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Unless you're Alabama, you don't have a better Playoff shot than Clemson

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There's very little chance the Tigers aren't one of the country's best teams. This is the end of Bill C's team-by-team preview of the ACC, with power rankings still to come. Catch up!

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Proving as much in a loss as in a win

Let's take a trip back in time, to that faraway year of 2014. It was a simpler time. Cleveland was still in a sports title drought. Donald Trump was just an obnoxious reality show star. Alabama's dynasty had not yet died.

Clemson, coming off of 32 wins in three years, had fallen into an offensive malaise. The Tigers' senior quarterback, Cole Stoudt, was fighting inconsistency, and their blue-chip freshman couldn't stay healthy. Deshaun Watson was handed the reins in Game 3 against Florida State, nearly engineered a road upset win of the defending national champions, and then torched North Carolina and NC State. He then missed three games, came back for a few plays, missed another game, then torched South Carolina on a torn-up knee.

Whenever Watson was out, Clemson's offense ground to a halt. The Tigers averaged just 4.2 yards per play against Louisville, BC, and Syracuse, then averaged 3.5 with three turnovers in a 28-6 loss at Georgia Tech. Even in defense-based blowouts of Georgia State and Oklahoma, they failed to top 5 yards per play.

In my 2015 Clemson preview, I was trying to determine whether tiny sample sizes were a sign of things to come and whether the injury bug would let up on Watson.

With a healthy Watson, a lot of potential weaknesses get covered up. The running game has an extra efficiency option (and if the defense is going to regress in run defense, ball control and efficiency become doubly important), and the passing game has an absurdly high ceiling. Line play is a concern no matter what, but Watson appears good enough to drag Clemson toward a strong season.

But what if Watson gets hurt again? His injuries were disparate enough that we shouldn't assume he will always have issues, but until he proves he can survive for a whole season, we don't know. And without Watson, either a former walk-on or a true freshman (one less touted than Watson) takes over, and all of the offense's potential weaknesses play marquee roles.

With Watson, Clemson is a Tier 1 team in the ACC. Without Watson, Clemson might fall behind Florida State, Louisville, Virginia Tech, and Miami at least.

With Watson, Clemson could be favored in every game. Without Watson, 6-6 is on the table.

Watson played in every game in 2015. And because Watson played in every game, Clemson played in 15 games.

Watson wasn't the only reason why Clemson made the finals of the College Football Playoff and damn near won the national title, of course. That Clemson could completely rebuild both lines and still dominate in the trenches was a staggering feat of recruiting and development. So was losing leading receiver Mike Williams and leaning on a bunch of freshmen and sophomores in the passing game. That defensive coordinator Brent Venables was able to completely take almost every opposing offense out of its game plan had nothing to do with Watson.

Still. Clemson's defense was awesome in 2014 and awesome in 2015. Clemson's offensive trajectory flipped by 180 degrees because of Watson. He was magnificent. With him running the show, Clemson was indeed favored in every game until the postseason. The Tigers survived a tricky early trip to Louisville and outlasted Notre Dame in a monsoon. They sneaked past South Carolina in a strange rivalry game and held off hard-charging North Carolina. They crushed Oklahoma in the national semifinals and led Alabama in the finals with 11 minutes left before a surprise onside kick and a kick return score turned the tables.

2015 was a magical year for Watson, head coach Dabo Swinney, and everyone else associated with Clemson football. And if Watson stays healthy once more, 2016 could be just as fun. It's amazing how having the best quarterback in the country can affect a team, huh?

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 14-0 | Adj. Record: 14-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 2 | Final S&P+ Rk: 2
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Wofford N/A 49-10 W 98% 100% +12.1
12-Sep Appalachian State 42 41-10 W 99% 100% +6.3 +13.0
17-Sep at Louisville 39 20-17 W 95% 99% -2.5 -3.5
3-Oct Notre Dame 7 24-22 W 75% 54% -11.3 +2.0
10-Oct Georgia Tech 64 43-24 W 95% 100% -1.7 +12.0
17-Oct Boston College 70 34-17 W 91% 96% -11.3 +1.5
24-Oct at Miami-FL 62 58-0 W 100% 100% +43.2 +51.0
31-Oct at NC State 49 56-41 W 93% 97% +2.0 +4.5
7-Nov Florida State 12 23-13 W 88% 79% -6.2 -2.5
14-Nov at Syracuse 85 37-27 W 73% 76% -19.0 -18.0
21-Nov Wake Forest 92 33-13 W 97% 100% -16.1 -9.0
28-Nov at South Carolina 88 37-32 W 77% 85% -21.1 -12.0
5-Dec vs. North Carolina 24 45-37 W 84% 72% -8.8 +3.0
31-Dec vs. Oklahoma 4 37-17 W 96% 96% +18.2 +24.0
11-Jan vs. Alabama 1 40-45 L 84% 57% -1.7 +1.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 42.7 6 15.3 4
Points Per Game 38.5 16 21.7 24

