2009 CFN Clemson Preview
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller
Clemson RB C.J. Spiller
Posted May 21, 2009

Talent has never been a problem for Clemson, but consistency and flakiness have been. Will this be the year the program finally lives up to its promise? With a star in C.J. Spiller to build around, this should be a team worth watching. Check out the CFN 2009 Clemson Tigers Preview, Breakdown, and Analysis.

Clemson Tigers

Preview 2009

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By Richard Cirminiello    

- 2009 CFN Clemson Preview
| 2009 Clemson Offense
- 2009 Clemson Defense | 2009 Clemson Depth Chart
- 2008 Clemson Preview | 2007 Clemson Preview | 2006 Clemson Preview 

Head coach: Dabo Swinney
2nd year: 43
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 27, Def. 25, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 25
Ten Best Tiger Players
RB C.J. Spiller, Sr.
2.. OG Thomas Austin, Sr.
3. CB Chris Chancellor, Sr.
4. DE Da'Quan Bower, Soph.
5. WR Jacoby Ford, Sr.
6. LB Kavell Conner, Sr.
7. NG Jarvis Jenkins, Jr.
8. DE Ricky Sapp, Sr.
9. CB Crezdon Butler, Sr.
10. SS DeAndre McDaniel, Jr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 8-4
2009 Record: 0-0

9/5 Middle Tennessee
9/10 at Georgia Tech
9/19 Boston College
9/26 TCU
10/3 at Maryland
10/17 Wake Forest
10/24 at Miami
10/31 Coastal Carolina
11/7 Florida State
11/14 at NC State
11/21 Virginia
11/28 at South Carolina

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 10-2
2008 Record: 7-6

8/30 Alabama (Atl.) L 34-10
9/6 The Citadel W 45-17
9/13 NC State W 27-9
9/20 SC State W 54-0
9/27 Maryland L 20-17
10/9 at Wake Forest L 12-7
10/18 Georgia Tech L 21-17
10/25  OPEN DATE
11/1 at Boston Coll W 27-21
11/8 at Florida St L 41-27
11/15 Duke W 31-7
11/22 at Virginia W 13-3
Nov. 29 South Carolina W 31-14
Gator Bowl
1/1 Nebraska L 26-21

After catching the country off guard with last year’s uninspired start, before showing some heart to finish with a better-than-it-would've-seemed-before-the-season 7-6 finish, Clemson is looking to weave a surprise of a different kind in 2009.

While the Tigers regrouped to finish strong and darn near win the Gator Bowl, no one around the campus was happy with how things turned out considering this was considered a sleeper national title contender going into the season. Last year set back the program, which began the year No. 9 nationally, and it ended up perpetuating the stereotype that it’s a perennial underachiever. Out went Tommy Bowden and in came Dabo Swinney, who has brought a youthful energy and new coordinators for both sides of the ball. There’s a different buzz around Death Valley, but will the results be the same?

Even after the addition of Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech from the Big East, Clemson has had the tools to be the best team in the ACC over the last few years. It's all been there with speed, athleticism, and great players from top-shelf recruiting classes, but just when the Tigers got close to being special, and just when everyone was starting to get on board the bandwagon, pffffffffft. The balloon would pop with a clunker of a game to screw everything up. When the bad performance came in the season opener against Alabama last season, the team never recovered.

Talent has rarely been an issue at Clemson. The school has been a regular feeder to the NFL, and this season will be no different. Athletes, like RB C.J. Spiller, WR, Jacoby Ford, and defensive ends Ricky Sapp and Da’Quan Bowers, were blue-chippers, with next-level ability. Putting it all together? Now, that was the problem under Bowden for a Tiger team that hasn’t won an ACC championship in nearly two decades. Swinney has a blueprint for success, which includes surrounding himself with quality coaches and players, but then again so did his predecessors.

In the short-term, the Tigers have three issues to address if they’re going to exceed modest expectations and permanently put 2008 in the rear view mirror. They’ve got to decide on a quarterback out of underclassmen Kyle Parker and Willy Korn, solidify an offensive line that was an Achilles’ heel, and generate more pressure on defense. Kevin Steele’s defense is going to be outstanding, but the direction of the offense will dictate just how far this team can go this fall. If it awakes from last season’s slumber, look out. Clemson could be poised to make preseason forecasts look silly for a second straight year.   

