The big 2014 Clemson football guide: Ferocity on D and options on O

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson loses its two most visible stars from last year's Orange Bowl squad, but the Tigers return one of the best defensive lines -- and perhaps the best set of coordinators -- in the country. They are deep and fast and might not need a rebuilding year.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Two years

Two years ago, Clemson had me confused. The Tigers were regressing on paper, but they had managed to win the ACC anyway. The offense was beginning to show immense potential, and the defense was an unmitigated disaster. A 10-win 2011 campaign was a sign of a breakthrough, while a 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl was a debacle in every possible way. Getting an accurate read on the program as a whole was nearly impossible.

Can you trend in the right and wrong directions at the same time? If so, it would make sense that Clemson would be the one to figure out how. [...]

On paper, Swinney has addressed his team's weaknesses and enhanced its strengths. But on paper, this defense shouldn't have been anywhere near this bad last year either, so why should we automatically think it will change [...]

It is difficult to ignore the magnitude of upside the team will possess in 2012 (and, probably, 2013 and beyond); but it is also difficult to ignore the wackiness that generally accompanies Clemson football.

Since I wrote that in summer 2012, Clemson has gone 22-4. The Tigers are undefeated against teams not named Florida State or South Carolina. They've taken down LSU, Ohio State, Auburn (in 2012, yes), and Georgia. They've gone 14-2 in the ACC. They've scored 1,055 points and allowed just 611. They have built one of the best defensive lines in the country. They have held onto ace offensive coordinator Chad Morris. They have all but defeated the notion of "Clemsoning."

(Orange Bowl conqueror West Virginia, by the way, has currently lost 14 of 20 games.)

Stereotypes exist until they don't. Clemson has destroyed pretty much everything you had come to believe about Clemson in two years.

2. When the stats have high expectations

Even a rather sophisticated projection system -- and I've never claimed mine is all that sophisticated -- has to lean on generalizations to project future success. It's not necessarily going to know which breakthrough freshman is going to change everything, and it's definitely not going to know which key injuries are going to shift the narrative and affect the national title race. But it's going to tell you who has and hasn't earned the benefit of the doubt. And according to my May S&P+ projections, Clemson has all sorts of benefit at the moment.

Now, I cannot necessarily justify placing Clemson in the top five, not with a new quarterback, not without Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. But if you view projections as the best starting point for conversation, this projection hints at just how much Clemson returns and just how well Dabo Swinney and his staff have been recruiting. The Tigers are going to have an absolutely ferocious front six/seven on defense, and while they're replacing quite a few difference makers on offense, they're making replacements from a deep pool of former four- or five-star recruits.

With trips to Athens and Tallahassee on the docket before September 21, we won't have to wait long to find out if Clemson is indeed in better shape than we think. And even with losses in both of those games, this team has a pretty high floor and could very well be playing like a top-10 team by the end of the season.

We live in a college football world where Clemson is suddenly one of the country's most trustworthy commodities. I'm jinxing the hell out of this, aren't I...

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 16
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug Georgia 22 38-35 W 35.4 - 30.8 W
7-Sep S.C. State N/A 52-13 W 20.4 - 23.9 L
19-Sep at N.C. State 92 26-14 W 23.1 - 26.6 L
28-Sep Wake Forest 81 56-7 W 46.2 - 19.6 W
5-Oct at Syracuse 75 49-14 W 47.4 - 18.6 W 10.6
12-Oct Boston College 65 24-14 W 27.1 - 13.5 W 12.4
19-Oct Florida State 1 14-51 L 32.7 - 27.3 W 14.2
26-Oct at Maryland 63 40-27 W 38.6 - 23.0 W 18.0
2-Nov at Virginia 79 59-10 W 39.9 - 16.7 W 17.3
14-Nov Georgia Tech 34 55-31 W 49.2 - 22.2 W 16.9
23-Nov The Citadel N/A 52-6 W 35.0 - 14.7 W 18.3
30-Nov at South Carolina 10 17-31 L 34.1 - 15.9 W 20.8
3-Jan vs. Ohio State 9 40-35 W 52.2 - 21.9 W 23.8
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +13.0% 19 +14.0% 13 -0.4% 78
Points Per Game 40.2 8 22.2 24
Adj. Points Per Game 37.0 13 21.1 13