2. Awesome from start to finish

In this year's Florida State preview, I remarked on how consistent the Seminoles had been over the last two years. Even when you're flawed, being able to count on a certain level of play from week to week, instead of major fluctuations, can do quite a bit for your win total.

As consistent as FSU was in 2015, Clemson had the Seminoles beaten in this regard. The Tigers hit the 91st percentile or better in nine of 15 games -- by the way, talking about a college team playing 15 games is still really strange, isn't it? -- and never fell below 73 percent. Of their three least impressive performances, one was in the Notre Dame monsoon, and another was the rivalry game vs. South Carolina. Meanwhile, their 58-0 erasure of Miami might have been the single best performance of the year by any team.

That Clemson pulled off this level of consistency with brand new lines, young skill position guys, and, yes, a true-sophomore quarterback, was absurd. Clemson was the exception to many rules last fall.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.28 53 IsoPPP+ 134.2 4
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 48.7% 9 Succ. Rt. + 129.6 2
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 30.6 88 Def. FP+ 28.0 38
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.1 17 Redzone S&P+ 127.3 3
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.7 ACTUAL 27 +2.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 11 4 2 4
RUSHING 21 13 7 21
PASSING 23 3 1 4
Standard Downs 3 2 4
Passing Downs 10 5 16
Q1 Rk 6 1st Down Rk 5
Q2 Rk 4 2nd Down Rk 13
Q3 Rk 8 3rd Down Rk 15
Q4 Rk 19

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Deshaun Watson 6'2, 210 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9791 333 491 4104 35 13 67.8% 15 3.0% 7.9
Nick Schuessler 6'3, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8098 13 23 177 0 1 56.5% 2 8.0% 6.1
Kelly Bryant 6'3, 215 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8777 7 9 27 0 1 77.8% 0 0.0% 3.0
Tucker Israel 5'11, 195 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8535
Zerrick Cooper 6'4, 205 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9083

3. It's not all Deshaun, but...

Sometimes you can indeed learn a lot in small samples. As a freshman in an injury-plagued 2014 season, Watson completed 67.9 percent of his passes and proved efficient as a runner, gaining at least five yards on 49 percent of his carries. In 2015, he completed 67.8 percent of his passes with a 45 percent opportunity rate.

Granted, there were indeed some shifts. Watson's INT rate went up slightly, from an unsustainable 1.5 percent to 2.6. And without Mike Williams to stretch the field, his yards per completion slipped from an unsustainable 15.8 to 12.3. But he also cut his sack rate down to nothing, and he was brilliant in big moments.

In the rare games when Clemson's defense struggled to get a grasp on opponents, Watson responded with "Hey, don't worry about it." In the six games in which Clemson allowed more than 22 points, Watson completed 69 percent of his passes and produced a passer rating of 165.3. When the defense had things under control, he threw it into cruise control and produced a 148.7.

And this wasn't just against bad defenses: he produced a 160.0 against Alabama. He completed 30 of 47 passes for 405 yards, four touchdowns, and a pick against Alabama. In the national title game. As a true sophomore.

Watson rushed 192 times and took 15 sacks. He rarely seemed to truly get hit hard, but a physical quarterback like this is always going to be a little bit of an injury risk, especially considering he's not built like Cam Newton. But here's to another mostly injury-free year. I can't wait to see what this guy is capable of now that he's actually experienced.

