CFN Preview 2013 - Clemson Tigers
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins
Posted Jun 18, 2013 2013 Preview - Clemson Tigers

Clemson Tigers

Preview 2013

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Dabo Swinney
Sixth year: 40-21
Returning Lettermen
Off. 25, Def. 26, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best Clemson Players
1. QB Tajh Boyd, Sr.
2. WR Sammy Watkins, Jr.
3. LT Brandon Thomas, Sr.
4. DE Vic Beasley, Jr.
5. PK Chandler Catanzaro, Sr.
6. DT Grady Jarrett, Jr.
7. LB Stephone Anthony, Jr.
8. LB Spencer Shuey, Sr.
9. FS Travis Blanks, Soph.
10. DT Josh Watson, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Georgia
9/7 South Carolina St
9/19 at NC State
9/28 Wake Forest
10/5 at Syracuse
10/12 Boston College
10/19 Florida State
10/26 at Maryland
11/2 at Virginia
11/14 Georgia Tech
11/23 Citadel
11/30 at South Carolina
QB Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris will be rubbing Howard's Rock this fall—one of many reasons why Clemson begins 2013 with so much optimism.

Boyd could be preparing for his first NFL training camp. Morris should be someone's head coach. Instead, they'll join forces for one final year together, determined to help lead the Tigers to new heights. Clemson is hot. The program has won at least 10 games in back-to-back years, capped by a thrilling signature upset of LSU in last December's Chick-fil-A Bowl. And Dabo Swinney and his staff continue to perennially haul in one of the better recruiting classes in the ACC.

Boyd is the linchpin of this season's expectations, the triggerman of a Morris-designed offense that ranked ninth nationally in total yards and sixth in scoring. Had Boyd taken his diverse skill set to Sundays, Clemson might have been labeled as a fringe Top 25 squad. With No. 10 taking snaps and vying for Heisman votes, the sky is the limit for the Tigers.

Clemson fancies itself as an up-tempo attack that seeks—and achieves—balance. Boyd's going to need new playmakers to emerge now that WR DeAndre Hopkins is a Houston Texan and RB Andre Ellington is an Arizona Cardinal. Sammy Watkins is poised for a monster year in the passing game, the kind of campaign that propels him deep into the 2014 NFL Draft. The backfield is a little more complicated, with career backup Roderick McDowell in a position to carry the load for the first time.

The D is in the capable hands of Brent Venables for a second year. The high-profile coordinator did well in his debut, guiding the Tigers closer to respectability. But he's searching for the kind of improvement that narrows the gap with Florida State, the ACC's nastiest defense. Venables is surrounded by talent; Clemson never has much problem attracting playmakers on either side of the ball. Taking the next step, though, will require some of the Tigers' borderline stars, like DE Vic Beasley, LB Stephone Anthony and FS Travis Blanks, to fully bloom in 2013.

It's taken a while, but Clemson is now established as one of the two or three premier in an Atlantic Coast Conference that has never been on such solid footing in football. The next step for the Tigers is to not only go stride-for-stride with Atlantic Division rival Florida State, but to also spring their way into the national title chase. Nah, the program isn't quite there yet, but the returns of Boyd and Morris to guide the offense make no dream unrealistic these days.

What to watch for on offense: Tajh's new troops. Besides Sammy Watkins, who is going to capitalize on the departures of 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington and 1,000-yard receiver DeAndre Hopkins? Clemson has options, but no certainties. Senior RB Roderick McDowell gets his first chance to start, but he's more likely to be the leading man of a committee approach. The receiving corps, on the other hand, boasts legitimate star power. Rangy wide receivers Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant possess the physical ability to erupt into special talents when Watkins gets doubled. And rookie TE Jordan Leggett is on the fast track, even if he begins the year as Stanton Seckinger's understudy.

