The Fightin’ Dabos continued to improve in 2012, finally avoiding boneheaded, upset losses and winning 11 games for the fourth time in school history. Clemson dominated their way through the ACC with the lone exception of a loss to FSU, on the road, at night, in front of a raucous College Gameday crowd.
Until their breakthrough ACC Championship season in 2011, the program set its goals on the elusive ACC crown. With that under their belt and FSU looking shaky in 2013, that’s only the beginning of what fans can set their eyes on. The Chick-fil-a Bowl victory over SEC-power, LSU, ignited exuberance from the proud, orange-clad fan base and chatter of a 2013 National Title run and a Heisman campaign for their star quarterback began soon after.
Will they win the national championship? I’m not ready to say anybody can stop Alabama, but there are a couple (six actually, if you read the title you could see that coming) reasons to believe Clemson can win the ACC and punch their ticket to Pasadena for the National Championship.
1. Heisman Candidate QB: After days of anxious waiting, Tajh Boyd, the ACC Player of the Year, announced he will return for his senior season. Start the Heisman campaign folks! Boyd deserves talk of entering college football’s “Tajh” Majal of greatness. “Boyd hopes to increase his totals in all categories to keep the Tigers on track. When told he rushed for over 500 yards this season, Boyd answered, ‘Why not go for 800?’” He accounted for 46 touchdowns this season, 36 through the air. With a further improved offensive line, I expect the same, if not more from Boyd who should also cut down on his interceptions, 13 last season.
2. Offensive Identity: Did you feel the gust a couple of weeks ago? It was all the Clemson fans breathing a sigh of relief when word broke that Kliff Kingsbury was named the head coach of Texas Tech and Chad Morris would remain in his role as offensive coordinator. Since coming over from Tulsa, Morris has revamped the offense into one of the most fast-paced and highest scoring units in the country. Eventually Morris will become a head coach at a major program, but having him on staff next year sure helps their chances. When he eventually does move on, Dabo Swinney says,
“It’s a Clemson offense, not a Chad Morris offense,” Swinney told reporters. “When we hired Chad, this is what we wanted to do philosophically.”
3. Ideal Schedule:
The schedule lines up beautifully for the Clemson Tigers. FSU travels to Death Valley where they haven’t won since 2001 (Likewise, Clemson has only won in Tallahassee three times, and just once since 1989). The Seminoles will be severely depleted after losing a bevy of coaches and key players at QB, RB, DE, and CB.UGA, who will open the season against Clemson, will also make the trip north and likely play in front of a College Gameday Crowd. Clemson has played Virginia Tech three times (three wins) in the last two years, but don’t have them on the schedule next season. The ACC chose to restart scheduling with Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining, so Clemson will travel to UVA instead of hosting Duke, who they played in Durham in 2012. The Tigers also avoid a trip to Atlanta, as the scheduling quirk offers Georgia Tech at home for a consecutive year.
GT is also much less scary now that they’ve been saddled with Paul Johnson’s “unprofessional environment”
and weak recruiting for four years. Importantly, a schedule that boasts UGA, FSU, NCSU, GT, and South Carolina should be sturdy enough to earn national respect. The toughest test will come in the last game when the Tigers travel
into urban decay
to Columbia to play the Gamecocks.
4. Four Returning On The Offensive Line: In my original season preview, my biggest concern was the offensive line. They exceeded expectations and improved as the season progressed. Senior leader and starting center, Dalton Freeman, graduated in December and won’t be back, but they’ll return four offensive lineman.
5. Brent Venables: Unfortunately, Clemson has burned through defensive coordinators like a chunky kid going through Twinkies (I refuse to let them die with Hostess). Since Dabo Swinney took over for Tommy Bowden, Vic Koenning departed due to philosophical differences and Kevin Steele swung and missed like Ryan Howard swinging at a curve ball. Brent Venables’ defense was brutally exposed against FSU and NCSU, but came through big against LSU. I expect further improvement from the defense in Venables second year with some of the great young recruits such as Ben Boulware, Scott Pagano, Shaquille Lawson, and Ebenezer Ogundeko making an impact.
6. Pre-Season Ranking: Clemson is essentially a lock to begin next season well within the top 10. That’s key for any non-SEC team with national title aspirations. My pre-season rankings will look something like this:
4. Ohio State
6. Notre Dame
7. South Carolina
If I still haven’t convinced you to take a trip to Las Vegas and put your life savings down on Clemson (odds for a National Championship victory are around 20:1 to 25:1 and ranked as the 8th most likely team to accomplish such), I wouldn’t blame you. There are some legitimate concerns for this team. The Tigers’ star running back, Andre Ellington, is departing, leaving a hole at RB, but with “Hot Rod” McDowell, DJ Howard, Zac Brooks, and incoming freshmen Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman on the roster, there is an abundance of talent. Certainly one of them will make a capable replacement for the speedy back (who fumbled in the last two Clemson bowl games).
Another obstacle… Alabama… They’re a team. They exist. They automatically knock everyone else’s chances of a title game berth down by 50% since they basically own a slot in the game. The real wager should be Alabama vs. The Field.
Finally, and I really hate to say it, but it will be hard to win at Williams-Brice to close out the season. I can’t imagine Clemson could lose their final regular season game and still play for all the marbles. Nobody beat the Gamecocks there this year (they lost at LSU and at UF), and Clemson has lost four in a row to their academically challenged rival. I can’t fathom they extend the streak to five games, but I’m certainly not confident.
Clemson may not have the mustard to beat Alabama, but barring injury, there’s a very serious case to be made that they can win twelve or thirteen games before the BCS configures the National Championship Game for the last time, meaning they’ll be right there, ready to play. 2013 presents a tremendous opportunity for Clemson. Start planning your trip to Pasadena!
Ryan Kantor is a contributor to Sports-Kings.com. He is a life-long Yankees fan and a proud Clemson alumnus, residing in North Carolina, where he works in marketing research. For more stories like this, you can visit his personal blog at RyanKantor.com and follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Kantor.