When one begins to break down Clemson’s potential 2014 season, there are a few factors that come into play. In some cases I think fans have very high expectations for next season, and in other cases, fans aren’t ready to dance in the streets just yet. Clemson’s season will be similar to the past two seasons in that it will all ride on the two big games: Florida State and South Carolina. This year you throw Georgia into the mix again, but those two big games will be the deciding factors again.
Breaking Down the Schedule
When you take a look at the Tigers’ schedule, there are three different categories you can place each game.
The two games that should definitely be won are South Carolina State and Georgia State. Then you have the games that should be won but will still present challenges.
Those games are North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest, Louisville, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Boston College. Georgia Tech and North Carolina really jump out of that category.
The Tigers always seem to struggle a bit with Georgia Tech, and North Carolina is a sleeper in the ACC this year. The Tar Heels have the potential to have a really good season, so that will likely be a close game.
Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina make up the third category, for obvious reasons. These are the three games that will be very difficult for the Tigers to win, and it will all depend on how they come to play on that particular day.
Playing in Athens will be tough because of Georgia’s power running game and its much-improved defense. Going to Doak Campbell is never an easy task, especially this year with Heisman winner Jameis Winston leading the offense again. There isn’t much to say about that last game. I can sit here and break down every little detail about the Clemson-Carolina game, but all that really matters is which Tiger team comes to play on November 29.
Comparing 2013 and 2014
While ESPN analysts will continue to focus on what Clemson lost this season with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, I am going to instead focus on what the Tigers have returning.
When you look at the quarterback position, there isn’t going to be a drastic change. While Cole Stoudt can’t make all the throws that Boyd did, the Tigers still have a veteran leader who has a great feel for the system. Stoudt has had plenty of experience under Chad Morris’s offense, and I think that level of comfort will show on the field this season.
At running back, veterans D.J. Howard and Zac Brooks return, while Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye will also look to get into the mix. C.J. Davidson is a speed guy who will likely be used on certain plays and formations.
While there are many backs in the mix, I think the fact that one hasn’t broke away from the pack yet is a slight concern. We are only through spring ball at this point though, and the summer will present an opportunity for a running back to outright win the starting job.
The Tigers have plenty of options at wide receiver with veterans Charone Peake and Adam Humphries leading the way. There are also many young guys that will contribute including Mike Williams, Germone Hopper, Artavis Scott, Kyrin Priester, Demarre Kitt and Trevion Thompson.
Offensive line and the secondary are areas of concern. The offensive line situation can be better measured at the end of the summer, but anytime a team loses two solid starters like Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley, there is going to be a little concern.
The secondary can be very good, but it’s hard to judge at this point because of the youth. The Tigers have many young players in the secondary who can be playmakers, such as Mackensie Alexander, Adrian Baker, Korrin Wiggins, Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green. Hopefully for the Tigers, guys like Martin Jenkins and Garry Peters will step up and be leaders in that secondary.
The other areas such as linebacker and defensive line should be just as good, if not better, than last season. These positions should not be any worry at all to Tiger fans.
The Realistic Expectations
When you take into account what Clemson has returning with the defensive line and the weapons on the offensive side of the ball, I think it can have a very good year. Last year there were preseason mumbles about a national championship, but that would just be wishful thinking for 2014.
With the question marks on the offensive line and the youth in the secondary, it will be tough for the Tigers to run the table against physical teams like South Carolina and Florida State.
Realistic Expectation: 9-3 or 10-2
Bottom Line: It will be another year like the previous ones in which the Tigers have a very good team but still just aren't quite ready to get over the hump. The offense should be very good again, and the defense will be improved, but will it be enough to take down Florida State and South Carolina?