Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.
Our Top 25 — so far:
Today’s team: No. 2 Clemson
The Tigers’ best-case scenario: A fourth consecutive playoff appearance for Dabo Swinney’s juggernaut program, chosen by 139 of 148 ACC media voters to win the league. Anything less than the final four will be considered a failure for a team that could feature one of the best defensive lines in NCAA history and six players projected to go in the first two rounds of the 2019 NFL draft. Clemson vs. Alabama IV?
Their worst-case scenario: A quarterback controversy divides the locker room. Kelly Bryant was no Deshaun Watson in his first rodeo, but he did a nice job keeping the Tigers on track. Then Clemson signed the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, Trevor Lawrence, a 6-foot-5-inch pure pocket passer oozing with charisma. Some fans already are calling for a QB swap.
Inside the Tigers
Coach: Dabo Swinney (10th year, 101-30)
2017: 12-2, 7-1 in the ACC (lost to Alabama 24-6 in the CFP semifinals)
Returning starters: 4 offense, 4 defense
Goodbye: LB Dorian Daniel (3rd, Chiefs); WR Deon Cain (6th, Colts); WR Ray-Ray McCloud (6th, Bills)
Spring cleaning: Two highly touted quarterbacks sized up the competition and decided to transfer. Hunter Johnson, a former five-star recruit, chose Northwestern. Zerrick Cooper, not wanting to sit out a year, picked FCS power Jacksonville State. … Clemson’s last four recruiting classes were No. 7, 11, 16 and 9, according to 247Sports composite ratings.
PASSING: Kelly Bryant, 262-398-2,802, 13/8 (1st); Zerrick Cooper, 25-41-256, 2/0 (2nd); Hunter Johnson, 21-27-234, 2/1 (3rd)
RUSHING: Travis Etienne, 107-766-13 (1st); Tavien Feaster, 107-669-7 (2nd); QB Kelly Bryant, 192-665-11 (3rd)
RECEIVING: Hunter Renfrow, 60-602-3 (1st)
TACKLES: LB Dorian O’Daniel, 104 (1st); LB Kendall Joseph, 87 (2nd)
SACKS: DE Clelin Ferrell, 9.5 (1st); DE Austin Bryant, 8.5 (2nd)
INTERCEPTIONS: CB Trayvon Mullen, 3 (T-1st); CB Ryan Carter, 3 (T-1st)
Returning All-ACC players (13)
Offense: OT Mitch Hyatt (1st team); C Justin Falcinelli (1st); WR Hunter Renfrow (3rd); OG Taylor Hearn (3rd); RB Travis Etienne (3rd); OT Sean Pollard (hon. mention)
Defense: DE Clelin Ferrell (1st); DT Christian Wilkins (1st); DT Dexter Lawrence (1st); DE Austin Bryant (2nd); LB Dorian O’Daniel (2nd); LB Kendall Joseph (3rd); CB Trayvon Mullen (hon. mention)
Dominating D-line: Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant each were graded as day one or two NFL draft selections after last season. Surprisingly, all three decided to stay in school, the foundation for what should easily be the most dominating defensive line in college football. Add Dexter Lawrence, who wasn’t draft eligible, to the mix, along with stout veteran backups and two incoming freshman standouts. Lawrence and Ferrell are projected as top-10 picks in ’19. Wilkins and Bryant could go later in the first round or the second. Expect an NCAA-high 50 sacks and 125 tackles for loss from this defense.
A change of signal-callers?: Not everything is perfect. Whoever the QB is can rely on slot man Hunter Renfrow, and WR Tee Higgins is a strong breakout candidate after dazzling in the spring. But help is needed from a receiving corps that was just 13th in the ACC in yards per catch. WR Diondre Overton and Amari Rodgers need to step up. Top freshmen are pushing them. Depth in the secondary is a real concern as freshmen Mario Goodrich and Kyler McMichael are being counted on to contribute early.
Striptease leads to PR mess: Clemson is a small town in the northwest corner of South Carolina, and perhaps it gets boring there at times. So DT Christian Wilkins livened up the Dabo Swinney Ladies Clinic last week by doing a suggestive striptease dance for one of the attendees at the fundraiser for breast cancer research. Now the school is dealing with a PR mess. Clemson SID Ross Taylor told The State newspaper the video was part of the event’s “Dancing with the Tigers” program and was “certainly not indicative of what was actually going on.” Other Tigers also strutted around, posing shirtless, as Taylor said “to highlight the hard work that’s done with the strength and conditioning program.”
2017 national rankings
Scoring: 32nd (33.3 ppg) — right above No. 33 Ole Miss, right behind No. 31 Colorado State
Points allowed: 2nd (13.6 ppg) — right above No. 3 Wisconsin, right behind No. 1 Alabama
Passing: 61st (235.5 ypg) — right above No. 62 Bowling Green, right behind No. 60 South Alabama
Rushing: 35th (194.1 ypg) — right above No. 36 Missouri, right behind No. 34 Memphis
Total offense: 38th (429.6 ypg) — right above No. 39 Navy, right behind No. 37 Arizona State
Total defense: 4th (276.7 ypg) — right above No. 5 UTSA, right behind No. 3 Michigan
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 1 (11:20 a.m., ACCN)||Furman|
|Sept. 8 (6 p.m., ESPN)||at Texas A&M|
|Sept. 15 (2:30 p.m.)||Georgia Southern|
|Sept. 22||at Georgia Tech*||W, 24-10 in Clemson|
|Sept. 29||Syracuse*||L, 27-24 in Syracuse|
|Oct. 6||at Wake Forest*||W, 28-14 in Clemson|
|Oct. 20||North Carolina State*||W, 28-14 in Raleigh|
|Oct. 27||at Florida State*|
|Nov. 3||Louisville*||W, 47-21 in Louisville|
|Nov. 10||at Boston College*||W, 34-7 in Clemson|
|Nov. 24||South Carolina||W, 34-10 in Columbia|
|* ACC game|
The key game: . Oct. 27 at Florida State. Las Vegas oddsmakers say Clemson will be a double-digit favorite in every game, including this one (and an early trip to College Station). But the Seminoles are the only team on the schedule who come close to matching the Tigers’ talent.
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKINGS||BOWL, RESULT|
|2013||11-2 (7-1)||8th / 8th||Orange, W|
|2014||10-3 (6-2)||16th / 17th||Russell Athletic, W|
|2015||14-1 (8-0)||12th / 2nd||CFP title game, L|
|2016||14-1 (7-1)||2nd / 1st||CFP title game, W|
|2017||12-2 (7-1)||5th / 4th||CFP semifinals, L|
|Total||61-9 (35-5 ACC)||5-2 in bowls|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking
Our Top 25, by conferences
Big Ten — No. 3 Ohio State, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan
ACC — No. 2 Clemson, 7 Miami, No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State
SEC — No. 4 Georgia, No. 9 Auburn, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU
Pac-12 — No. 5 Washington, No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon
Big 12 — No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas
Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame
Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State
AAC — No. 22 Central Florida
Coming tomorrow: (Drumroll, please.) Our No. 1 team
Want a hint?
This school is coached by Nick Saban. Its colors are red and white. Its mascot is an elephant named Big Al. Oh, and it’s won five of the last nine national championships.