3. Ignition

I'm talking a big game about Clemson here, considering the Tigers finished 2013 with an F/+ ranking of only 16th. But by the end of the season, this was one of the five or six best teams in the country.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Opponent 27.1, Clemson 26.3 (minus-0.8)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Clemson 38.4, Opponent 20.4 (plus-18.0)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Clemson 42.1, Opponent 18.3 (plus-23.8)

Clemson's ratings got penalized a bit by the fact that Georgia got destroyed by injuries (the Tigers were actually the only team to face the full-strength Dawgs all year, and one Georgia starter had already fallen by the end of the first quarter) and NC State collapsed after September. They faced the strongest version of both of those teams and played just well enough to survive.

But both the offense and defense found their respective grooves against Wake Forest, and things just escalated from there. The Tigers weren't good enough to keep up with Florida State, but nobody was. They whipped mediocre teams, and they fared as well as just about anybody in taking on two top-10 teams away from home to finish the season. This wasn't an elite team in September, but it almost certainly was in January.

So now we get to find out who was most responsible for last year's breakthrough. If Brent Venables' defense was the primary catalyst, that's very good news for 2014 -- Clemson returns most of a dominant unit and all of its defensive line. If the offense was still carrying most of the weight here, that could be problematic, at least at the start of the season. Morris' offense is going to be raw, inexperienced, and full of upside it might not realize until later in the year.

Youth is often a reason for September-to-November improvement, and while that doesn't explain 2013, it might explain 2014.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.23 27 IsoPPP+ 107.2 32
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 49.2% 14 Succ. Rt. + 118.0 12
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.2 16 Def. FP+ 103.4 21
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.7 27 Redzone S&P+ 97.7 72
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.6 ACTUAL 24 +0.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 9 13 12 8
RUSHING 56 32 16 43
PASSING 9 10 14 7
Standard Downs 9 11 25
Passing Downs 24 31 24
Q1 Rk 17 1st Down Rk 16
Q2 Rk 13 2nd Down Rk 29
Q3 Rk 24 3rd Down Rk 13
Q4 Rk 46

4. A new, old identity

When you look at the above numbers and forget what you know about Clemson's 2013 personnel, you see what is kind of a straight-forward spread attack. Efficiency-based passing. Passing to set up the run. Super-duper pace. Great efficiency and shaky red zone production. These sound pretty normal, which makes sense -- Chad Morris cut his teeth in Texas high school coaching, where the spread was first to emerge and take hold. He knows those principles well, and he teaches them even better.

At Clemson, however, this nearly generic vision of the spread took on a new identity when handed over to Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. With Boyd, Clemson had a quarterback who was half Cam Newton and half Brett Favre, an efficient runner with a stubborn streak, a passer willing to take a hit in the name of getting the ball downfield. And in Watkins, they had one of the best all-around play-makers in the country, a receiver with strong hands and route-running and an athlete capable of taking a short pass a long way.

Without these two (and Martavis Bryant, a less unique weapon but a lovely post-up target downfield), the Morris offense became something distinguishable from other spreads. Without them, it will just be a spread.

