Heisman Trophy contender at quarterback? Check. A 1,500-yard rusher? Check. Dynamic pass-catcher? Check. Clemson, which fell to Alabama in last year's CFP title game, is in prime position to win it all in 2016. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25: No. 1 Clemson

Posted July 30th, 2016

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Sure, it’s just July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last season’s four College Football Playoff semifinalists were rated Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 24 on our 2015 list.

Today’s team: No. 1 Clemson (Related coverage: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson didn’t have much time off this offseason)

The Tigers will contend because … they have the most prolific offense in college football behind electric Heisman Trophy contender Deshaun Watson at quarterback and record-breaking running back Wayne Gallman, along with solid receivers and a strong line. The defense, with three returning starters, has to be rebuilt and offensive coordinator Brent Venables must replace his top two pass rushers as well as three starters in the backfield. A friendly schedule with seven home games should help, although Clemson has two huge road trips — to Auburn in the opener and an Oct. 29 showdown at Florida State.

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INSIDE THE TIGERS

Coach: Dabo Swinney (ninth year, 75-27)

2015: 14-1, 8-0 in the ACC; lost to Alabama in the CFP championship game, 45-40

Returning starters: 8 offense, 4 defense

The key game: Oct. 29, at Florida State

Hello: WR Mike Williams (back from a neck injury), RB Adam Choice, DT Dexter Lawrence, RB Tavien Feaster, WR Trevion Thompson, OT Jake Fruhmorgen.

Goodbye: DE Shaw Lawson (Buffalo Bills), DE Kevin Dodd (Tennessee Titans), LG Eric Mac Lain, CB Mackensie Alexander (Minnesota Vikings), LB B.J. Goodson (New York Giants), S Jayron Kearse (Vikings), S T.J. Green (Indianapolis Colts)

Spring cleaning: Watson, a gifted athlete and terrific student, became the first Division I player to pass for more than 4,000 and rush for more than 1,000 yards in the same season and accounted for a title-game record 478 yards offense against Alabama. … Clemson did lose receiver Charone Peake, but returns senior Mike Williams, who sat out almost the entire 2015 season after injuring his neck in the opener, as well as the dynamic Artavis Scott, who has 169 career catches, including 93 for 901 yards and six touchdowns last year. … Deon Cain returns at some point, but remains on suspension after violating team rules and missing the two playoff games. He led the team in yards per reception after making 34 catches for 582 yards and three touchdowns. “He’s a guy that’s got to earn some trust back,” Dabo Swinney told reporters. “He doesn’t have any money in the bank. He ain’t back yet.” … The Tigers did lose two offensive line starters, but have one of the nation’s best tackles in Mitch Hyatt and a top center in Jay Guillermo. … Clemson had nine players drafted, including four in the first two rounds. … The Tigers will have a rugged non-conference schedule the next two years with games against Auburn and South Carolina, and play Texas A&M in College Station in 2018. … Swinney signed a six-year contract extension in April after five consecutive 10-win seasons.

Wayne Gallman was one of two Tigers to rush for 1,000 yards. He led the team with 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns, a perfect complement to quarterback Deshaun Watson (1,105 yards, 12 TDs). (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Wayne Gallman was one of two Tigers to rush for 1,000 yards. He led the team with 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns, a perfect complement to quarterback Deshaun Watson (1,105 yards, 12 TDs). (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: Deshaun Watson, 333-491-4,104 yards, 35/13 (1st)

Rushing: Wayne Gallman, 283-1,527-13 (1st); QB Deshaun Watson, 207-1,105-12 (2nd)

Receiving: Artavis Scott, 93-901-6 (1st)

Tackles: LB B.J. Goodson, 108 (1st); S T.J. Green, 95 (2nd); LB Ben Boulware, 82 (3rd)

Sacks: DE Kevin Dodd, 12 (2nd)

 

RETURNING ALL CONFERENCE (14)

Offense: QB Deshaun Watson (1st team), WR Artavis Scott (1st), TE Jordan Leggett (2nd), C Jay Guillermo (2nd), RB Wayne Gallman (2nd), K Greg Huegel (2nd), OT Mitch Hyatt (3rd), OG Tyrone Crowder (3rd)

Defense: DT Carlos Watkins (1st), CB Mackensie Alexander (1st), LB Ben Boulware (2nd), S Jayron Kearse (2nd), CB Cordrea Tankersley (3rd), DE Kevin Dodd (honorable mention)

