When Dabo Swinney hired offensive coordinator Chad Morris away from Tulsa in 2011, many of the fans and media wondered whether Morris, just barely removed from high school, would be able to run his spread offense on a higher level against tougher competition.
But after two seasons, that's no longer a concern. In 2012, Clemson's offense finished eighth in the nation and was sixth in points scored. Clemson's offense soared in 2012 and could soar even higher, despite the loss of receiver Deandre Hopkins, running back Andre Ellington and center Dalton Freeman.
After finishing the season ranked in the top 10, the Tigers will still be among the top 10 come the season opener against the Georgia Bulldogs. And they have the potential to overcome offenses like Oregon's for the top spot as the nation's best offense.
But what reasoning could the Tigers have for becoming the NCAA's best offense?
A crucial part of Clemson's success was Tajh Boyd's maturation and development at quarterback. He progressed in 2011 by guiding the team to 10 wins in 2011 and a top-25 offense, but in 2012, he became the unquestioned leader and orchestrator of the offense. He put up career numbers and set several Clemson records with his 3,896 passing yards and 36 touchdown passes while putting up 514 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns to boot.
Boyd's ability to run this offense to its fullest potential and his improvement as a dual-threat quarterback makes him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks heading into 2013. His performance and toughness against LSU was his most defining moment, proving to all of college football he has the ability to give his team an advantage over any defense.
If you want to know who had the biggest hand in Boyd's development, look no further than offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who, in his third season as offensive coordinator, already has Clemson operating a top-10 offense.
Morris is an innovator, and his success has been part of a movement toward spread offenses. His exotic looks and play-calling ability has been praised as one of the best in the nation, and he has proven himself a great recruiter and as a great quarterbacks coach. Morris' return was a big factor in Boyd's decision to return for his senior season, and it has given the Tigers another year to go even further.
Morris is currently the highest-paid assistant coach in college football, and he has coached for every penny of it. As long as Chad Morris is pulling the strings, Clemson's offense will remain one of college football's finest.
Coming into 2012, many were concerned as to whether the offensive line would give Boyd enough time to make use of the loaded talent the Tigers had at receiver. By the end of the season, the offensive line remained the same unit that started the year and gained invaluable experience along the way.
The Tigers lose a four-year starter in center Dalton Freeman, but the coaches are high on Ryan Norton, who they want to take the reins as the signal-caller of the offensive line and continue where Freeman left off.
The move of Tyler Shatley to right guard proved a successful gamble, as he started every game and stayed at the same position all season long. The Tigers also have very capable tackles in Gifford Timothy, Isaiah Battle and Shaq Anthony. Brandon Thomas played left tackle for the majority of the season, but he has shown he can perform at the right tackle and left guard positions. David Beasley won the left guard spot last fall and manned the position all season.
The Tigers return with a seasoned offensive line, one that proved it can be as physical as any in the nation.
Clemson went into 2012 with one of the best receiving corps in the nation and came out of 2012 with one of the best in the nation. They will enter 2013 in the same position.
Yes, they have lost Deandre Hopkins to the NFL and Jaron Brown to graduation, but they will still have Sammy Watkins for one more year, who is still regarded as one of the most explosive playmakers in college football despite a 2012 season hampered by a two-game suspension, sickness and injury.
On top of that, the Tigers have three capable, veteran receivers in Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant. Peake and Bryant have some of the best ball skills in the group, and Humphries is perhaps the bestsure fire possession receiver of the bunch.
Each of the three will assume larger roles in the absence of Hopkins and Brown, and with the way Boyd can distribute the ball, they will thrive with the single-coverage looks they are sure to get as opposing secondaries focus on the threat of Watkins.
The Tigers lose All-ACC running back Andre Ellington, who put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and functioned as the primary workhorse back for the Tigers. Now it'll be up to Rod McDowell and a rotation of DJ Howard, Zac Brooks or incoming recruits Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman.
But McDowell has proven himself capable. In limited action, he rushed for 450 yards and five touchdowns during the 2012 season. In this offense, he is capable of eclipsing 1,000 yards, and he showed he is a hard runner both between the tackles and around the edge.
Following in the footsteps of good running backs like James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Jamie Harper and now Andre Ellington, the Tigers have shown they are more than capable of recruiting and developing their running backs. Expect a good year from McDowell and the running game, regardless of the rotation behind him, as all are capable of operating in a backup role.