(And by the way, not that I actually want to talk about the possibility of him getting hurt, but if it comes down to it, senior Nick Schuessler or four-star sophomore Kelly Bryant could be capable of steering the ship for a little while if they need to.)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Wayne Gallman RB 6'1, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8940 283 1527 13 5.4 4.8 40.3% 3 2
Deshaun Watson QB 6'2, 210 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9791 192 1187 12 6.2 5.5 45.3% 4 1
Adam Choice
(2014)
RB 5'9, 215 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8975 50 218 1 4.4 4.5 34.0% 0 0
C.J. Fuller RB 5'10, 210 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8591 42 171 1 4.1 2.0 35.7% 1 0
Zac Brooks RB 41 234 3 5.7 7.2 34.1% 0 0
Kelly Bryant QB 6'3, 215 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8777 23 156 2 6.8 10.6 39.1% 1 1
Tyshon Dye RB 6'0, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9275 23 91 2 4.0 3.7 34.8% 0 0
C.J. Davidson RB 22 60 0 2.7 2.2 31.8% 1 0
Ray-Ray McCloud WR 5'10, 180 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9594 7 48 0 6.9 3.1 71.4% 3 2
Artavis Scott WR 5'11, 190 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9661 5 27 1 5.4 2.0 60.0% 2 1
Nick Schuessler QB 6'3, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8098 4 2 0 0.5 0.0 0.0% 1 1
Tavien Feaster RB 6'0, 205 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9807







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Artavis Scott WR 5'11, 190 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9661 120 93 927 77.5% 24.0% 7.7 70.0% 55.0% 1.31
Mike Williams
(2014)
WR 6'4, 220 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9077 93 57 1030 61.3% 21.5% 11.1 60.2% N/A N/A
Charone Peake WR 81 51 726 63.0% 16.2% 9.0 66.7% 53.1% 1.58
Jordan Leggett TE 6'5, 255 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8712 59 40 525 67.8% 11.8% 8.9 52.5% 64.4% 1.35
Hunter Renfrow WR 5'10, 175 So. 2 stars (5.3) NR 49 33 492 67.3% 9.8% 10.0 67.3% 53.1% 1.75
Deon Cain WR 6'2, 200 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9902 46 34 582 73.9% 9.2% 12.7 67.4% 63.0% 1.94
Ray-Ray McCloud WR 5'10, 180 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9594 36 29 251 80.6% 7.2% 7.0 75.0% 44.4% 1.52
Germone Hopper WR
30 21 317 70.0% 6.0% 10.6 66.7% 56.7% 1.78
Wayne Gallman RB 6'1, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8940 27 21 187 77.8% 5.4% 6.9 55.6% 44.4% 1.51
Trevion Thompson WR 6'2, 200 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9426 15 10 115 66.7% 3.0% 7.7 40.0% 53.3% 1.48
Zac Brooks RB 15 9 113 60.0% 3.0% 7.5 60.0% 46.7% 1.69
Adrien Dunn WR 5'7, 175 Jr. NR NR 2 2 9 100.0% 0.4% 4.5 50.0% 50.0% 0.65
Seth Ryan WR 6'0, 175 Jr. NR NR
Garrett Williams TE 6'2, 235 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9198
Cannon Smith TE 6'5, 260 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8948
Milan Richard TE 6'1, 200 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8898
Cornell Powell WR 6'1, 200 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9314
Diondre Overton WR 6'5, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9205
T.J. Chase WR 6'2, 185 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9158

4. Even more weapons now

When Mike Williams went down, joining sophomore Adam Choice on the injured list, Clemson was forced to lean on sophomore running back Wayne Gallman, freshman running back C.J. Fuller, sophomore receiver Artavis Scott, and freshman receivers Hunter Renfrow, Deon Cain, and Ray-Ray McCloud. There were some upperclassmen in the rotation -- Charone Peake, Jordan Leggett, Zac Brooks, Germone Hopper -- but the sixsome of freshmen and sophomores combined for 325 carries, 283 pass targets, and 4,256 combined rushing and receiving yards.

They're all back. So are Williams and Choice. And Leggett. RB Tyshon Dye and WR Trevion Thompson could be ready for larger roles. So might tight ends Cannon Smith and Milan Richard. And the latest round of blue-chip freshmen: running back Tavien Feaster and any of three four-star receivers.

Goodness. Clemson's going to need to play 15 games again just to get these guys the touches they need. And there's still room for improvement! As mean and durable as Gallman has proven to be, he's still not incredibly efficient. And Scott is fast enough to break more big plays than he did last year.

Adding Renfrow was a particularly unfair touch. It's one thing for Clemson to recruit as well as it has of late; it's another for a walk-on like Renfrow to fall into the Tigers' lap. A star baseball player, Renfrow chose to forego scholarship offers to attempt to make Clemson's football team. He had a scholarship locked up before his freshman season began.

Wake Forest could really use a Renfrow, is all I'm saying. Boston College would kill for a stud walk-on receiver to fall out of the sky. Instead, he landed at Clemson.