 

FYI …

  • No fewer than 14 states are represented on Clemson’s roster, but no state figures more prominently besides South Carolina (29 players) than Georgia (16). Watson and Gallman both came from the Peach State. But 11 Floridians are present too, including tight end Leggett and wide receiver Artavis Scott and Deion Cain. The other states include Texas, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, New Jersey and even Kansas and Hawaii. Speaking of Tennessee, Swinney lured three from there, including the state’s No. 2 receiver in Amari Rodgers of Knoxville, whose dad is former Volunteers quarterback Tee Martin.
  • Clemson has been dubbed “Wide Receiver U” by co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, and for good reason. The program has produced seven NFL receivers over the last six seasons, including such standouts as the Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins, Bills’ Sammy Watkins and Steelers’ Martavis Bryant. And that doesn’t even count Dwight Clark, who made a fairly significant catch for the 49ers once upon a time. The Tigers boast big-time receiver Artavis Scott, but also get back Mike Williams from last year’s neck injury and third-year sophomore Hunter Renfrow, a high school baseball star and one-time Clemson walk-on who caught two touchdown passes from Watson in the first quarter of the title game.
  • By and large, watch lists have become as ubiquitous as political ads (and sometimes as annoying), but it should be noted that a whopping 11 Clemson players received mention on these lists. They’re the only school with three candidates on the Walter Camp Football Foundation’s list as potential players of the year. In fact, every preseason list but the Ray Guy Award had a Tigers player on it. So get busy on your game, punter Andy Teasdall. And Swinney? He’s on a list too, named on the Bobby Dodd Watch List among the best coaches in the nation, an award he won in 2011.

Clemson's 2016 schedule

DateOpponentLast yr's result (if played)
Sept. 3at Auburn
Sept. 10Troy
Sept. 17South Carolina State
Sept. 22at Georgia Tech*W, 43-24
Oct. 1Louisville*W, 20-17
Oct. 7at Boston College*W, 34-17
Oct. 15North Carolina State*W, 56-41
Oct. 29at Florida State*W, 23-13
Nov. 5Syracuse*W, 37-27
Nov. 12Pittsburgh*
Nov. 19at Wake Forest*W, 33-13
Nov. 26South Carolina*W, 37-32
* ACC game

Clemson: The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
201514-1 / 8-012th / 2ndCFP title game, L
201410-3 / 6-216th / 17thRussell Athletic Bowl, W
201311-2 / 7-18th / 8thOrange Bowl, W
201211-2 / 7-114th / 11thChick-fil-A Bowl, W
201110-4 / 6-2— / 22ndOrange Bowl, L
Total56-12, 34-66 bowl games (4-2)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

 

2015 NATIONAL RANKS

Scoring: 16th (38.5 ppg)

Scoring defense: 24th (21.7 ppg)

Passing yards: 23rd (291.5 ypg)

Rushing yards: 21st (223 ypg)

 

THE TOP 25

No. 25: Washington State

No. 24: Boise State

No. 23: Louisville

No. 22: Oklahoma State

No. 21: Oregon

No. 20: North Carolina

No. 19: Baylor

No. 18: Iowa

No. 17: Washington

No. 16: Georgia

No. 15: Michigan State

No. 14: USC

No. 13: TCU

No. 12: Ole Miss

No. 11: Houston

No. 10: Notre Dame

No. 9: Tennessee

No. 8: Stanford

No. 7: Ohio State

No. 6: LSU

No. 5: Michigan

No. 4: Oklahoma

No. 3: Florida State

No. 2: Alabama

No. 1: Clemson

BY CONFERENCE

5 schools: Pac-12 (8-Stanford, 14-USC, 17-Washington, 21-Oregon, 25-Washington State); SEC (2-Alabama, 6-LSU, 9-Tennessee, 12-Ole Miss, 16-Georgia)

4 schools: ACC (1-Clemson, 3-Florida State, 20-North Carolina, 23-Louisville); Big Ten (5-Michigan, 7-Ohio State, 15-Michigan State, 18-Iowa); Big 12 (4-Oklahoma, 13-TCU, 19-Baylor, 22-Oklahoma State)

1 school: AAC (11-Houston); Mountain West (24-Boise State); Independents (10-Notre Dame)

 

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