Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: #14 Clemson Tigers

Clemson LogoThe Clemson Tigers had one of the most dynamic freshman players in the country in quarterback Deshaun Watson who didn’t start a game until the fourth game of the season and then proceeded to fight through injuries the rest of the year before being shut down with a knee injury. The Tigers still finished the season with ten wins for the fourth consecutive season despite the quarterback situation. Clemson has recruited as well as anyone the last couple years and it shows as they continue to reload at the skill positions.

Offensively, Deshaun Watson will be the man in 2015 and if he can stay healthy, the Tigers can be something special. Watson finished his shortened-due-to-injury 2014 season with 1,466 yards passing, 14 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions and 5 rushing touchdowns. Behind Watson, Clemson is loaded to the gills with returning skill players beginning with the running back position where sophomore leading rusher Wayne Gallman returns after rushing for over 700 yards as a freshman and proving to be a reliable option out of the backfield in the passing game as well. Backing him up will be sophomore Tyshon Dye and sophomore and Thomasville native Adam Choice. On the outside, Watson will have a slew of receivers to choose from starting with freak-of-nature Mike Williams who exploded on the scene in 2014 with over a 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air. Opposite of Williams will be sophomore Artavis Scott who isn’t the physical specimen that Williams is but can be the speedy outside option that fans have come to expect from Clemson. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Charone Peake finishes his career at Clemson with a 20-30 catch senior season. Up front is where the Tiger offense will be tested as Clemson only returns two starting offensive lineman. The guys slated to fill the vacant positions are mostly seniors but haven’t had extended playing time. The two returning starters are the two you would choose if you could: Senior left tackle Isaiah Battle and senior center Ryan Morton. If the Clemson offensive line can hold up and keep Watson healthy & off of his back, watch out because the Tigers will be as good as any offense in the country.

Clemson Sophomore Quarterback Deshaun Watson
Clemson Sophomore Quarterback Deshaun Watson

It’s the defense where the Tigers will need to find some play makers. In 2014, the Tigers returned seven starters and dropped their points per game average down below 18 points for the first time since 2008. In 2015, Clemson returns only three starters but will reload with inexperienced but highly touted recruits. Two of the three returning starters hail from the secondary in returning leading tackler (60 tackles) and junior safety Jayron Kearse and self-proclaimed ‘best corner back in the game’ sophomore Mackensie Alexander. The linebacker corps will be young group led by junior Korrin Wiggins as the lone returning starter but will be flanked by junior Ben Boulware and senior BJ Goodson. It will be all newbies on the defensive line but they won’t fail the eyeball test as the four projected starters on the defensive line average a bag of potato chips under 300-lbs. The senior of the group, DJ Reader is also the one you won’t miss with his 325 pounds somehow fit onto his 6-foot-2 frame. Even though there are only three returning starters, this will be a veteran group of older players who have been around the program and in Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables scheme their whole collegiate careers.

Clemson Tigers Head Coach Dabo Swinney
Clemson Tigers Head Coach Dabo Swinney

The Tigers don’t have a terrible schedule in 2015 but most of their tough games are at the beginning of the season. Clemson opens the season at home against FCS and in-state opponent Terriers of Wofford before welcoming the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt Appalachian State Mountaineers, who return the most starters of any team in the country from a team who finished the 2014 season 6-0. Upset in the making? The following Thursday night, on short rest, the Tigers will travel up to Louisville to take on the Cardinals in Clemson’s first ever trip to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Tigers will close out the month of September with their bye week before beginning October with three straight tough home games. It begins with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame visiting Death Valley for the first time since 1977 followed by the reigning ACC Coastal champion Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.  These two schools have locked up for some great ball games over the years and the home team has now won nine of the last ten and I’m sure we’re in for another great game, this year in Death Valley. The third game in the three game home stand will be against the Boston College Eagles who finished 7-6 last season and have proven to be a thorn in Clemson’s side since Steve Addazio took over in Chesnut Hill. The last two meetings between the two have been decided by an average of only seven points and last year’s 17-13 slug fest was one for the books, where for a while it looked like the Tigers were going to get knocked out of the Top 25. October finishes with back-to-back road games at Miami and NC State, two teams desperately in need of a top flight win. November begins and ends with a marquee matchup with two lack luster games in the middle. On November 7th, the reigning three time conference champion Florida State Seminoles visit Death Valley followed by a road game up to the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. Clemson plays their final home game of the season the following week against Wake Forest before hitting the road to take on the hated Gamecocks of South Carolina. The Tigers have lost their last three trips to Columbia by an average of 17 points and are aiming to end that streak and make it two in a row against South Carolina for the first time since 2007-2008.

The Tigers are loaded at the skill positions to a point where it’s almost an embarrassment of riches but where the rubber meets the road in 2015 will be on the offensive and defensive lines. Both groups are inexperienced but full of guys who have been in the program for a while. If the offensive line can keep Watson from being impaled by ACC defenders, Clemson will be in the mix for the ACC championship as well as a birth in the College Football Playoff.

Clemson Memorial Stadium aka 'Death Valley' - Capacity: 81,500
Clemson Memorial Stadium aka ‘Death Valley’ – Capacity: 81,500

2015 Clemson Tigers Schedule

Sept 5th            Wofford
Sept 12th          Appalachian State
Sept 17th          at Louisville (Thurs)
Sept 26th         BYE WEEK
Oct 3rd             Notre Dame
Oct 10th           Georgia Tech
Oct 17th            Boston College
Oct 24th           at Miami
Oct 31st            at NC State
Nov 7th            Florida State
Nov 14th          at Syracuse
Nov 21st           Wake Forest
Nov 28th         at South Carolina


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