What to watch for on offense: The race to replace Cullen Harper under center. The program is fortunate to have two really talented young hurlers, but who gets the ball when Middle Tennessee State visits Sept. 5? Sophomore Willy Korn was considered the future from the moment he left Byrnes (S.C.) High School, but redshirt freshman Kyle Parker has been Barack to his Hillary, parlaying a great offseason into a dead heat...at worst. Most observers feel Parker is in the poll position, but nothing is set in stone until the two complete their duel later in the summer.

What to watch for on defense: Sacks. With Ricky Sapp, Da’Quan Bowers, and Kevin Alexander at defensive end, Clemson ought to be treating the quarterback like a piñata, right? It should, but it didn’t last fall, finishing last in the ACC in sacks. It’s the lone glaring weakness on a defense that figures to be among the league’s best again in 2009. New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele prides himself on crafting physical defenses that can really bring it. Tiger fans hope he’s the right guy to light a spark under this pass rush.  
This team will be far better if
… the offense shows up in league games. Last year, the Tigers scored 17 against Maryland, seven against, 13 against Virginia...you get the point. The only time they opened things up were versus the likes of South Carolina State and The Citadel. If Clemson is going to put 2008 behind it, it needs to start trading more field goals for touchdowns, while doing a much better job of extending drives on third down.

The Schedule: There are some landmines, but it's a manageable slate. The key will be for the Tigers to maintain their focus in the middle of the season, (not the program's strong suit) against teams like Wake Forest and Maryland. The non-conference schedule was a joke before trading out Central Michigan for TCU, while dealing with the rivalry date with South Carolina to end the regular season is always tough. The ACC season starts out nasty with a road trip to face Georgia Tech from the Atlantic before the key game against two-time defending Atlantic champion Boston College. The next conference game is at Maryland, meaning the first moment to take a mini-breath in the ACC comes against Wake Forest at home. Going to Miami isn't good, but it's offset by a relatively easy game against Virginia in between two late road games.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB C.J. Spiller. The country’s best backup of the last three years is about to finally get a starring role. Despite starting just seven career games, Spiller already holds a dozen school records, and enters his final year on the short list of Heisman contenders. With game-changing speed and a plethora of skills, he’s a dynamic playmaker when his blockers get their work done. With better support up front, he’ll challenge Cal’s Jahvid Best for the nation’s leader in all-purpose yards. 

Best Defensive Player: Senior CB Chris Chancellor. Although he gets competition from other Tiger players, it’s tough to deny an experienced lockdown corner, who basically cuts off half the field for quarterbacks. One of the top cover guys in the ACC, he has great instincts and speed to go along with 30 career starts of experience. A big-play defender, he’s had four interceptions and nine pass breakups in each of the last two seasons. 

Key players to a successful season: The offensive line. The new quarterback is going to be pretty pivotal as well, but if the line doesn’t block exponentially better, none of it will matter. Starting with RB C.J. Spiller and WR Jacoby Ford, the Tigers have next-level game-breakers on this side of the ball, but their skills are diminished when the line isn’t doing its job. Plus, how can redshirt freshman Kyle Parker or sophomore Willy Korn be expected to develop behind center if he’s always ducking for cover?

The season will be a success if ... the Tigers cap a nine-win season with a bowl victory. More than anything else, the program wants to drum up some momentum and get beyond last year’s seven-win disappointment. While there are too many questions on offense to be thinking ACC crown, the schedule has few serious landmines, making a rebound well within reach.

Key game: Sept. 10 at Georgia Tech. Last year, the Tigers got off to an awful start and never fully recovered. Obviously, they’ll be looking to avoid a similar fate in 2009. The biggest September roadblock will be this early-season trip to play the Yellow Jackets, a team Clemson has beaten just once in its last five tries. The Tigers are going to learn a lot about their quarterback, who’ll be calling signals in hostile territory for the first time. 

2008 Fun Stats
- First half scoring: Clemson 190 - Opponents 92
- 3rd down conversions: Opponents 77-of-207 (37%) - Clemson 50-of-167 (29.9%)
- Sacks: Opponents 34 for 238 yards - Clemson 14 for 121 yards