Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Key Losses: OT Barry Richardson, OG Brandon Pilgrim, OT Christian Capote,
OG Chris McDuffie, DE Phillip Merling, LB Tramaine Billie, LB Cortney Vincent,
LB Nick Watkins
Key Returnees: QB Cullen Harper, RB James Davis, RB C.J. Spiller, WR
Aaron Kelly, WR Tyler Grisham, WR Jacoby Ford, C Thomas Austin, DT Dorell Scott,
DT Rashaad Jackson, DE Ricky Sapp, CB Crezdon Butler, CB Chris Chancellor, S
Michael Hamlin, S Chris Clemons
We hear it every year about Clemson. “This is the year!” Just like
the Miami teams of the mid-to-late 1990’s, each year is supposed to be “the
year” that they get over the hump. Also just like Miami, it’s taking a long
time for that vision to actually come true. The Tigers are viewed as the major
underachiever in the ACC, year in and year out.
All that being said, they’ve never grouped together the type of talent that
is returning this year. There is quite a bit of skill position talent at Clemson
this year, but will that be enough?
You probably expected running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller in this
section, but quarterback Cullen Harper will be the trigger man for this year. In
2006 the Tigers had Davis and Spiller, yet failed to win the ACC because they
didn’t have a good enough quarterback in Will Proctor.
Harper is a terrific pocket passer, putting up better numbers than ACC golden
boy Matt Ryan last season. Harper’s stats will blow you away. In 2007 he
completed 65.1% of his passes for 2,991 yards, with 27 touchdowns and just six
interceptions. Those are All-American numbers right there. He’s probably the
most undervalued quarterback in the country, and he’s going to have a big senior
Clemson’s weakness is up front with their offensive line. They lost four
starters off their 2007 line. That’s after they lost four starters off their
2006 line! That’s eight new starters up front for the Tigers in just two years.
That’s entirely too much personnel turnover in such a short amount of time to
expect Clemson to put a good offensive line on the field this year, especially
early in the season.
Actually, the line wasn’t all that great last year, despite it being senior
laden. This year there will be a lot of inexperience amongst the starters, not
to mention the backups. If the Tigers have any injuries up front this year, it
could be a very serious blow.
Unlike the offense, the Clemson defense should be very strong up front. They
will have two senior starting defensive tackles in Dorell Scott and Rashaad
Jackson, not to mention some experienced backups. In fact, the Tigers feel so
good about their defensive tackle depth that they moved senior Jock McKissic, a
part-time starter, to offensive tackle.
Defensive end Philip Merling declared early for the NFL Draft, but the Tigers
do return former 5-star recruit Ricky Sapp, who should be ready to have a
breakout year. Still, the guy most people are talking about is true freshman
defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. He is a 6-5, 257-pound playmaker who had 63
tackles for loss and 29 sacks over his final two seasons of high school. The
Tigers always have tremendous defensive ends, and 2008 should be no different.
Clemson lost linebackers Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie following the 2007
season. They were very good players. As if that wasn’t enough, rising senior
middle linebacker Cortney Vincent was dismissed from the team during the
offseason. Former starter Antonio Clay also left the program this summer, this
time for good. Since the last time they played a football game, the Tigers have
lost their top four linebackers.
The starters will be very inexperienced, though they’ll certainly have
talent. The coaching staff doesn’t feel all that great about their linebacker
depth either. They’ve moved former wide receiver Rendrick Taylor, who is listed
at 6-2, 240, to strongside linebacker for his senior season.
Clemson should be strong on the defensive line, and they return all four
starters in the secondary, but that linebacker corps is a big question mark.
They are the best team in the ACC on paper, but it’s easy to see that they’ve
got some issues to work out before they can win the conference.
Will Stewart’s Take:
Clemson is my second-favorite team in the ACC,
behind the Hokies. If VT’s not the ACC champs, I want it to be the Tigers. A
strong Clemson is essential to the league’s image, which if you’ve been reading
the ACC Football Kickoff articles, is the topic of conversation this
I really want the Tigers to have a breakout year. My dream scenario is a 12-0
Tiger team facing the Hokies in Tampa, a VT win, and two ACC teams (Tech and
Clemson) heading to BCS Bowls.
But that Clemson offensive line … a young OL is not the stuff that
undefeated seasons are made of. I hope the Tigers can overcome that and have a
great season, but I’ve got my doubts.
I don’t think the ACC is going to get much help from FSU and Miami this year
in repairing its image, so if you’re a fan of this conference, you have to be a
big fan of Clemson this season. The Tigers open with Alabama in the Georgia Dome
August 30th, and I’ll be planted in front of a TV, pulling for Cullen Harper and
company. Like I said, 12-0 for Clemson suits me just fine, as long as it doesn’t
turn into 13-0 at the Hokies’ expense.