Clemson entered 2011 unranked in the AP Poll and did not even receive a single vote for the top 25. Yet, thanks to breakthrough performances from Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and others, Clemson went 9-3 last season and absolutely dismantled No. 3 Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game.
This season, the Tigers return as ACC champs but are getting little respect. Even with a No. 14 AP ranking, most are counting on a Florida State-Virginia Tech ACC championship.
Clemson simply isn't getting enough credit for last year's ACC victory. They have the talent, confidence and experience to pull off yet another conference championship.
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
The emergence of Tajh Boyd as one of the nation's best QBs was one of the biggest story lines and surprises in all of college football last season. Boyd is ready to dominate again.
Boyd returns as a Heisman candidate, the ACC's best player and unquestionable leader of the Tigers' offense.
Having that kind of MVP talent is huge in any sport, especially football.
Boyd is only 6'1", but a thick 225 pounds. He's quick, accurate, talented, a running threat and makes good decisions under center. As a sophomore, he completed 60 percent of his passes for almost 4,000 yards, 33 TDs and 15 INTs.
Keep in mind that Boyd was a first-year starer and sophomore last season and still has a lot of room to get better.
ACC defenses are fairly tough this year, but Boyd is unquestionably good enough to outplay any of them. Expect more domination from Boyd and offensive greatness from the Tigers.
Clemson plays a fairly tough schedule in 2012. However, the schedule is home-heavy and puts Clemson in a great position to win the conference.
The Tigers play most of their tough games at home. They take on Auburn, NC State, No. 16 Virginia Tech and No. 9 South Carolina—all at Death Valley.
Moreover, tough games against Auburn and South Carolina will not count toward ACC standings, as both teams play in the SEC. While these games are important, Clemson can afford to lose at least one (or possibly both) and still win the ACC Atlantic.
The big game of the year for Clemson, however, is at Florida State. The Tigers will likely need to win this game to advance to the ACC championship and have a shot at the BCS.
As you'll find out on the next slide, the Tigers are in good a position to take out the Seminoles.
Clemson established itself as a legitimate BCS threat after taking out the Florida State Seminoles midway through last season. If Clemson can execute like last year, they will be able to upset the Seminoles and likely take the ACC Atlantic Division.
The Tigers matchup extremely well with the Seminoles in spite of the doubts surrounding the Clemson defense.
Questions especially surround Clemson's rush defense and analysts will doubt whether the Tigers can slow down FSU RB Chris Thompson.
However, in last year's victory against FSU, the Tigers held Thompson to 36 yards and the entire team to 29 rushing yards.
Although Clemson lost several key rush defenders, the Tigers have formulated a successful game plan to defend the run. The new starters are athletic and talented, meaning coach Swinney and company will undoubtedly have a game plan in place to once again slow down the Florida State offense.
The bottom line: Clemson has a superior offense and are good enough on defense to once again give the Seminoles a hard time. Expect the Tigers to pull out another one against the Seminoles in Tallahassee, ultimately giving the Tigers an ACC championship game birth.
The combination of Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins should absolutely terrify ACC defenses this season, as the Clemson offense is going to dominate once again.
Watkins, like Boyd, could wind up as a Heisman candidate by season's end. He caught a whopping 82 passes for 1,200 yards and 12 TDs, near tops in the ACC in all three categories.
Watkins is an on-the-field leader, can explode for huge yardage at any time and is a catalyst for the entire offense.
Therefore, it's crucial that Watkins stays healthy and out of trouble. He missed one game last season and the Tigers lost that game to unranked N.C. State 37-13. He's that important.
Watkins is suspended for the first two games of this season after an offseason arrest. If Clemson can win both games without its star wideout, expect even bigger things from the Clemson offense this season. At times, it will seem close to unstoppable.
The ACC is in virtually the same shape as it was before the 2011 season. Florida State is the heavy favorite, Virginia Tech is expected to win the Coastal division and Clemson enters as a big time underdog.
Look familiar? If the Tigers could do it in 2011 with a younger and more inexperienced team, why not again?
While questions surround Clemson's defense and depth, there's no reason why the high-powered Tigers can't repeat as ACC champions.
The Tigers' defense is athletic, talented and well-coached enough to keep the score relatively low—the offense, of course, will take care of the rest.
Expect another Clemson Tigers BCS birth in 2012.