Now, because of Morris' own abilities, and because of the blue-chip prospects around him, "less unique" doesn't equal "bad." There is enough depth at both running back and receiver to spread the ball around in a both effective and unpredictable fashion. It just won't be the same, is all.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Tajh Boyd 283 413 3851 34 11 68.5% 31 7.0% 8.2
Cole Stoudt 6'4, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 46 58 413 5 0 79.3% 2 3.3% 6.8
Chad Kelly 10 17 58 0 0 58.8% 1 5.6% 3.1
Deshaun Watson 6'3, 190 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)

5. Stock up on bubble wrap

For all intents and purposes, Clemson currently has two quarterbacks on the roster. Granted, they're pretty damn good -- Cole Stoudt is a longtime backup who was nearly flawless in scrub time against S.C. State and Wake Forest last year and was at least competent against Florida State and Virginia, while freshman Deshaun Watson is a five-star, no-ceiling talent who was in for spring ball.

You could do much worse than having Stoudt and Watson on your two-deep. But to fill out a three-deep, you need to add a walk-on. Chad Kelly is gone, leaving CU with two and no more.

Watson suffered a broken collarbone this spring, and while he is expected to be fine in August, it was a scary reminder that the threat of injury is always lingering. And if Clemson suffers two of them in short succession this year, all bets are off. For all we know, former walk-ons Austin McCaskill and Nick Schuessler would fare just fine. But Swinney and Morris probably don't want to find out for sure.

(Through this lens, the thought of the line replacing three starters, including all-conference tackle Brandon Thomas, is a bit scary. Still, two full-time starters return, as do three others with starting experience. Recruiting hasn't been as high-caliber up front as it has in other units, but this was a good line last year and should be at least decent this year.)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Roderick McDowell RB 189 1025 5 5.4 4.4 45.5%
Tajh Boyd QB 123 614 10 5.0 3.3 45.5%
D.J. Howard RB 6'0, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 57 213 2 3.7 4.2 28.1%
Zac Brooks RB 6'1, 190 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 48 246 2 5.1 3.3 41.7%
C.J. Davidson RB 5'10, 190 Jr. NR 34 155 4 4.6 3.2 35.3%
Chad Kelly QB 15 119 1 7.9 8.8 53.3%
Cole Stoudt QB 6'4, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 62 2 5.2 2.4 58.3%
Jay Jay McCullough TE 6'3, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 6 43 0 7.2 2.5 66.7%
Tyshon Dye RB 5'11, 215 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Wayne Gallman RB 6'1, 200 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Adam Choice RB 5'10, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Jae'lon Oglesby RB 5'11, 175 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Sammy Watkins WR 131 101 1464 77.1% 27.6% 64.5% 11.2 343 11.1 220.6
Martavis Bryant WR 65 42 828 64.6% 13.7% 67.9% 12.7 320 12.6 124.8
Adam Humphries WR 5'11, 190 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 52 41 483 78.8% 10.9% 77.1% 9.3 32 8.4 72.8
Roderick McDowell RB 37 29 199 78.4% 7.8% 30.3% 5.4 -121 5.4 30.0
Germone Hopper WR 6'0, 180 So. 4 stars (5.9) 36 22 147 61.1% 7.6% 100.0% 4.1 -127 2.2 22.2
Mike Williams WR 6'3, 205 So. 4 stars (5.8) 30 20 316 66.7% 6.3% 55.0% 10.5 78 9.4 47.6
Stanton Seckinger TE 6'4, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 30 21 244 70.0% 6.3% 65.4% 8.1 0 8.2 36.8
Jordan Leggett TE 6'5, 240 So. 3 stars (5.7) 21 12 176 57.1% 4.4% 50.0% 8.4 21 13.0 26.5
Sam Cooper TE 6'6, 250 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 6 50 46.2% 2.7% 33.3% 3.8 -37 5.4 7.5
Charone Peake WR 6'2, 205 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 11 8 84 72.7% 2.3% 63.6% 7.6 -7 7.9 12.7
D.J. Howard RB 6'0, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 9 8 123 88.9% 1.9% 20.0% 13.7 40 11.9 18.5
Daniel Rodriguez WR 5'8, 175 Jr. NR 8 7 20 87.5% 1.7% N/A 2.5 -53 0.0 3.0
Jay Jay McCullough TE 6'3, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 5 4 17 80.0% 1.1% N/A 3.4 -27 0.0 2.6
Artavis Scott WR 5'11, 185 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
Kyrin Priester WR 6'1, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Demarre Kitt WR 6'1, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Trevion Thompson WR 6'3, 185 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Milan Richard TE 6'3, 235 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

6. New blood, for better or worse

A well-executed spread run by a strong quarterback can overcome a lack of standout skill-position talent, as long as there is plenty of competence. We really don't know about standouts at this point, but there are options.

