.