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 120.6 3.27 3.51 40.8% 78.2% 16.3% 255.5 2.3% 3.7%
Rank 7 18 36 38 6 19 5 16 9
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Eric Mac Lain LG 15 16 2015 1st All-ACC
Jay Guillermo C 6'3, 325 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8784 13 14 2015 2nd All-ACC
Ryan Norton LG 2 26
Joe Gore RT 14 17
Mitch Hyatt LT 6'5, 295 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9894 15 15
Tyrone Crowder RG 6'2, 330 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9444 12 13
Maverick Morris LG 6'5, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544 3 3
Jake Fruhmorgen RT 6'6, 280 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9435 1 1
Taylor Hearn LG 6'5, 330 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8510 0 0
Justin Falcinelli C 6'3, 305 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8656 0 0
Tremayne Anchrum LT 6'3, 290 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8706

Sean Pollard RT 6'5, 295 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8992

John Simpson OL 6'4, 290 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9293

Sean Pollard OL 6'5, 295 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8892


5. The patchwork line dominated

Clemson had to replace four of five starters from a line that struggled to open holes for Gallman and company in 2014. On top of that, the Tigers only got two starts out of two-year starter Ryan Norton before injury.

Naturally, the line improved to seventh in Adj. Line Yards and fifth in Adj. Sack Rate. There is always context when it comes to the line stats -- Gallman's ability to muscle ahead and fall forward clearly had something to do with Clemson having a top-20 stuff rate, and Watson's ability to avoid pressure and maneuver in the pocket better than any dual-threat quarterback in college football had something to do with the sack rate. But lots of teams had good running backs, and lots of teams had QBs good at avoiding sacks. Clemson was still the only team in the country to rank in the top 10 in both of those measures.

That Norton and two 2015 starters (including sudden all-conference guard Eric Mac Lain) are gone could certainly affect depth; of the 11 linemen listed above, eight are either freshmen and sophomores, and it would only take a couple of injuries to make this one of the youngest lines in the country. But after last year, this unit gets the benefit of the doubt. Line coach Robbie Caldwell might not have been very effective as Vanderbilt's interim head coach back in 2010, but he's at least as effective in his current role as he was at turkey insemination way back when. Seriously, he should have been up for the Broyles Award last year.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.40 111 IsoPPP+ 122.9 11
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 32.9% 4 Succ. Rt. + 128.5 3
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.4 103 Off. FP+ 30.8 45
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.9 21 Redzone S&P+ 128.2 8
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.9 ACTUAL 25.0 +2.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 10 4 3 11
RUSHING 18 9 6 25
PASSING 17 6 4 9
Standard Downs 2 2 1
Passing Downs 68 23 84
Q1 Rk 3 1st Down Rk 4
Q2 Rk 2 2nd Down Rk 1
Q3 Rk 8 3rd Down Rk 55
Q4 Rk 79

6. Unlikely depth

After getting embarrased by West Virginia in the 2011 Orange Bowl, Swinney hired Oklahoma's Brent Venables to salvage a defense and figure out how best to make stops while also possessing a non-stop, high-tempo offense. It's a tricky balance for obvious reasons; you need better depth to account for the fact that your offense is going to be forcing you to face more drives and snaps. Few have pulled it off well. Of the top 10 teams last year in Adj. Tempo -- Baylor, Tulsa, TCU, Boise State, Indiana, Arizona State, West Virginia, Texas Tech -- only two ranked better than 58th in Def. S&P+.

Clemson was 10th in Adj. Tempo ... and fourth in Def. S&P+. And the Tigers pulled that off with massive turnover in the front six/seven. The Tigers lost six of their top seven linemen from a line that ranked second in Adj. Line Yards and second in Adj. Sack Rate. They also essentially lost three of their top four linebackers -- two to graduation, one (strongside LB/free safety Korrin Wiggins) to injury.

With all of those losses, the Tigers still found eight to 11 linemen and about seven linebackers around whom Venables could build a rotation. Ends Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson, who combined for 14 tackles for loss in 2014, combined for 49 in 2015. Linebacker B.J. Goodson quadrupled his output. Seniors stepped up on the first string, and freshmen filled in with decent minutes on the second string.

None of this would have worked had there been many misses in recruiting and development, and even when you're signing top-15 classes, you should have more misses than that. This was an incredible accomplishment.

