Sitting here in late June, the countdown until the start of college football season begins, of course, with the usual, often premature, preseason rankings of teams and previews of what may be to come for all 120 FBS teams. Whether they have a chance to bounce back from a bad season, capitalize on a great one or adjust to new coaches, these news and notes allow college fans to wet their dry college throats until fall camps start and the first college football game draws near.
Clemson football is no exception to this rule.
Clemson fans are looking for progress after a disappointing 6-7 season, Clemson's first losing season in over a decade. Head coach Dabo Swinney has spent the offseason completely revamping the Clemson offense, bringing in Chad Morris as offensive coordinator and his fast-paced spread offense, while replacing running backs coach Andre Powell with Tony Elliot, and hiring Jim Caldwell after the retirement of Brad Scott to an administrative position.
Despite the coaching changes and the adjustment period that must come with such big coaching changes, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, especially about the new offense.
First, with the departure of Kyle Parker to professional baseball, Tajh Boyd takes the reins of the new Clemson offense. Boyd has done all the right things thus far, becoming the leader a quarterback is supposed to be that the last few Clemson quarterbacks have not been. He has shown great work ethic, dropping 10-20 pounds to better run Morris's fast-paced offense, which requires an athletic, dual-threat quarterback to function.
As a red-shirt sophomore, Boyd has tremendous upside and potential to take the Clemson offense to different heights, and with only young, true freshman QBs behind him, he is unquestionably the Day One starter.
In a season that saw Clemson get handed their first losing season in over a decade, it also saw what is unarguably Dabo Swinney's best recruiting class yet in only his third year as head coach.
On a team that possessed few viable pass-catchers on its offense, Dabo picked up one of the best receiving corps in the nation by signing highly touted receivers in Martavis Bryant (who had to attend Hargrove Academy due to falling a half credit short), Sammy Watkins and Charone Peake. Clemson also signed two underrated receivers in Adam Humphries and Stanton Seckinger.
On defense, the Tigers attacked linebackers hard on their recruiting trail, and were rewarded with the signings of three top tier linebackers in Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward and Lateek Townsend. All three of them have the chance to play immediately and are likely to avoid a red-shirt.
The Clemson recruiting class of 2011 had another highlight at the running back position with the addition of Mike Bellamy, who, with the premature departure of Jamie Harper, will look to have an immediate impact in the backfield behind Andre Ellington.
With all of these highlights, the class signed hidden talent with players like defensive ends Corey Crawford and Roderick Byers, along with linebacker BJ Goodson, and several other great developmental players who have a big chance to contribute in the future and even make a push to contribute now.
The Clemson Tigers, despite a losing season, still had a top 25 defense, and continued to put their offense in position multiple times to win. But the offense was ineffective, and the defense was sometimes on the bad side of a loss, even though they were one of the few bright spots on a losing team.
But, with a fixed offense, the Tigers now have a chance to have balance on both sides of the ball.
The defensive line has been Clemson's best attribute on its defense for many years, and must now continue its solid production after the losses of defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins and defensive end Daquan Bowers. With their departures, the Tigers are left with an interesting mix of fresh, young talent.
With Andre Branch and Mallicah Goodman filling out the end spots, and Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore filling out the defensive tackle position, depth remains a big question, especially at defensive tackle, where Jenkins made the pass-rush effective by demanding consistent double-teams on the inside.
In fall camp, young names like sophomore Tyler Shatley, along with incoming freshman Kevin Dodd, Grady Jarrett, Deshawn Williams and others, will have something to prove, as Kevin Steele's defense frequietly likes to rotate its defense linemen throughout a game.
At linebacker, junior Corcico Hawkins continues to man the middle linebacker position, while sophomore Quandon Christian mans the SAM position. Now, with the departure of Brandon Mays, the WILL position is up for grabs. In the spring, sophomore Justin Parker make huge strides and had an outstanding spring, while Johnathan Willard continues to strive for a full starting position. And meanwhile, three highly touted linebackers in Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward and Lateek Townsend are on their way, with Anthony a likely candidate for a starting spot.
The linebackers have had a solid spring performance and look to become more of an asset for Clemson's front seven this time around.
The back seven remain strong, led by junior free safety Rashard Hall, and fellow junior Jonathan Meeks will step into a full-time starting role with the departure of Deandre McDaniel. Junior Xavier Brewer will man one of the corner positions, while senior Coty Sensabaugh competes with the likes of younger teammates Bashaud Breeland, Darius Robinson and Martin Jenkins for the starting outside position opposite Brewer.
For Clemson, this is a great opportunity to jump-start what could become a promising future. While the Tigers must make a transition on offense, their defense is the only factor on this team that did not need a lot of fixing. The Tigers actually maintain a good chance to emerge as the top team in the Atlantic Division if they manage to get by Florida State. In a new offense with a first year coordinator, there is going to be some adjustment, and Tiger fans must have paitence.
In this kind of year, Clemson is looking towards an 8-4 type of year, but with the potential of this roster and the capabilities of this team, there is a decent chance they could go 9-3, as most the toughest games are outside of the conference, being Auburn and South Carolina, with its toughest ACC opponents being Florida State and Virginia Tech.
Overall 2011 record: 8-4