It's an interesting mix of limited veterans and high-upside youngsters. At running back, you've got senior D.J. Howard and juniors Zac Brooks and C.J. Davidson, who combined to average 4.4 yards per carry (decent efficiency, no explosiveness) backing up Hot Rod McDowell. You've also got two four-star true freshmen and two high-caliber redshirt freshmen.

At receiver, you've got veteran possession receivers Adam Humphries and Charone Peake (combined: 11.6 yards per catch, 78 percent catch rate in 2013), four-star sophomores Germone Hopper and Mike Williams, four four-star true freshmen, and three nearly interchangeable tight ends. I'm excited about Williams as a Bryant-type of downfield threat, but this unit's strength will be in its numbers, not its singular upside.

Of course, you'd still like to have the go-to star to go to in crunch time, and there's a good chance that if one emerges, he won't truly become the clear No. 1 until after the Georgia and FSU games.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 112.1 3.15 3.53 42.5% 74.2% 18.8% 107.1 5.6% 6.6%
Rank 21 32 38 29 31 59 60 88 60
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Brandon Thomas LT 36 2nd All-ACC
Tyler Shatley RG 27
David Beasley LG 6'4, 320 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 19
Gifford Timothy RT 17
Ryan Norton C 6'3, 280 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 13
Kalon Davis RG 6'5, 340 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 8
Shaq Anthony RT 6'4, 280 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 5
Isaiah Battle LT 6'7, 275 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 4
Reid Webster LG 6'3, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Joe Gore RT 6'5, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Eric MacLain LG 6'4, 295 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0
Jay Guillermo C 6'3, 315 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Tyrone Crowder RG 6'2, 345 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.32 117 IsoPPP+ 91.4 107
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 34.0% 5 Succ. Rt. + 125.8 5
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.6 33 Off. FP+ 100.5 55
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 96 Redzone S&P+ 121.4 11
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 25.7 ACTUAL 30.0 +4.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 24 11 5 31
RUSHING 53 12 7 26
PASSING 16 17 9 53
Standard Downs 13 5 105
Passing Downs 18 12 79
Q1 Rk 12 1st Down Rk 15
Q2 Rk 23 2nd Down Rk 5
Q3 Rk 17 3rd Down Rk 27
Q4 Rk 28

7. ATTTAAAAAACK

Some defenses master the art of the bend-don't-break, handing you four to six yards but never allowing big plays.

But in 2013, a set of defenses brought back the art of the killing-machine defense. Michigan State, Clemson, Baylor, and Oklahoma State all packed the line of scrimmage and risked big plays in the name of minimal efficiency, and it worked quite well. Michigan State led the way, but Clemson did just fine as well, ranking 13th in Def. F/+ for the season.

Third-year defensive coordinator Brent Venables didn't need much time to craft a defense that works a lot like his 2007-08 Oklahoma defenses, which had a deep roster of attacking options of the line and allowed him to go to a semi-permanent nickel formation. Four linemen up front can almost create blitz pressure themselves, allowing seven super-fast defenders to sink into coverage.

