12 Returning Starters (5 offense, 7 defense)
Key Players: QB Cullen Harper, RB James Davis, RB C.J. Spiller, LT Barry
Richardson, WR Aaron Kelly, WR Jacoby Ford, DE Phillip Merling, DE Ricky Sapp,
LB Nick Watkins, LB Antonio Clay, CB Crezdon Butler, CAT Michael Hamlin
Clemson had yet another disappointing season last year, finishing 8-5 with a
loss to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. They return just five starters on
offense, don’t have an experienced quarterback, and All-American defensive end
Gaines Adams is off to the NFL.
Despite all that, Clemson still has talent, and there will be expectations.
There are always expectations in Death Valley, though it seems like every year
Tommy Bowden does just enough to save his job. 2007 doesn’t look like it’s going
to be his breakout year, but the fact that the Tigers will only have five senior
starters should be enough to keep him around for 2008. Expectations should be
quite large then.
Clemson’s running back duo of James Davis (Jr.) and C.J. Spiller (So.) is the
best in the ACC, and you could make an argument that they are the best in the
country. Davis ran for 1,187 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, while averaging
5.8 yards per carry. Spiller added 938 yards and 10 touchdowns, and averaged an
amazing 7.3 yards per carry.
Spiller is the big play guy. He is the most dangerous and explosive offensive
player in the conference. He is also a major threat in the passing game with 19
receptions last year. Davis is a good all-around runner, and the Tigers can’t go
wrong with either guy in the backfield.
With the loss of senior quarterback Will Proctor, the Tigers don’t have much
experience at quarterback. Projected starter Cullen Harper (r-Jr.) threw just 20
passes last season. Behind him is highly touted true freshman Willy Korn, who
could possibly play in 2007.
Quarterback could be a disaster for Clemson because of the lack of
experience. But it could also be an improvement. Harper has a stronger arm and
has a better presence in the pocket than Proctor. If he is mentally sharp, he
could have a very nice year for the Tigers. However at this point, there are too
many question marks.
Clemson has a talented and experienced unit of starting linebackers. Injuries
has limited this group in the past, but they could be very good in 2007 if they
stay healthy. Weakside linebacker Nick Watkins (r-Sr.) returns as the team’s
leading tackler. He had 116 tackles and seven TFLs last year in 13 starts. He
had 99 tackles back in 2005.
Antonio Clay (Jr.) was a playmaker for Clemson at middle linebacker last
year. He had 95 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss. Strongside linebacker
Tramaine Billie (r-Sr.) returns after missing the 2006 season with an ankle
injury. In 2005, he had 93 tackles.
Despite their production, Clemson’s linebackers are smallish. Watkins is 6-2,
220, Clay is 6-0, 220, and Billie is 6-1, 210.
Clemson lost both starters at cornerback. Duane Coleman’s eligibility
expired, and C.J. Gaddis declared for the NFL Draft. Two sophomores are
projected to be starting this year. The top player is true sophomore Crezdon
Butler, who had three interceptions as a true freshman in 2006. Opposite Butler
will be r-sophomore Chris Chancellor, who broke up five passes a year ago.
These players are more talented than the guys they are replacing, but they
are still young. They can be attacked through the air, but does the ACC have
enough good quarterbacks to take advantage of this?
Clemson’s home game against Virginia Tech on October 6 could be their biggest
game of the season. The Tigers will likely be entering the game with two losses,
or possibly even three. If they lose at home to Tech, they’ll have three or four
losses heading into the second half of the season, which includes games against
Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College and South Carolina.
And more than that, Clemson really needs to try and get over the hump against
the Hokies. Tech and Clemson have played four times since 1998, with the last
three games pitting Frank Beamer against Tommy Bowden. The final scores of those
games were 37-0, 31-11, 41-20 and 24-7. Despite the fact that Beamer can’t seem
to beat the elder Bowden, he pretty much thrashes Tommy whenever they play.
Will Stewart’s Take
Clemson is one of the keys to the ACC being perceived as a tough football
conference. If the Tigers can rise to the level of a 9-to-11 game winner, win
the conference championship, and win a BCS bowl or two, it’s good for the
conference. Clemson is one of the few ACC teams that can lay claim to having an
SEC-caliber program, along with FSU, VT, and possibly Miami (though the Canes
struggle to fill their stadium).
But nobody’s talking about Clemson’s upside right now. They’re talking about
Tommy Bowden being on the hot seat … again. The preseason press has centered
around this season really being “it,” this really being the season
where if Bowden doesn’t produce, whatever that means, he’s gone. Time will
tell if Bowden is on his ninth Clemson coaching life, or just his sixth or
Clemson has flashed some potential under Bowden, but they haven’t been
consistent over a whole season. I’d like to see that some day, as long as
Clemson’s path to glory doesn’t go through the Hokies.
Speaking of which, if you look at the last four times these teams have
played, the Hokies have just dominated the Tigers. After 50 years of frustration
in which the Hokies went 2-16 against the Tigers from 1935 to 1989, VT has
dominated Clemson in their last four meetings. Tech has won all four, by a
combined score of 133-38 (an average score of 33-9).
That can’t go on forever, obviously. At first glance it’s unlikely that the
Tigers will beat the Hokies this season, but hey, Wake Forest beat Florida State
30-0 in Tallahassee last year. Anything can happen, so the Hokies better not nap
on Clemson on October 6th, or in the ACC Championship Game, if it comes down to