What to watch for on defense: The outcome of the cornerback derbies. The coaching staff didn't bother to name starters at corner, because no one padlocked a job in the spring. August title fights have Garry Peters vs. Bashaud Breeland, with Darius Robinson vs. Martin Jenkins on the undercard. Oh, and don't be shocked if blue-chip recruit Mackensie Alexander further complicates things once he joins the mix. It doesn't matter who winds up atop the depth chart. Clemson just needs two or three capable cover guys who can help a pass defense that's given up way too many touchdowns over the last four years.

This team will be far better if … it cuts down on the number of explosive plays allowed. Sure, the D was much improved under Brent Venables, but it still got beat long often, a sign of blown assignments and poor tackling. Clemson ranked 110th in the country, just between UTEP and Eastern Michigan, in the number of plays yielded of 30 yards or more. The Tigers were equally generous on running plays as throws, an overall breakdown that needs to be addressed between now and the Georgia opener.

The Schedule: It's nasty in the beginning and the end, but it's not that bad in the middle. There's not much more the team could ask for in conference play missing Virginia Tech from the Coastal, getting 12 days to prepare for Georgia Tech, and helped by playing Florida State at home. The only back-to-back road games are at Maryland and Virginia after the Atlantic showdown against the Seminoles, but they come in the second half of the year - the Tigers have to avoid the letdown. Starting out against Georgia will set the tone, and finishing up at South Carolina will be in the spotlight, but there's no excuse schedule-wise to not at least get to the ACC championship.

Best Offensive Player: Senior QB Tajh Boyd. Boyd began to approach his peak late last fall. The ACC—and not the NFL—will have to contend with him in 2013. The reigning ACC Player of the Year has been a perfect fit for the up-tempo offense, which maximizes his multi-dimensional and game management skills. Boyd turned the corner in his evolution a year ago, completing 287-of-487 passes for 3,896 yards, 36 touchdowns and 13 picks. The 6-1, 225-pound escape artist also finished second on the team with 514 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground. Boyd was at his best in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, willing Clemson to a thrilling victory over LSU.

Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Victor Beasley. Technically, the Tigers don't have a single best player at this time. Instead, they have a handful of defenders itching for the honor. Beasley has the highest ceiling among them. He wasn't even a starter in 2012, yet led the program with eight sacks. One of the most explosive all-around athletes on either side of the ball, Beasley has the sudden first step and agility to wreak havoc on opposing backfields. With a starting role and a little more experience, he's capable of blowing up into a phenomenon in the ACC.

Key player to a successful season: Senior RB Roderick McDowell. No, McDowell doesn't necessarily have to be Andre Ellington, but he does have to be the kind of consistent runner that helps maintain balance for the Clemson offense. Behind McDowell are a series of question marks, ranging from veteran D.J. Howard to rookies Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman. It's incumbent upon the senior to give the ground game 75 or 85 quality yards in order to prevent the attack from becoming too predictable and one-dimensional.

The season will be a success if ... Clemson is crowned the ACC champ for the second time in the last three years. Anything less than a title is unacceptable since Tajh Boyd is back, Florida State's EJ Manuel is not and the ‘Noles must travel to Death Valley on Oct. 19. The Tigers are one of the two best teams in the league, and it has the best player in Boyd. Gone for now are the days when eight or nine wins sufficed. The way Clemson recruits, the bar is firmly set at ten wins and championship contention.

Key game: Aug. 31 vs. Georgia. The visit from Florida State will have obvious ACC implications. And beating rival South Carolina for the first time since 2008 is a major priority. But the opener with the Bulldogs could set the tone for the entire 2013 campaign. The Tigers won their last game versus an SEC opponent, outplaying LSU in the bowl game. Back-to-back wins over prominent SEC teams would mean that Clemson would have to be taken seriously as a national championship contender, at least for as long as it remains unbeaten.

2012 Fun Stats:
- First-half scoring: Clemson 347 – Opponents 172
- Yards per game: Clemson 512.7 – Opponents 396.2
- Third-down conversions: Clemson 51.5% - Opponents 34.0%
- 2013 Clemson Preview | 2013 Clemson Offense
- 2013 Clemson Defense  | 2013 Clemson Depth Chart