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.
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.
INSIDE THE TIGERS
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.
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)
RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (8)
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.)
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.
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 2||Kent State|
|Sept. 9||Auburn||W, 19-13|
|Sept. 16||at Louisville*||W, 42-36|
|Sept. 23||Boston College*||W, 56-10|
|Sept. 30||at Virginia Tech*||W, 42-35|
|Oct. 7||Wake Forest*||W, 35-13|
|Oct. 13||at Syracuse*||W, 54-0|
|Oct. 28||Georgia Tech*||W, 26-7|
|Nov. 4||at North Carolina St.*||W, 24-17|
|Nov. 11||Florida State*||W, 37-34|
|Nov. 18||The Citadel|
|Nov. 25||at South Carolina*||W, 59-0|
|* ACC game|
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKING||BOWL GAME|
|TOTAL||60-9 (35-5)||6-1 in bowls|
|2012||11-2 (7-1)||14th/11th||W Chick-fil-A|
|2013||11-2 (7-1)||8th/8th||W Orange|
|2014||10-3 (6-2)||16th/17th||W Russell Athletic|
|2015||14-1 (8-0)||12th/2nd||L CFP title game|
|2016||14-1 (7-1)||2nd/1st||W CFP title game|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking
2016 NATIONAL STAT RANKS
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)
OUR TOP 25 SO FAR
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.”
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)
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)
Pac-12 (No. 16 Stanford, No. 24 Oregon)
AAC (No. 18 South Florida)
Mountain West (No. 25 Boise State)
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