Clemson Football 2013 Team Program
After an 11-win campaign in 2012, the Clemson Tigers enter this season ranked No. 8 in both the AP and Coaches Poll.
With a high ranking and loads of talent returning, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers will open the season with championship expectations hanging over their heads.
The biggest question: Will Clemson crumble under that hype as they have in the past, or will they emerge as a true title contender?
According to Pete Iacobelli of The State, Swinney thinks his team is ready to live up to those expectations.
"If we do the things we want to do, then hopefully, we can enter into that championship phase," Swinney said. "It's one step at a time as we go through this journey."
That journey starts on Saturday, August 31 in a prime-time matchup with the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs.
Click through for a detailed look at the 2013 Clemson Tigers, which includes depth charts, potential X-factors, a full prediction of the upcoming season and much more.
Bleacher Report's own Adam Kramer, Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee preview the Tigers' upcoming season.
With an explosive offense led by quarterback Tajh Boyd, Clemson entered the 2012 season ranked No. 14 in the country.
The Tigers averaged nearly 40 points in their three victories over Auburn, Ball State and Furman, setting up a titanic matchup with the No. 4 Florida State Seminoles in Week 4.
The offense did its part, putting up 37 points against the Seminoles, but the defense collapsed in the second half, giving up 35 points in a 49-37 loss.
Boyd didn't let his team slip, though, and the Tigers recorded seven straight conference wins before the regular-season finale against South Carolina. Florida State held on to win the Atlantic Division, and after the Tigers fell to the Gamecocks, they landed a bid to play LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Fueled by a gutsy performance from Boyd, who completed 36-of-50 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns while running the ball 29 times (for just 22 yards), Clemson beat LSU 25-24 with a last-second, 37-yard field goal from Chandler Catanzaro.
The Tigers finished the year with an 11-2 record, their most wins in a season since winning the national title in 1981.
Depth Chart/Returning Starters
1. SR TAJH BOYD 6'1", 225 lbs
2. JR Cole Stoudt 6'5", 205 lbs
1. SR Roderick McDowell 5'9", 195 lbs
2. JR D.J. Howard 5'11", 195 lbs
1. JR SAMMY WATKINS 6'1", 205 lbs
2. JR Martavis Bryant 6'5", 200 lbs
1. JR Charone Peake 6'3", 200 lbs
2. JR Matt Porter 5'11", 190 lbs
1. JR Adam Humphries 5'11", 190 lbs
2. FR GermoneHopper 6'0", 175 lbs
1. SO Stanton Seckinger 6'4", 210 lbs
2. FR Jordan Leggett 6'6", 235 lbs
1. SR BRANDON THOMAS 6'3", 305 lbs
2. SO Eric Mac Lain 6'4", 260 lbs
1. JR DAVID BEASLEY 6'4", 315 lbs or JR Kalon David 6'5", 330 lbs
1. SO Ryan Norton 6'3", 270 lbs
2. FR Jay Guillermo 6'3", 290 lbs
1. SR TYLER SHATLEY 6'3", 295 lbs
2. JR Reid Webster 6'5", 285 lbs
1. JR GIFFORD TIMOTHY 6'6", 310 lbs
2. SO Jo eGore 6'5", 275 lbs
1. JR COREY CRAWFORD 6'5", 270 lbs or JR Tavaris Barnes 6'4", 275 lbs
1. JR GRADY JARRETT 6'1", 290 lbs
2. JR DeShawn Williams 6'1", 285 lbs
1. JR JOSH WATSON 6'4", 285 lbs
2. SO D.J. Reader 6'3", 335 lbs
1. JR Vic Beasley 6'3", 225 lbs
2. SO Kevin Dodd 6'5", 280 lbs
1. SR SPENCER SHUEY 6'3", 230 lbs
2. JR Tony Steward 6'1", 235 lbs
1. JR STEPHONE ANTHONY 6'3", 235 lbs
2. SO B.J. Goodson 6'1", 240 lbs
1. SR QUANDON CHRISTIAN 6'2", 225 lbs
2. FR T.J. Burrell 5'11", 215 lbs
1. JR GARRY PETERS 6'0", 195 lbs or JR Bashaud Breeland 6'0", 195 lbs
1. SO Travis Blanks 6'1", 190 lbs
2. JR Taylor Watson 5'11", 205 lbs
1. JR Robert Smith 5'11", 210 lbs
2. FR Jadar Johnson 6'1", 180 lbs
1. SR DARIUS ROBINSON 5'10", 175 lbs or JR MARTIN JENKINS 5'10", 180 lbs
*Will be updated when Swinney releases depth chart from fall camp.
Players to Watch
Running back Roderick McDowell will step in to replace Andre Ellington, who led the Tigers with 1,081 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
McDowell thrived in his reserve role, rushing for 450 yards, five touchdowns and a team-high 5.4 yards per carry (among players with more than 20 carries).
With Boyd's running ability, he'll certainly be a factor in the running game. Boyd averaged more than 14 carries per game last season, but McDowell can keep his quarterback's workload down if he can thrive as a starter.
Sophomore safety Travis Blanks is primed to have a breakout season for the Tigers.
Blanks thrived backing up Quandon Christian while also filling in as the nickelback during his freshman season. The former 4-star prospect wasted no time making an impact, recording 51 tackles, seven pass breakups, one interception and one recovered fumble.
