With just a little over a week until the Clemson Tigers head to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs, it's time to do a complete breakdown of the 2014 season. We will take a look at the offensive and defensive units, look at this season's schedule and make predictions about how the season will unfold.
|Title||Name||Years on Team|
|Head Coach||Dabo Swinney||7|
|Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach||Chad Morris||3|
|Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach||Brent Venables||2|
|Running Backs Coach||Tony Elliott||3|
|Wide Receivers Coach||Jeff Scott||5|
|Tight Ends Coach/Special Teams||Danny Pearman||5|
|Offensive Line Coach||Robbie Caldwell||3|
|Defensive Tackles Coach||Dan Brooks||4|
|Defensive Ends Coach||Marion Hobby||5|
|Defensive Backs Coach||Mike Reed||1|
The coaching staff for the Tigers is one of the best in the country. Head coach Dabo Swinney has done a great job of hiring coordinators who really fit the direction in which the program wants to go.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris has his toughest job yet at Clemson trying to replace quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. There is debate growing over whether Morris' system can be a "plug-in" system where the offense is explosive no matter who it consists of. He has playmakers at the skill positions, but getting some of them to play beyond their experience will be a big task for Morris.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has done an excellent job of turning the defense around. Watching West Virginia score touchdown after touchdown on Kevin Steele's unit in the Orange Bowl in 2011 was about as painful as it got. Who would have thought that Clemson's defense would actually be the strength of the team just three years removed from that game?
Another coach who has a tough task ahead of him is defensive backs coach Mike Reed. He has talent at the position, but not a ton of experience. The front seven is projected to be really good, so that leaves the secondary being the question mark of the defense.
What to Watch For on Offense
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|QB||Cole Stoudt||Deshaun Watson||Nick Schuessler or David Olson|
|RB||D.J. Howard||Wayne Gallman||C.J. Davidson|
|WR||Charone Peake||Kyrin Priester||or Germone Hopper|
|WR||Adam Humphries||Artavis Scott||Daniel Rodriguez|
|WR||Mike Williams||Demarre Kitt||or Trevion Thompson|
|TE||Sam Cooper||Jordan Leggett||Stanton Seckinger|
|C||Ryan Norton||Jay Guillermo|
|OG||David Beasley||Eric Mac Lain||Spencer Region|
|OG||Kalon Davis||Tyrone Crowder||Reid Webster|
|OT||Isaiah Battle||Reid Webster|
|OT||Joe Gore||Reid Webster|
|K||Ammon Lakip||Bradley Pinion|
|PR/KR||Adam Humphries||or Mackensie Alexander||or Charone Peake|
clemsontigers.com, author projections
The offense is the ultimate question mark for the Tigers heading into the fall schedule. We know what the defense will be capable of, but can the Tigers recover from the loss of Boyd and Watkins? I think they can. Morris is an excellent coach who has taken unproven players and turned them into big names.
When the Tigers lost Andre Ellington, there was concern at running back, but Rod McDowell was able to provide stability last season. After losing DeAndre Hopkins, there was concern over who would be the No. 2 threat behind Watkins, but sure enough last season, Martavis Bryant was able to develop into an NFL talent.
It's the same situation this season with the offense, only now there is more of a spotlight on the lost players. Quarterback Cole Stoudt will fit right into what Morris wants to do offensively, and we could see him have a solid year. He won't be able to stretch the field with the deep ball like Boyd, but his efficiency is what matters. In his Clemson career, he has thrown eight touchdown passes and only one interception, and he has also completed 72.3 percent of his passes.
At receiver, there are many options as well. Adam Humphries is the most reliable target and will likely see many passes thrown his way. Charone Peake has the type of speed to make big plays, and Mike Williams has the size to spread the field. Jordan Leggett and Stanton Seckinger will also be important parts of the passing game.
At running back, it's going to be which running back is hot at the time. D.J. Howard is the starter now because of his experience, but Wayne Gallman, C.J. Davidson and Adam Choice will all have a chance to compete for carries.
What to Watch For on Defense
|Position||1st String||2nd String||3rd String|
|DT||Grady Jarrett||D.J. Reader||or Carlos Watkins|
|DT||DeShawn Williams||or Josh Watson||Scott Pagano|
|DE||Vic Beasley||Shaq Lawson||Ebenezer Ogundeko|
|DE||Corey Crawford||Tavaris Barnes||Martin Aiken|
|OLB||Travis Blanks||or Dorian O'Daniel||or Korrin Wiggins, or T.J. Burrell|
|MLB||Stephone Anthony||B.J. Goodson|
|OLB||Tony Steward||Ben Boulware||Kellen Jones|
|CB||Mackensie Alexander||Garry Peters||Adrian Baker|
|CB||Cordrea Tankersley||Martin Jenkins||Ryan Carter|
|SS||Robert Smith||T.J. Green|
|FS||Jayron Kearse||or Jadar Johnson|
|P||Bradley Pinion||Ammon Lakip|
clemsontigers.com, author projections
The defense could be really good this season if you haven't already heard. Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony are all All-American-type players, and there is excitement building over redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander as well. Alexander, along with Cordrea Tankersley, will be very important pieces to the secondary.