Clemson leveraged offenses into short gains and mistakes. When the Tigers allowed a big play, it was a huge one -- they ranked 44th in allowing 175 10+ yard gains but ranked 81st in allowing 28 30+ yard gains -- but you can allow occasional big gains when you're forcing countless three-and-outs and 30+ turnovers. Clemson was fun and aggressive on defense in 2013, and while there may be a few more glitches in the secondary this year, the overall identity probably won't change much.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 121.4 2.63 2.46 31.7% 58.1% 25.1% 169.6 6.9% 12.9%
Rank 9 26 9 6 17 9 3 18 2
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Grady Jarrett DT 6'1, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 45.0 6.1% 10.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Vic Beasley DE 6'2, 235 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 36.0 4.9% 23.0 13.0 0 6 4 1
Corey Crawford DE 6'5, 270 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 35.0 4.7% 10.5 2.5 1 4 1 0
Shaq Lawson DE 6'3, 270 So. 4 stars (5.8) 13 23.5 3.2% 10.0 4.0 0 1 0 0
D.J. Reader DT 6'2, 325 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 17.0 2.3% 5.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Watson DT 6'4, 290 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 13 16.0 2.2% 3.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
DeShawn Williams DT 6'1, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 15.5 2.1% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Tavaris Barnes DT 6'3, 270 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 7.5 1.0% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Roderick Byers DE 6'3, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 6 5.5 0.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Martin Aiken DE 6'2, 230 So. 3 stars (5.7) 12 5.0 0.7% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kevin Dodd DT 6'5, 275 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 4 4.5 0.6% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Watkins DT 6'3, 295 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 3 3.5 0.5% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Scott Pagano DT 6'2, 290 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Ebenezer Ogundeko DE 6'2, 255 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
Dane Rogers DE 6'3, 270 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)







8. If this isn't the best defensive line in the country ...

... it's in the top three or four. Clemson's was one of only three defenses to rank in the top 10 in both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rate (the others: Virginia Tech and Tulane), and the entire two-deep returns in 2014. Senior end Vic Beasley is one of the best pure pass rushers in college football, and while he takes some risks and falls out of position from time to time, the rest of the defense is adept at covering for him. The tackles position is loaded and deep, and in Shaq Lawson, Corey Crawford, and others, Clemson has quite a few ends capable of standing up to run blocking. This is a nearly flawless unit; it's amazing to think of how much this line struggled barely two years ago.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Spencer Shuey WLB 13 74.5 10.1% 6.5 1.0 0 1 0 1
Stephone Anthony MLB 6'2, 245 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 13 70.5 9.5% 15.0 4.5 1 3 2 0
Quandon Christian SLB 13 32.0 4.3% 9.0 1.0 0 2 1 1
Tony Steward WLB 6'1, 230 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 13 16.5 2.2% 2.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Ben Boulware WLB 5'11, 230 So. 4 stars (5.8) 11 16.5 2.2% 1.5 0.0 1 0 0 0
Kellen Jones LB 6'1, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 3 6.5 0.9% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
T.J. Burrell SLB 5'11, 215 So. 3 stars (5.5) 13 3.5 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
B.J. Goodson MLB 6'1, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 7 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dorian O'Daniel SLB 6'2, 210 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9)
Korie Rogers LB 6'2, 220 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)







Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Robert Smith S 5'10, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 59.5 8.0% 2.5 1 1 4 0 0
Bashaud Breeland CB 13 47.5 6.4% 5 2 4 10 2 0
Jayron Kearse S 6'4, 205 So. 4 stars (5.8) 12 35.5 4.8% 0.5 0 4 0 1 0
Travis Blanks NB 6'0, 200 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 11 28.0 3.8% 0 0 0 0 2 0
Darius Robinson CB 13 27.0 3.6% 3 0 3 1 0 0
Martin Jenkins CB 5'9, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 23.5 3.2% 1 0 1 1 0 0
Garry Peters CB 6'0, 185 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 10 18.5 2.5% 4.5 0 0 4 1 0
Korrin Wiggins NB 5'11, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7) 12 13.0 1.8% 0.5 0 2 2 0 0
Jadar Johnson S 6'1, 195 So. 3 stars (5.7) 11 6.0 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jerrodd Williams S 12 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Taylor Watson S 5'10, 210 Sr. NR 11 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cordrea Tankersley CB 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.7) 12 4.5 0.6% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
C.J. Jones CB 9 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
T.J. Green S 6'3, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Mackensie Alexander CB 5'11, 185 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0)
Adrian Baker CB 5'11, 165 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)

