2009 ACC Football Preview: Clemson

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Clemson Tigers

Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 8 defense)

Key Returnees: RB C.J. Spiller, WR Jacoby Ford, TE Michael Palmer, C
Mason Cloy, OG Thomas Austin, DE Da’Quan Bowers, DE Ricky Sapp, LB Kavell
Conner, CB Crezdon Butler, CB Chris Chancellor, SS DeAndre McDaniel

Key Losses: QB Cullen Harper, RB James Davis, WR Aaron Kelly, WR Tyler
Grisham, C Bobby Hutchinson, DT Dorell Scott, DT Rashaad Jackson, FS Chris
Clemons, SS Michael Hamlin

Overall View

Clemson was supposed to win the ACC last year, but they had a bad
offensive line that was decimated by injuries, and it cost them some games. They
finished 7-6 with a loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. Tommy Bowden only lasted
seven games, and interim coach Dabo Swinney was hired to run the program full
time at the end of the season.

Clemson has suffered from the same problem that most ACC teams suffer from: a
bad offense. The Tigers have a very good defense that returns eight starters
this season. They will be good enough to win the ACC on the defensive side of
the ball. The offense returns seven starters, but how good will that offensive
line be, and will Clemson have a good quarterback?

Clemson is a team that could win the Atlantic Division, or they could
struggle on offense again and go to a minor bowl.

Offensive Strength

Clemson’s big play ability is their offensive strength. The Tigers
have a dynamic running back in C.J. Spiller, who can make big plays on the
ground and through the air. Though he might not be an effective every-down
running back, he has the ability to take it the distance on every play. He
caught 34 passes last year, with a long of 83 yards. He is a major threat out of
the backfield.

Wide receiver Jacoby Ford is Clemson’s big play threat at wide receiver.
Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham are gone, so Ford is poised to have a breakout
season after catching 55 passes for 710 yards last year. He is also a major
threat to return kicks and punts.

With Clemson’s offensive line an unknown, even if the Tigers can’t sustain
drives they will still have the ability to hit for big plays with Spiller and
Ford in the lineup.

Offensive Weakness

Until proven otherwise, Clemson’s offensive line has to be considered
the weakness of their offense. The Tigers return four starters this year, as
well as top backup Antonio McClain, who will now move into the starting lineup
at right guard. However, this was an offensive line that was thoroughly
dominated at times last year. Quarterback Cullen Harper, who had a superb season
in 2007, threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 2008, thanks mostly to an
offensive line that couldn’t protect him.

Clemson has a good left guard in Thomas Austin, a second team All-ACC pick in
2008. However, they will be starting sophomores Mason Cloy (center), Antonio
McClain (right guard) and Landon Walker (right tackle). This is still a very
young unit, and it’s unlikely that they’ll develop into one of the ACC’s better
lines in just one offseason.

Defensive Strength

Clemson has the best cornerback combo in the ACC. Crezdon Butler and
Chris Chancellor are both rising seniors who have combined for 18 career
interceptions, first and third respectively amongst all ACC players. Both Butler
and Chancellor are entering their third season as starters.

The Tigers also have depth at corner. Marcus Gilchrist, a former Virginia
Tech recruiting target, is the top backup at corner. He is a very experienced
backup, making 21 tackles a year ago. Byron Maxwell is the other backup corner.
He saw a lot of time in the secondary last season, making 51 total tackles.

Clemson has talent and depth at the cornerback position. There shouldn’t be
much drop off if either Butler or Chancellor goes down with an injury.

Defensive Weakness

Clemson lost Dorell Scott, Rashaad Jackson and Jock McKissic to graduation,
which makes defensive tackle the weak spot of Clemson’s defense. Scott,
Jackson and McKissic were very experienced tackles. Jarvis Jenkins, Jamie Cumbie
and Brandon Thompson must be able to shoulder the load.

Clemson has very good defensive ends, fast and active linebackers, and a
talented secondary. They have players on every level of the defense that can
make plays and run to the football. If they can get good play from their new
defensive tackles, this has the potential to be one of the best defenses in the
ACC.

Biggest Game

Clemson travels to Georgia Tech on September 10 for a Thursday night game.
The Tigers nearly knocked off the Yellow Jackets last year, losing 21-17. Both
teams will have just five days to prepare following their season openers on
September 5. Clemson plays Middle Tennessee in their first game, so you can bet
they have spent a lot of time in the offseason coming up with a plan for Georgia
Tech. With extra time to prepare for that game, Clemson can win it with such an
experienced defense.

The Georgia Tech game is arguably Clemson’s toughest game of the season. They
do have to travel to Miami and NC State, but they get Florida State, Wake
Forest, Boston College and TCU at home. If they can use the preseason practices
to get their players ready for Georgia Tech’s option, they can win that game.
That would set them up with a legit chance to win that Atlantic Division.

Chris Coleman’s Thoughts

Alright, enough of the position by position analysis. Clemson was known for
their lack of toughness and their inability to close out games under Tommy
Bowden. They have a talented team, as usual, in 2009. It will be up to Dabo
Swinney to instill the toughness and the mental fortitude that they need to be a
championship caliber team.

Swinney brought some swagger and confidence to the Clemson program in the
second half of last season, leading them to big wins over Boston College and
South Carolina. He seems to be a pretty good leader that is liked by the Clemson
fanbase. I’m not sure he is a long term solution though. The guy has never even
been a coordinator. He was Clemson’s wide receivers coach when he was promoted
to the head coaching job.

Last season we saw Swinney win a few games with Bowden’s players, and he’ll
have a chance to win even more this year. We won’t be able to form an accurate
opinion on him as a coach until a few years down the road, when he’s formed a
team of his own recruits. Some guys can win with other people’s players, but
they have trouble recruiting to their own style. We see it all the time. We’ll
have to wait and see if Swinney falls into that category.

Whether or not he’s the long term solution, he does have a talented team to
work with this year. Clemson is hyped up every year, and every year they don’t
live up to expectations. This year they aren’t getting much hype, so maybe it’s
their year to finally get to the ACC Championship Game.

I don’t think Clemson is as good overall as Florida State, but they could
easily win the Atlantic Division thanks to a favorable schedule. Just get by
that first ACC game at Georgia Tech, and they could be set for a very nice
season.

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