Shaq Lawson - "Playing with Vic (Beasley) opens things up for the rest of us. All the DEs are pushing each other." pic.twitter.com/7VeRJog9hF— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) August 12, 2014
The front seven is going to be dynamite, no doubt about it. With Beasley, Crawford, Jarrett and either DeShawn Williams or Josh Watson starting, getting pressure on the quarterback is going to help the back end of the defense as well.
An important factor is how well linebacker Tony Steward is able to play this year. We saw Spencer Shuey really turn it on last season stopping the run, so it will be important that there's not a big gap lost in that category. Steward, a former 5-star recruit, according to ESPN.com, has the talent to succeed this season.
|Zac Brooks||Foot||Out For Season|
Luckily for the Tigers, the injury news hasn't been too bad this offseason, but go ahead and knock on wood to be safe. Running back Zac Brooks will be out for the season with a foot injury, but that doesn't hurt the Tigers significantly in the long run. However, it means Gallman, Davidson and Choice become even more important now.
I didn't list Seckinger on the table because he appears ready to return, according to Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier.
Running back Tyshon Dye is the mystery injury for Clemson this season. The staff isn't sure when he will be able to return to full contact and play for the Tigers, but he can certainly add another option to the running game when healthy. I suspect that we won't see the staff speed up his return because of the depth mentioned above.
You could make the case for many players to be an X-factor, but the season ultimately comes down to Stoudt. While Steward, Tankersley, Alexander, Peake and Gallman are all important pieces, the Tigers will really struggle if Stoudt isn't able to perform well.
Jesse Palmer on Clemson QB Cole Stoudt: "He doesn't need to throw five touchdowns a game. He just needs to play within the system."— Aaron Brenner (@Aaron_Brenner) August 21, 2014
The quickest way to argue this point is by saying Deshaun Watson is the answer at quarterback, but would you really trust a true freshman to run things so quickly? With the pieces Clemson lost on offense, it's important that Stoudt plays well this season right away. The running game will be able to help, but the big plays need to come from Stoudt.
The Tigers really need his experience in the system to show in key situations early in the year. Playing at Georgia and at Florida State would be tough for any quarterback regardless of experience. He doesn't have to be as good as Boyd for Clemson to be successful, but he needs to play without crucial turnovers and without major mistakes.
|August 30th||Georgia||Athens, Ga.|
|September 6th||South Carolina State||Clemson, S.C.|
|September 20th||Florida State||Tallahassee, Fla.|
|September 27th||North Carolina||Clemson, S.C.|
|October 4th||North Carolina State||Clemson, S.C.|
|October 11th||Louisville||Clemson, S.C.|
|October 18th||Boston College||Chestnut Hill, Mass.|
|October 25th||Syracuse||Clemson, S.C.|
|November 6th||Wake Forest||Winston-Salem, N.C.|
|November 15th||Georgia Tech||Atlanta|
|November 22nd||Georgia State||Clemson, S.C.|
|November 29th||South Carolina||Clemson, S.C.|
The biggest game on the schedule is September 20, no doubt about it. The Tigers will look to get revenge on Florida State and also try to get back to the ACC Championship Game. The Seminoles don't appear like they could lose multiple games, so this game will likely decide the division.
Another game to keep an eye on is Georgia Tech. The Tigers haven't beaten the Yellow Jackets on the road since 2003, and this almost always seems to be a close game.
North Carolina should be improved this season, and even though the Tigers get that one at home, it is certainly a game to watch. The Tar Heels are capable of winning, so the Tigers can't afford many mistakes in that one.
Lastly, the state championship is also very important this season. Swinney has seen his troubles against Steve Spurrier, but the Tigers have a solid chance of turning the streak in the other direction. South Carolina, like Clemson, has question marks heading into the season, so it should be a good game.
Prediction: 11-2 overall (7-1 in ACC)
My prediction for the season is that Clemson loses two games. Considering what Clemson lost from last year, I'm sure the fans would be pleased with a 10-2 campaign.
While the Tigers want their revenge on Florida State, the 'Noles will be too much to handle for Clemson's offensive line. The other loss will come against either North Carolina, Georgia Tech or South Carolina. The North Carolina and Georgia Tech games could potentially be trap games for the Tigers, and South Carolina has had their number the last five seasons.
If everything goes as planned, I think the Tigers are able to beat North Carolina and Georgia Tech. I listed South Carolina as a push game when I broke down the schedule earlier this week, but the Gamecocks are the favorite early on.
Don't get me wrong, the Tigers can certainly win that one, but for now, we will stick with 10-2. That record will likely mean Clemson goes 7-1 in the conference again, with the lone loss coming at Florida State.
If Florida State is able to return to the national championship game, Clemson has a good chance of making it back to the Orange Bowl.
Beasley and Anthony are two players to watch for major awards. Beasley is one of the best defensive ends in the nation and is my early pick to win the Ted Hendricks Award. Anthony is someone to consider for the Butkus Award.
So there you have it, a full preview of the 2014 season. The excitement will only grow over the next few days as Clemson really begins to focus on Georgia. This will be a fun season, and it will be interesting to see how many of the question marks Clemson is able to answer this fall.