TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09: The Clemson Tigers huddle during the second half of the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

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The American-Statesman’s Top 25 countdown: No. 5 Clemson

This is a classic case of reloading, not rebuliding; Clemson loses a lot of stars from 2016 but still figures to be in the CFP mix.

Posted July 25th, 2017


Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.

Today’s team: No. 5 Clemson (Related coverage: Here’s why Clemson will repeat as ACC champsand here’s why it won’t)

Best-case scenario: The Tigers overcome the losses of some huge names, including two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson, and return to the College Football Playoff for the third straight year.


Worst-case scenario: A bunch of unprovens at quarterback surprises no one by not being Watson and the Tigers suffer a post-championship collapse.

The key game: Sept. 9, Auburn. Auburn is expected to be a top-10 team and Clemson may be there for the taking early in the season.



Coach: Dabo Swinney (10th year, 89-28)

2016: 14-1, 7-1 in the ACC (beat Alabama 35-31 in the CFP championship game)

Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense

Goodbye: QB Deshaun Watson (Texans, 1st round), WR Mike Williams (Chargers, 1st), RB Wayne Gallman (Giants, 4th), DE Carlos Watkins (Texans, 4th), TE Jordan Leggett (Jets, 5th)

Spring cleaning: Todd Bates came over from Jacksonville State to coach the defensive tackles. … Defensive ends coach Marion Hobby left for a job with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. … Mickey Conn was promoted from defensive analyst to safeties backs coach. … The Tigers weren’t able to turn their national title into a top-10 recruiting class; Clemson’s class ranked 16th nationally but did include two five-star players in QB Hunter Johnson and wide receiver Tee Higgins. Both were rated as the No. 2 national prospects at their positions by 247Sports’ composite rankings.

TAMPA, FL – JANUARY 09: Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after quarterback Deshaun Watson #4 (not pictured) threw a 2-yard game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow #13 (not pictured) during the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide to win the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game 35-31 at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)


Passing: None. No current QB attempted a pass in 2016.

Rushing: Tavien Feaster, 37-221-2 (3rd); C.J. Fuller, 47-211-0 (4th)

Receiving: Hunter Renfrow, 44-495-6 (5th); Ray McCloud, 49-472-2 (6th); Deon Cain, 38-724-9 (3rd)

Tackles: LB Kendall Joseph, 81 (2nd); S Van Smith, 114 (3rd)

Sacks: DT Dexter Lawrence, 6.5 (2nd); DE Clelin Ferrell, 6.0 (3rd); LB Kendall Joseph, 3.5 (5th)



Offense: OT Mitch Hyatt (1st team), OG Tyrone Crowder (1st), K Greg Huegel (2nd), ST Ray-Ray McCloud (hon. men.)

Defense: DE Christian Wilkins (2nd), DT Dexter Lawrence (2nd), LB Kendall Joseph (hon. men.), S Van Smith (hon. men.)

GLENDALE, AZ – DECEMBER 31: Chris Worley #35 of the Ohio State Buckeyes chases down Ray-Ray McCloud #34 of the Clemson Tigers during the second half of the 2016 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 31, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)


From Boyd to Watson to …: Clemson fans have been spoiled by QBs Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson over the last handful of seasons. Four players — Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson, Tucker Israel and Zerrick Cooper — competed in the spring game. Israel was 13 of 19 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Swinney told reporters that Bryant — a junior who completed only 4 of 13 passes for 43 yards and an interception with 66 rushing yards — is No. 1 on the depth chart.

So long, Mike Williams: With Mike Williams gone, the onus is on Ray McCloud, a capable possession receiver, to take another step forward. He’s caught 78 passes for 723 yards and three TDs over the last two seasons. Deon Cain, a 6-1, 210-pound junior, will stretch defenses. He was dangerous a year ago with a team-leading 19.1 yards per catch and nine touchdowns.

Shoring up the defense: Swinney will need his defense to be more consistent than it was in 2016, when the Tigers gave up 34-plus points three times. Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell will bring experience up front while Trayvon Mullen, Mark Fields, and Ryan Carter will see time in the secondary.

Clemson's schedule

Sept. 2Kent State
Sept. 9AuburnW, 19-13
Sept. 16at Louisville*W, 42-36
Sept. 23Boston College*W, 56-10
Sept. 30at Virginia Tech*W, 42-35
Oct. 7Wake Forest*W, 35-13
Oct. 13at Syracuse*W, 54-0
Oct. 28Georgia Tech*W, 26-7
Nov. 4at North Carolina St.*W, 24-17
Nov. 11Florida State*W, 37-34
Nov. 18The Citadel
Nov. 25at South Carolina*W, 59-0
* ACC game

The last 5 years

TOTAL60-9 (35-5)6-1 in bowls
201211-2 (7-1)14th/11thW Chick-fil-A
201311-2 (7-1)8th/8thW Orange
201410-3 (6-2)16th/17thW Russell Athletic
201514-1 (8-0)12th/2ndL CFP title game
201614-1 (7-1)2nd/1stW CFP title game

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking



Scoring: 14th (39.2 ppg)

Points allowed: 10th (18.0 ppg)

Passing: 7th (333.9 ypg)

Rushing: 71st (169.7 ypg)

Total off.: 12th (503.7 ypg)

Total def.: 8th (311.5 ypg)



No. 25: Boise State

No. 24: Oregon

No. 23: Tennessee

No. 22: Texas

No. 21: Kansas State

No. 20: Miami

No. 19: West Virginia

No. 18: South Florida

No. 17: Florida

No. 16: Stanford

No. 15: Louisville

No. 14: Georgia

No. 13: Wisconsin

No. 12: LSU

No. 11: Auburn

No. 10: Michigan

No. 9: Oklahoma State

No. 8: Washington

No. 7: Oklahoma

No. 6: Penn State

No. 5: Clemson

No. 4: Coming Wednesday. Want a hint? This school produced the first two-time winner of the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s top kicker. His nickname was the “Polish Powderkeg.”



5 schools:

Big 12 (No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 21 Kansas State, No. 22 Texas)

SEC (No. 11 Auburn, No. 12 LSU, No. 14 Georgia, No. 17 Florida, No. 23 Tennessee)

3 schools:

ACC (No. 5 Clemson, No. 15 Louisville, No. 20 Miami)

Big Ten (No. 6 Penn State, No. 10 Michigan, No. 13 Wisconsin)

Pac-12 (No. 8 Washington, No. 16 Stanford, No. 24 Oregon)

2 schools:

Pac-12 (No. 16 Stanford, No. 24 Oregon)

1 school:

AAC (No. 18 South Florida)

Mountain West (No. 25 Boise State)

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