With only less than a month away until the first home game, head coach Dabo Swinney's focus is now on fall camp as the incoming freshmen become acclimated with Clemson's systems on both offense and defense. With this recruiting class being unarguably the best ever by Swinney in only his third year, Clemson fans will be sure to see some new faces from both red-shirt and true freshman.
With a new offensive coordinator and some 'slight tweaks' to defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's defensive schemes, fall camp will be essential in establishing the coaches' goal to get the best eleven players on the field and work to better maximize the abilities of a young yet talented roster of players. The Tigers are expected by most to not really be in the running for the ACC Atlantic but are rather in a transition year.
But that isn't the case for the Clemson Tigers. They are, in fact, a bigger contender for the ACC Atlantic than people may realize, and, despite popular belief, are still on par with the Atlantic favorite Florida State.
What gives Clemson the ability to compete? First, it all starts with a solid coaching staff. After Clemson produced a mediocre 6-7 season last year, Swinney made some big changes to the offensive coaching staff by releasing offensive coordinator Billy Napier and replacing him with Chad Morris. Tony Elliot has also been installed as the new running backs coach. The staff also lost defensive ends coach Chris Rumph to Alabama, but upgraded the position by bringing back Marion Hobby from Duke.
Can Clemson claim the ACC Atlantic Division?
With these hires, Swinney made moves that both upgrade the offense and improve player development at running back and defensive line, and made his staff stronger for the long run. The hire of Chad Morris gives an instant upgrade to a struggling offense that had no identity.
Next, of course, is the talent. It's old news that the Tigers brought in a top ten recruiting class, and it's pleasant news to know that the new freshmen are already turning eyes at the beginning of fall camp. Morris and Swinney have already stated that they will play early and more often as they become better with the quick-paced spread offense. The return of Andre Ellington and a sure-fire receiver in sophomore Deandre Hopkins, which they didn't have at the beginning of the season, will give them better chances in the beginning.
The ACC itself is a good enough reason that the Tigers have as good a chance as anyone to win the Atlantic. The ACC has been down in football for some time, and the ACC Atlantic especially has become a sort of laughing stock for some. Teams like Boston College and Wake Forest haven't been big contributors since Matt Ryan and Riley Skinner were the quarterbacks, respectively, and NC State always takes a tumble near the end of the season.
Despite the loss of playmakers like Deandre McDaniel and Daquan Bowers on defense, along with the transition to a new offense, the Tigers are in the thick of the race for the Atlantic Division, and are a team the ACC should not underestimate, especially heading into the future.