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 128.2 2.21 2.90 32.6% 50.0% 28.6% 147.5 11.6% 10.6%
Rank 4 5 38 9 6 2 9 1 17
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kevin Dodd DE 15 53.0 7.0% 23.5 12.0 0 0 1 0
Shaq Lawson DE 15 48.0 6.3% 25.5 12.5 0 0 1 0
Carlos Watkins DT 6'3, 300 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9644 15 26.0 3.4% 7.5 3.5 1 3 0 0
Christian Wilkins DT 6'4, 315 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9888 15 25.5 3.4% 4.5 2.0 0 0 1 0
Austin Bryant DE 6'4, 265 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9168 13 18.0 2.4% 2.0 1.5 0 1 0 0
Roderick Byers DT 15 15.0 2.0% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Scott Pagano DT 6'3, 295 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8984 15 13.0 1.7% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
D.J. Reader DT 9 10.5 1.4% 1.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Richard Yeargin DE 6'3, 255 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8984 9 6.5 0.9% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jabril Robinson DT 6'2, 280 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8060 7 5.5 0.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Albert Huggins DT 6'4, 295 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9555 5 4.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Chris Register DE 6'2, 245 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8929
Clelin Ferrell DE 6'5, 255 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9445
Dexter Lawrence DT 6'5, 340 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9991
Nyles Pinckney DT 6'3, 300 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8872
Xavier Kelly DE 6'5, 255 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9510








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
B.J. Goodson MLB 15 83.5 11.0% 14.0 5.5 2 3 1 1
Ben Boulware WLB 5'11, 240 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9216 15 63.0 8.3% 8.0 3.5 2 7 3 0
Travis Blanks SLB 15 31.0 4.1% 4.0 1.0 0 2 0 0
Dorian O'Daniel SLB 6'1, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9522 15 29.0 3.8% 5.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jalen Williams SLB 5'9, 225 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8056 15 11.0 1.5% 2.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Judah Davis LB 6'1, 230 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 13 8.0 1.1% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
J.D. Davis WLB 6'1, 225 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7667 8 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kendall Joseph MLB 6'0, 230 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8610 7 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Martin Aiken LB
5 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Chad Smith LB 6'4, 235 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9064
Tre Lamar LB 6'4, 240 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9698
Shaq Smith LB 6'3, 240 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9610








7. Who's next?

So now it's time for more players to step up. Dodd, Lawson, Goodson, and Travis Blanks are gone, and while Clemson is ridiculously loaded at tackle and still boasts Ben Boulware and play-maker Dorian O'Daniel at linebacker, backups will once again have to step up, especially at end.

At the end of spring football, the DEs atop the depth chart were redshirt freshman Clelin Ferrell and sophomores Austin Bryant, Chris Register, and Richard Yeargin. They combined for three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last year. Ferrell and Bryant are former star recruits, but ... surely there's going to be a drop-off there, right?

It will be very hard to match last year's pass rush numbers, but luckily the Tigers will still have a corps of tackles that can blow up the interior of just about any line. There's quality in every class: senior Carlos Watkins and junior Scott Pagano are back, as is blue-chip sophomore Christian Wilkins. Plus, they're joined by sophomore reserves Jabril Robinson and Albert Huggins, and the latest blue-chipper, 340-pound, all-world freshman Dexter Lawrence. They should be able to make young ends look pretty good, and they should assure that the run defense is as ridiculous as ever.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
T.J. Green FS 15 81.0 10.7% 5.5 1 0 3 2 0
Jayron Kearse SS 15 51.5 6.8% 6.5 0 1 6 1 1
Cordrea Tankersley CB 6'1, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8889 15 43.5 5.7% 3.5 1 5 9 0 0
Korrin Wiggins
(2014)
NB 6'0, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8579 13 28.0 4.3% 3.5 0 2 1 0 0
Mackensie Alexander CB 14 20.5 2.7% 2 0 0 5 0 0
Van Smith FS 6'0, 190 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8938 14 16.0 2.1% 1 0 1 0 0 0
Ryan Carter CB 5'9, 175 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7633 14 13.5 1.8% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Jadar Johnson SS 6'1, 205 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8519 15 13.5 1.8% 0.5 0 2 1 0 0
Adrian Baker CB 6'0, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8781 12 11.0 1.5% 0 0 2 1 0 0
Jefferie Gibson S 12 5.5 0.7% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Mark Fields CB 5'10, 195 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9537 13 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Marcus Edmond CB 6'0, 170 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8175 15 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Trayvon Mullen DB 6'3, 175 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9676
Isaiah Simmons DB 6'4, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8913








8. Overrated in the back?

Clemson's biggest weakness last year was getting off the field on passing downs. For all their strengths on standard downs -- and almost nobody in the country was better at accounting for a team's known weapons and preferences than Venables' D -- they ranked just 68th in Passing Downs S&P+ despite a solid pass rush.