Blanks will step into a starting spot looking to boost a secondary that is replacing three starters.
Reed comes to Clemson from NC State, where he coached the defensive backs for the last six seasons. Reed also has NFL experience, coming from a stretch between 2003-06 when he was a quality control coach and defensive assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles, according to Clemson's official site.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is routinely brought up as a candidate for head coaching vacancies, but Clemson survived another offseason without losing one of the brightest offensive minds in college football.
2013 Schedule and Most Important Games
Aug. 31 vs Georgia
Sept. 7 vs South Carolina State
Sept. 19 @ NC State
Sept. 28 vs Wake Forest
Oct. 5 @ Syracuse
Oct. 12 vs Boston College
Oct. 19 vs Florida State
Oct. 26 @ Maryland
Nov. 2 @ Virginia
Nov. 14 vs Georgia Tech
Nov. 23 vs Citadel
Nov. 30 @ South Carolina
Clemson's midseason matchup with Florida State is without question the top conference game of the year for the Tigers.
The Seminoles come-from-behind victory over Clemson shut them out of the conference title game last year, and the Tigers are hoping to return the favor this year. This time around, though, the game will be played in Death Valley.
Clemson will also kick the regular season off and bring it to a close with huge matchups against two elite SEC teams, Georgia and South Carolina.
Winning the Georgia game will vault Clemson into the thick of the national title race, and losing it could knock the Tigers out of contention before September officially arrives.
The season-ending matchup with the Gamecocks, Clemson's top rival, is always one of the Tigers' top games.
What to Look for on Offense
How will Clemson replace the weapons it lost in the passing game?
After being the second option in 2011 when Sammy Watkins erupted as a freshman, DeAndre Hopkins emerged as Boyd's most consistent target last season, catching 82 passes for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns.
With Hopkins gone, Sammy Watkins will need someone to balance the field, so Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant will need to step up at wide receiver.
The Tigers also lost tight end Brandon Ford, who proved to be a reliable outlet for Boyd by catching 40 passes for 480 yards and eight touchdowns.
Morris' offense is built to break down a defense with a vertical-passing attack. Clemson returns four starters with a lot of experience to its offensive line, so pass protection should be a strength this season.
Finding options for Boyd to pass to with all the time his line provides is Clemson's biggest priority.
What to Look for on Defense
For Clemson to truly take the next step as a championship-caliber team, the defense will have to improve under Brent Venables, who is in his second year as Clemson's defensive coordinator.
An encouraging note for the Tigers, though, is that the defense improved significantly in the second half of last season. Clemson gave up more than 25 points in its first six games, but in five of its final six regular-season contests (excluding a horrendous outing in which the Tigers surrendered 48 points to NC State), that average fell to just 17 points.
Clemson loses pass-rushing specialist Malliciah Goodman up front, but returns Corey Crawford, Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson to a deep and talented defensive line.
The Tigers have a lot of young talent to complement Stephone Anthony at linebacker, but the biggest concern is the secondary, which is replacing three starters.
If Clemson can reproduce the energy it created in the latter stages of 2012, the defense should be stout enough to complement that high-powered offense.
X-Factors for 2013
If Sammy Watkins can stay healthy and play at the level he showed during his freshman season, the Clemson offense will operate at a higher level.
As a receiver and a return man, Watkins is the most dangerous big-play threat Clemson has, and it's important to get him the ball as much as possible.
That need will have to be balanced against a concerted effort to keep Watkins healthy, though, because the drop-off he experienced in 2012 can largely be blamed on lingering injuries.
If Watkins produces numbers closer to his freshman season, when he caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns, Clemson's offense will be much more dynamic.
Top Storylines to Watch
Tajh Boyd's Heisman Campaign
Clemson's senior quarterback comes in at No. 7 in ESPN's Heisman Watch, so both he and the Tigers will need to have a big season if an invite to New York is in the cards.
Boyd was outstanding last year, completing more than 67 percent of his passes for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns. He also ran for 514 yards and 10 touchdowns.
If he can post similar numbers while cutting down on the 13 interceptions he threw last year, Boyd will be in the thick of the Heisman race.
Embracing the Hype
There's a reason Clemson fans get nervous when the Tigers face high expectations.
The last time Clemson entered the season as a top-10 team was in 2008, when head coach Tommy Bowden and defensive end DaQuan Bowers were expected to lead the Tigers to an ACC title.
Clemson went on to lose six of its 13 games, including a 26-21 loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
The Tigers took big steps forward last year to become a legitimate championship contender. Finding out whether those were wasted steps will be the biggest storyline of the Clemson football season.
Predicted regular-season record: 10-2 (8-0)
The Tigers will open the season with a 38-35 loss to Georgia, falling in heartbreaking fashion as the Bulldogs score a touchdown in the final minute to seal the game.
Clemson will bounce back in a big way, winning 10 straight games, highlighted by a three-point victory over Florida State. Boyd will throw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns against the Seminoles in a performance that ultimately wins him the ACC Player of the Year award.
Jadeveon Clowney will have a limited impact in the regular-season finale, but South Carolina will get enough offense to earn its fifth straight victory over Clemson, 31-28.
The Tigers will then defeat Virginia Tech in the conference title game to earn a bid to the 2014 Orange Bowl.