Clemson Football: 4 Things Standing in the Way of an ACC Championship

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

Clemson Football: 4 Things Standing in the Way of an ACC Championship

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    Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney surrounded by former stars Sammy Watkins (left) and Tajh Boyd (right).
    Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney surrounded by former stars Sammy Watkins (left) and Tajh Boyd (right).Associated Press

    The Clemson Tigers last won the ACC title in 2011. That was former quarterback Tajh Boyd's first full season as the starter and Sammy Watkins' freshman season.

    In 2012 and 2013, the Tigers came up just short because they couldn't beat the Florida State Seminoles.

    Now that FSU is coming off a national championship season and the Tigers are replacing several stars, can Clemson dethrone the 'Noles and take back the ACC?

    Florida State isn't the only thing standing between Clemson and the ACC title. Here are four reasons why getting back to the ACC Championship Game—and winning it—won't be easy for the Tigers.

Can Cole Stoudt Replace Tajh Boyd at Quarterback?

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    Cole Stoudt

    Boyd is gone and Fox Sports' Coy Wire has reported that senior Cole Stoudt, Boyd's backup for the last three years, is now the man for Clemson.

    Can he keep the offense at the same level Boyd did over the last three-plus years?

    Stoudt has never started a game in college. However, he isn't exactly inexperienced. In three years on campus, Stoudt has attempted 119 career passes and completed 72 percent of them. He also has eight touchdowns versus only one interception.

    But most of that was in mop-up duty. Can he go to Athens, Ga., in the season opener and defeat the Georgia Bulldogs in one of the more hostile environments in all of college football?

    While that game won't determine if Clemson wins the ACC or not, it's a major test for Stoudt. If he passes it, the Tigers have a very good shot of dethroning the 'Noles in 2014.

Offensive Line

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    Offensive tackle Isaiah Battle
    Offensive tackle Isaiah BattleRICHARD SHIRO

    If the spring game was any indication, the Tigers could be in trouble on the offensive line.

    Keep in mind, it was just a spring game. However, it's hard to ignore how often the defense was in the offensive backfield. It wasn't just Vic Beasley's White squad either. The Orange squad beat up the White squad's offensive line as well.

    In fairness to the offensive line, it was a patchwork group. A couple of expected key performers on the offensive line, most notably Eric Mac Lain, missed the game. The Tigers are also replacing two All-ACC linemen from 2013.

    The Tigers have the talent up front, but this could be a trouble spot early in the season. Remember, Clemson plays FSU on Sept. 20.

Are There Enough Offensive Playmakers?

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    Wide receiver Germone Hopper
    Wide receiver Germone HopperRICHARD SHIRO

    The Tigers lost Watkins and Martavis Bryant from a year ago. Those two combined for 143 catches, 2,292 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013.

    How will Clemson replace that?

    Not easily. That's why three true freshmen enrolled early and are in the mix for playing time in 2014.

    Senior Adam Humphries is reliable, but not necessarily a game-breaker. Germone Hopper was sent home from spring practice to focus on his academics and Charone Peake is still recovering from a torn ACL. Hopper has the type of ability to score every time he touches the ball.

    Tight end Jordan Leggett is one player to keep an eye on. He had a big spring game and should figure into the mix. He's big, fast and will be a matchup problem for any defense.

    Running back Roderick McDowell is gone too. He ran for over 1,000 yards last year. However, much like at wide receiver, the Tigers have a lot of options in the backfield.

    There are big shoes to fill, but Swinney has done a good job of stockpiling talent at the skill positions over the past few years.

Youth in the Secondary

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    Sophomore safety Jayron Kearse
    Sophomore safety Jayron KearsePatrick Semansky

    The Tigers will feature plenty of talent in the secondary in 2014. However, two players who could be starters—or significant contributors—are redshirt freshmen.

    Mackensie Alexander and Adrian Baker are phenomenal talents and will likely be great players for Clemson, but don't you think Jameis Winston is excited about the prospect of facing two players in just their third collegiate game?

    Sophomore Jayron Kearse, a projected starter at one of the safety positions, is also a sophomore.

    This group will be tested early and often. If other teams see one team beating the secondary, other teams will challenge them.

    Led by Vic Beasley, the Tigers should have an outstanding pass rush in 2014. That will only help this group.