9. An impeachable back seven

Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

As good as the line was, it got plenty of help from the rest of the defense. Linebackers Spencer Shuey, Stephone Anthony, and Quandon Christian were spectacular in run support (24 non-sack tackles for loss between them), and corners Bashaud Breeland and Darius Robinson were aggressive on the outside, combining for seven interceptions and 11 break-ups.

Four of the five players I just mentioned are gone. Anthony's back, as are last year's top three safeties (Robert Smith, Jayron Kearse, Travis Blanks), but there might be some holes to exploit. If you think of the line as a unit that doesn't have much room for growth, one that is already as good as it can be, then losses in the back seven could cause this defense to regress overall.

"Could." There's still upside. Either five-star senior Tony Steward or four-star sophomore Ben Boulware will replace Shuey. Super-aggressive senior corner Garry Peters could hold up while playing a larger role, and sophomore Cordrea Tankersley and redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander both surpassed Peters on the post-spring depth chart. Clemson still has more speed and depth than most of its ACC brethren, so it's conceivable that the drop-off will be small or non-existent. Still, it's something to watch.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Bradley Pinion 6'5, 230 Jr. 56 39.4 0 N/A 20 N/A
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Bradley Pinion 6'5, 230 Jr. 79 60.6 38 3 48.1%
Ammon Lakip 5'10, 200 Jr. 11 60.4 1 1 9.1%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Chandler Catanzaro 61-62 9-10 90.0% 4-4 100.0%
Ammon Lakip 5'10, 200 Jr. 5-5 0-1 0.0% 1-1 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Sammy Watkins KR 14 20.9 0
Germone Hopper KR 6'0, 180 So. 4 17.3 0
Adam Humphries PR 5'11, 190 Sr. 20 10.6 0
Daniel Rodriguez PR 5'8, 175 Jr. 5 6.2 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 78
Field Goal Efficiency 24
Punt Return Efficiency 121
Kick Return Efficiency 73
Punt Efficiency 26
Kickoff Efficiency 78
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 78

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug at Georgia 10
6-Sep S.C. State NR
20-Sep at Florida State 1
27-Sep North Carolina 35
4-Oct N.C. State 66
11-Oct Louisville 16
18-Oct at Boston College 69
25-Oct Syracuse 67
6-Nov at Wake Forest 83
15-Nov at Georgia Tech 44
22-Nov Georgia State 128
29-Nov South Carolina 7
Five-Year F/+ Rk 17.9% (19)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 13
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 6 / 2.0
TO Luck/Game +1.5
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (4, 8)

10. Welcome to the starting lineup, Cole (or Deshaun)

Now go on the road beat Georgia and Florida State.

Schedule will dictate perceptions for Clemson in 2014. Even if the Tigers indeed finish the season in the F/+ top 10, there's a good chance they won't be good enough right out of the gates to win at Georgia or Florida State. Hell, a certifiable top-10 team might go 0-2 in those games. A 1-2 start, followed by eight straight mostly non-noteworthy games, will likely create a "Clemson's rebuilding" narrative.

But if the Tigers play well at home (and therefore take down both UNC and Louisville), they could very well be 9-2 when South Carolina visits.

I like this team. Both Clemson and South Carolina this year could be examples of the power of depth over star power. Both are losing irreplaceable players, but both have tons of options in creating a new identity.

The offensive line and cornerback positions give me pause, but only Georgia and Florida State can fully exploit the former issue, and less than half the schedule can exploit the latter. This might not actually be the fifth-best team in the country, but I'll be shocked if a three-year streak of 10+ wins isn't four at the end of 2014.

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