The 2018 spring college football rankings, taking the first look at the Clemson Tigers.
No. 1: Clemson Tigers
Spring Practice Starts: February 28
Spring Game: April 14
Clemson Tigers Spring Status
Forget about what happened in the Sugar Bowl in the loss to Alabama.
Yes, the offense was outclassed, and yes, the eventual national champion played at a whole other level, but considering all the parts missing from the 2016 Clemson championship team – including, seemingly, all the stars from the offensive side – going 12-2 with an ACC championship and a trip to the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed showed just how strong the program has become under Dabo Swinney.
As if Swinney didn’t prove before that Clemson reloads and keeps winning, last year solidified it. But now he and the Tigers are in a weird spot – they actually don’t have to rebuild anywhere.
The miraculous return of all the NFL talent on the defensive line is a nice place to start – if this isn’t the best front four in college football, someone else has something amazing.
There are a few next-level guys gone from both sides of the ball, and some work needs to be done in the receiving corps, but that’s nothing compared to having to replace Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman, and all of the amazing players from a few years ago, or the work done to revamp the D line a few times over.
Because of how good the defense will be, and with the experience on the offensive side – and the potential for some amazing offseason position battles – everything is there for a fourth straight College Football Playoff trip, and possibly, a second national title in three seasons.
Clemson Biggest Depth Chart Battle
Quarterback. It wasn’t Kelly Bryant’s fault Clemson couldn’t do anything offensively against Alabama. The Tiger attack was swarmed over by the Tide throughout, and Bryant only hit half of his throws for 124 yards and two picks. Solid on the year, he completed 66% for 2,802 yards and 13 scores with eight interceptions, and ran for 665 yards and 11 scores.
Under normal circumstances, he’d be the no-brainer, veteran starter for the entire team to rally around – and he still might be. However, 2016 star recruit Hunter Johnson has the passing skills to add even more of a downfield element to the offense, and 2017 superstar get Trevor Lawrence is the next-level guy who might be too good to keep off the field from the start, because …
Clemson Biggest Issue
Downfield passing. As solid as Bryant was, there just wasn’t enough happening down the field. The Tigers averaged just 10.7 yards per completion – compared to around 12 with Watson slinging it in 2015 and 2016. Part of that had to do with the new receivers in the mix, and part of that had to do with Bryant not being Watson – no sin there. But Lawrence is the bomber who might be able to stretch the field if the incumbent can’t.
Clemson Biggest Positive
Defensive line, defensive line, defensive line. There are a whole slew of positives about the 2018 Tigers, but thanks to a few mediocre grades from the NFL advisory board, the band is back together up front.
If Dexter Lawrence isn’t the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft, he’ll go in the top five. Fellow tackle Christian Wilkins and ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are future NFL stars, too, and there’s more talent waiting in the wings.
Really, Why Are The Clemson Tigers Ranked Here?
The team that was the CFP No. 1 seed last year comes back more experience, deeper, and better. Granted, the quarterback play could stand to be a wee bit better, two of the top three receivers – Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud – are gone, and Dorian O’Daniel is a loss from the linebacking corps, but that’s nitpicking.
Score a few points, and let that D line do the rest. Be shocked if the Tigers aren’t back in the College Football Playoff yet again, and with that 2016 attitude that helped them win a national title.