Preview 2017: Clemson Tigers
Previewing and looking ahead at the Clemson Tigers season – and what you need to know.
Deshaun Watson might have come up with a brilliant career on the way to carrying Clemson to a national title. This year, the Tigers might just prove they’re a whole lot more than No. 4.
Of course all-time great quarterbacks need something special around them to win a national title – obviously, championship football teams don’t get it done with just one guy – but consider the relatively recent comps of teams winning a championship because their QBs came up with historic performances.
The 2005 Texas team beat USC in an epic Rose Bowl for the national title in what will forever be the Vince Young Game. Texas might have been great under Colt McCoy – and got back to the national title in 2009 – but it hasn’t won a championship since.
Florida won the 2008 BCS Championship with Mr. Promise – Tim Tebow – putting together an amazing run, including a brilliant SEC title over Alabama before beating Sam Bradford’s Oklahoma juggernaut. The Gators haven’t played for a national championship since.
Auburn went from mediocre in 2009 to national champion in 2010 because of Cam Newton. The Tigers played for another national tile in the 2013 season, but they lost to a team that had another Heisman-caliber superstar quarterback capping off a special season – Florida State’s Jameis Winston.
As mentioned after Clemson pulled off a thriller to beat Alabama for the 2017 CFP National Championship, sometimes, the right team in the right season just has The Dude.
But it’s one thing to have an unstoppably special quarterback – Johnny Manziel, Lamar Jackson, among others – and it’s another to have a system in place to keep cranking out great teams that just so happen to have a big-time star under center who can be the catalyst at the right time.
Unless you’re Alabama, all you can do is keep putting together great seasons, and if everything breaks right, you have a Deshaun Watson who can come up with a drive for the ages to get you the the championship.
And that’s what will be so interesting about 2017 Clemson. Head coach Dabo Swinney has created a powerhouse that replaces NFL talent with more NFL talent without skipping a beat.
The resume has become amazing over the last five seasons since the epic 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
60-9 overall, two ACC championships, two national title appearances, one CFP National Championship, two blowouts over Bob Stoops, two wins over Urban Meyer, one win over Nick Saban – in a national title game, no less – and with 30 players drafted since 2013.
That’s what Swinney has built. Nine players were drafted off the 2016 team that lost to Alabama in Glendale – including four in the first 57 picks – and Clemson restocked the shelves to win the national title.
So how hard can it be to lose a quarterback and all the other skill stars to the NFL and still be a factor?
Clemson not only has to replace Watson, but WR Mike Williams – who went seventh overall to San Diego – RB Wayne Gallman, WR Artavis Scott, and TE Jordan Leggett. Fortunately for the program, the rest of the team is loaded for another run.
The defense that finished eighth in the nation gets back one of the best defensive lines in college football – with a devastating trio of Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell to work around – and with four possible all-stars in the back seven to overcome the loss of three First Team All-ACC performers.
That offense that has to figure out how to reload is outstanding on the line – OT Mitch Hyatt and OG Tyrone Crowder are All-ACC blockers – and yeah, it’s Clemson, so the new guys ready to take over the skill spots will be fantastic.
Kelly Bryant is another great quarterback ready to be the next star up in the progression from Tajh Boyd to Watson to now. There’s a good trio of running backs, the receiving corps has more where the lost stars came from, and considering what Swinney and his staff have been able to do, there’s no reason to expect a big drop-off in production.
Clemson, at this point, gets the benefit of the doubt.
Yeah, it lost its main man who ended up carrying the program to its first national title since 1981, but there are a whole lot of main men returning who can prove that the 2016 season wasn’t just about what a quarterback did on the biggest stage.
But it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Bryant – or star recruit Hunter Johnson – quickly turned into one of those transcendent superstars, too.