That's a little bit confusing when you remember how good players like cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley and safeties T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse were at times. But a weakness, it was. On third down with between four and nine yards to go, opponents completed 32 of 64 passes for 394 yards, three touchdowns, and two picks. That's a 110.9 passer rating, too high for such an otherwise dominant defense.

Alexander and both safeties are gone, and while Wiggins returns to the mix (at either FS or SLB), players like senior Jadar Johnson, juniors Marcus Edmond and Ryan Carter, and sophomore Van Smith are going to step up to not only fill the shoes of last year's starters, but improve on their level of passing downs play. This secondary wasn't quite as good as its reputation, and now it's rebuilding a bit.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Andy Teasdall 5'11, 190 Sr. 67 39.5 1 24 20 65.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Ammon Lakip 73 59.2 28 0 38.4%
Greg Huegel 5'11, 185 So. 37 62.9 10 1 27.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Greg Huegel 5'11, 185 So. 57-62 21-22 95.5% 6-10 60.0%
Ammon Lakip 7-7 0-0 N/A 1-1 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Artavis Scott KR 5'11, 190 Jr. 15 24.7 0
C.J. Fuller KR 5'10, 210 So. 14 16.9 0
Artavis Scott PR 5'11, 190 Jr. 13 4.2 0
Germone Hopper PR 5 -1.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 27
Field Goal Efficiency 6
Punt Return Success Rate 126
Kick Return Success Rate 100
Punt Success Rate 49
Kickoff Success Rate 88

9. Good special teams despite the return game

Clemson did manage seven kick returns of 30-plus yards, so there was a little bit of explosiveness there. But the Tigers still ranked 100th in kick return success rate and 126th in punt returns. That's dreadful. That they still ranked 27th in Special Teams S&P+ tells you how good Greg Huegel was in the place-kicking department and how good Andy Teasdall was at preventing punt returns. Despite playing in 15 games, Clemson ranked 43rd in punt returns allowed, giving opponents just 16 return opportunities and allowing just 97 return yards.

That Teasdall and Huegel are back means this should be a decent unit again. But if the defense were to slip because of turnover at defensive end and safety, Clemson might need to get a little bit more out of special teams for field position purposes.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep at Auburn 24 8.2 68%
10-Sep Troy 103 36.2 98%
17-Sep SC State NR 49.3 100%
22-Sep at Georgia Tech 54 16.3 83%
1-Oct Louisville 20 13.3 78%
7-Oct at Boston College 50 16.0 82%
15-Oct N.C. State 40 20.4 88%
29-Oct at Florida State 5 1.1 52%
5-Nov Syracuse 44 22.0 90%
12-Nov Pittsburgh 29 17.4 84%
19-Nov at Wake Forest 74 20.1 88%
26-Nov South Carolina 63 24.9 92%
Projected wins: 10.0
Five-Year F/+ Rk 33.3% (12)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 6 / 14
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -2 / -1.8
2015 TO Luck/Game -0.1
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 70% (90%, 50%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 13.1 (0.9)

10. As ready as anybody

It should go without saying that there are plenty of obstacles standing in the way of Clemson as the Tigers attempt to not only repeat what they accomplished last year but also win one more game along the way.

  • Injuries could be more prolific, or at least more ill-timed. (Clemson suffered quite a few injuries last year, but most were either in the preseason or early in the season, and the rotation that Venables had established in September remained mostly intact. So aside from Shaq Lawson's injury against Oklahoma, it could have been worse.)
  • Injuries could strike the QB position (sorry to keep reminding you of this, Clemson fans).
  • Bounces could go the wrong way in a tossup game against FSU or in likely-but-not-guaranteed-win games against Auburn or Louisville.
  • A drop-off in the pass rush department could lead to even worse passing downs issues, which could create fatigue and depth issues, etc.
  • Hangovers happen. There doesn't always need to be a reason.

Every team has a list of things that could go dramatically wrong, and Clemson is no exception.

Still, outside of that team from Tuscaloosa, no team in the country is more proven, ready, or likely to make another huge run. The Tigers have the best quarterback in the country, one of the best skill units, one of the best offensive lines, and at the very least, one of the best sets of defensive tackle and linebacker talent.

Dabo Swinney has put together an impossibly athletic, deep team, one that can both outrun you on the perimeter and push you over in the trenches. Florida State will take a hard run at Clemson's conference crown, and Alabama and plenty of others are entertaining the same national title ambition as the Tigers. But this is going to be a really, really good team once again.