With the way Clemson has been recruiting the past few years, it comes as no surprise that freshmen will compete for starting spots. Last year, the Tigers concluded with the No. 13-ranked recruiting class, according to ESPN.com.
While predicting that freshmen will have a chance to start comes as a bit of a stretch to some, there is a realistic opportunity for a handful of freshmen to be named starters for the Tigers.
Mackensie Alexander, CB (Redshirt Freshman)
Alexander is becoming one of the most talked-about young defenders in college football. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee recently mentioned him as a potential breakout star for 2014.
Clemson's depth chart heading into the summer lists Alexander as one of the starters at cornerback, showing how well he performed in the spring. Head coach Dabo Swinney said Alexander looked "tremendous" in a tweet from Orange and White back in March.
The talented cornerback is very likely to start and should be one of the top players in Clemson's secondary this season.
Swinney: Mackensie Alexander looks "tremendous." Ready to go compete.— Orange and White (@orangeandwhite) March 4, 2014
Dorian O'Daniel, LB (Redshirt Freshman)
The summer depth chart listed a four-way tie at the nickelback position between O'Daniel, T.J. Burrell, Travis Blanks and Korrin Wiggins, so O'Daniel is another guy who has a very good chance of starting.
Before the spring, I would have predicted that Blanks would have ran away with the job, but the four-way tie shows that Swinney isn't ready to exclude anyone just yet.
O'Daniel was one of the top linebackers in the 2013 class and is super athletic.
Deshaun Watson, QB (True Freshman)
Watson may have the talent to start, but experience is what will keep him on the sideline in year one. I still wanted to mention him because he will be the guy if Cole Stoudt struggles this season. He is listed as the backup and would be called upon if something happens to Stoudt.
Chances are very slim that Watson takes the job away from Stoudt in the summer just because of the experience factor, but anything could happen during the season. He is talented enough that I will include him as someone with a chance to start.
Tyrone Crowder, OG (Redshirt Freshman)
Crowder is another guy who was a big-time recruit, listed as the No. 5 offensive guard by ESPN.com in the 2013 recruiting class.
Going into the summer, he and senior Reid Webster are listed as backups for right guard Kalon Davis. Crowder is in a similar position as Watson with playing time.
While he may have the talent, Davis is a senior who has more experience. Davis has started eight games in his career, and seven of those came last season.
Crowder would have to blow Coach Swinney away during the summer practices to jump Davis, but with his talent, I still give him a chance.
Wayne Gallman, RB (Redshirt Freshman)
Depending on how Tyshon Dye's injury plays out this summer, he and Gallman could both have a shot at a starting position. Right now, the edge has to go to Gallman because of the two injuries Dye has faced in his time at Clemson.
Gallman, Zac Brooks or C.J. Davidson could be the potential No. 2 guy behind D.J. Howard.
Howard had a strong showing in the spring game with 59 yards, but Gallman led all rushers with 61 yards.
Howard, the senior, may be tough to jump because of his experience—he has played in 36 games for the Tigers in his career—but I give Gallman a very realistic chance of winning the starting job.
Any Freshman Wide Receiver
This section could not be narrowed down to one player. Trevion Thompson, Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester all will have a chance to compete for a starting job.
Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Mike Williams are the starters at wide receiver, with Priester, Scott and Kitt listed as the backups.
All but Thompson were early enrollees, so he will have some catching up to do this summer. I don't see any of those guys having a great chance to jump into the starting lineup, but with the possibility of injuries, one or more could have a shot.
Which freshman has the best chance of starting outside of Mackensie Alexander?
Out of all the players mentioned, Alexander has the best chance at starting in the opener against Georgia. Gallman and O'Daniel have very realistic opportunities, but the other guys would have to play especially well to jump into the starting lineup.
There are more talented freshmen on Clemson's roster such as Richard Yeargin, Korie Rogers, Chris Register and Adrian Baker, but the depth on defense will make it tough for those young guys to jump in immediately.