With less than three weeks before the beginning of the 2008 season we look at the Clemson Tigers and the reasons why they will win the ACC Championship.
With what may be the best recruiting class to ever step foot into the doors at Clemson, the Tigers are loaded not only with veteran but freshman ready to make an immediate impact.
On the defensive side you have, in what ESPN.com rated the top HS player in the nation, DE Da'Quan Bowers. He is a 6'5" 265 lbs. monster who was named the Defensive MVP of the Under Armour All-Star Game. Bowers not only had 33 TFL and 14 sacks in his high school senior season, but he also rushed for over 1,200 yards with a 40+ yard average on kickoff returns.
Joining him on the defensive side of the ball are Spencer Adams, a safety with world class track speed, and DT Brandon Thompson, who was ranked the No. 3 DT in the nation by ESPN.com.
The Tigers also added much needed depth to a LB corps that lost all three 2007 starters. The Tigers once again went to the state of Florida to shake the recruiting tree and found future stars by signing nine Florida natives in this recruiting class.
The biggest signee of these recruits is RB Jamie Harper, a 6'0" 225 lbs. truck with a perfect mix of not only power but speed and agility. Harper was rated the No. 3 RB in the nation by ESPN.com but also the No. 1 FB in the nation by Rivals.com.
Harper was a huge signing day pickup for the Tigers. He will bring a resume that includes over 1,400 yards rushing and 19 TDs from a senior year that also saw him win a state title in the 4x100 meter relay into an already loaded Tiger backfield.
He is also joined by a trio of WRs all from the state of South Carolina who will bring a mix of not only speed but size into the Tiger WR corps for the years to come.
After facing a tough opponent in Alabama to open the season in the Georgia Dome, the Tigers should easily win their next four games. Two of the next four are ACC opponents (NCSU/Mary) and are all at home before heading to Winston Salem to face the Wake Forest Deacons. This could very likely be the toughest test, road or home, for the Tigers all season.
The Tigers have lost two of the last three to Wake in Winston Salem and would have lost all three if not coming back from a 17-3 deficit entering the third quarter. The Tigers then play at home vs. Georgia Tech against a struggling Jacket team trying to learn new head coach Paul Johnson's option offense.
The Tigers then play on the road back to back weeks vs. a BC team in which they have not beat since BC joined the ACC. However, this BC team no longer has star QB Matt Ryan to rely on. The Tigers then travel to FSU to play Papa Bowden and his Seminoles. The Tigers have won three of the last four vs. the Noles, but a win in Tallahassee is never guaranteed.
The Tigers then face Duke, led by new head coach David Cutcliffe at home in Death Valley for homecoming before traveling to Virginia for their last road game of the season vs. the Cavaliers.
Next, the South Carolina Gamecocks come to town for the battle of the Palmetto State and the Hardee's Trophy. No matter what the teams' records are this is always a battle. And we know for sure that Spurrier will have the Gamecocks ready to play when they come to Tiger town on November 29th.
The Tigers hold an overall advantage in the series with a 64-37-4 record including nine out of the last 11. With that being said, all records can be thrown out of the window when these two play because the last three contests have been decided by nine total points with the Tigers winning two out of three.
3. Big Play Capability
With an offense that touts some of the top speed in the country, the Tigers are one play away from putting six on the scoreboard in a hurry with every snap. With All-ACC track speed in the backfield and at receiver with CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford, the Tigers can run by anyone at anytime.
The Tigers also have the current active leader in touchdowns in the ACC in RB James Davis. When it comes to the receiving corps, it all starts with Aaron Kelly, who can overtake the Clemson all-time receptions lead and the ACC all-time receptions lead during the 2008 season.
This combo will be joined by a trio of big play receivers and a pair of running backs that are a perfect blend of size and speed who could possibly be the next Thunder and Lightning. The Tigers are also extremely athletic on defense and are a threat to turn a turnover into six points also.
The Tigers' kick and punt return teams may be the best in the country. What else would you expect when they include some of the fastest players in the country in Spiller, Ford, and an array of newcomers?
Offense - The Tigers lost four of the 11 starters from last season, all of which were offensive linemen. The Tigers will have to work to fill these gaps but will also return the other seven players to an offense that averaged 33.1 ppg. and scored 48 TDs in 2007. Jacoby Ford, who missed the last five and a half games with a broken ankle will return to the WR corps and bring his Olympic track speed back to the outside for the Tigers.
With both Thunder (James Davis) and Lightning (CJ Spiller) in the backfield and with the addition of freshmen Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington, the Tiger backfield becomes even more explosive in the 2008 season. The Tigers also return their top three leading WRs from the 2007 season in Aaron Kelly, Tyler Grisham and Jacoby Ford. They will be joined by a talented group of not only true freshman, but redshirt freshmen along with a graduate student transfer to make it one of, if not the top WR units in the ACC.
The Tigers will be led at QB by second year starter Cullen Harper who is a preseason Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas award candidate. As a first year starter in 2008, Harper threw 27 TDs to only six interceptions. This was impressive, seeing how he was only 15-22 including two TDs and 0 int. in his career in two years at Clemson going into the 2007 season.
Defense - The Tigers return three starters to a D-Line whose only loss was junior Phillip Merling who was selected in the second round of the NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins. The defensive line may possibly even be better after the loss of Merling to the Draft with the addition of freshman Da'Quan Bowers and the depth that was behind Merling in the likes of Brown, Branch, and Alexander.
The Tigers return the other three starters in Sapp, Jackson, and Scott. Jackson will miss the first six weeks with a leg injury and will likely be replaced by Jamie Cumbie. The Tigers lost their entire starting LB unit from 2007 but return sophomore Scotty Cooper, redshirt junior Kavell Conner, and senior Josh Miller, all who saw playing time in the 2007 season, should fill in nicely. They will be joined by redshirt freshman Brandon Maye along with true freshmen Stanley "Buster" Hunter, Tarik Rollins, and Jonathan "Tig" Willard.
The Tigers' secondary is probably the best in the ACC and returns all their starters from the 2007 season including Jim Thorpe award candidate Michael Hamlin at safety. He will be joined by familiar faces in the Tiger secondary such as Butler (CB), Chancellor (CB), Clemons (S) along with Haydrian Lewis who missed extended time with a torn ACL and sophomores Gilchrist and McDaniel. The Tigers will also welcome a trio of safeties into the group including Spencer Adams a speedster from the state of NC.
On offense, the Tigers are expected to start three seniors in Kelly (WR), Grisham (WR), and Davis (RB) along with a graduate student in Cullen Harper. The offense will also feature juniors Ford (WR), Spiller (RB), and Palmer (TE).
On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers are expected to start two senior DL in Scott and Jackson along with senior safeties Hamlin and Clemons. They will be joined on the field by juniors Butler (CB), Chancellor (CB), Conner (LB), Sapp, and Alexander at DE.
The Tigers will also feature a graduate student in kicker Mark Bucholz who is a Lou Groza award candidate and punter Jimmy Maners who is a Ray Guy award candidate.