No. 8 – Last season’s National Champion Clemson Tigers start this season at number 8. Coming off a 35-31 win against Alabama, and one of the greatest single game performances by Deshaun Watson, this team will have a huge task in front of them to repeat that success. Watson finished the National Championship game with 420 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. Replacing Deshaun Watson is Dabo Swinney’s biggest dilemma.
The expected replacement is junior Kelly Bryant, who will be the first Clemson QB other than Watson since 2013. Bryant threw for a touchdown in garbage time during a 59-0 slaughter of South Carolina State, but aside from that his on-field experience is slim pickings. Filling Watson’s shoes is unfair to ask from Bryant, but the Tigers need strong QB play if they want to repeat.
One player to watch for this season will be safety Tanner Muse. Muse is a strong, physical safety at 6’2, 200, and showed signs of playmaking on special teams last season. He capped off his special teams stardom with a blocked punt against Ohio State in the 31-0 rout. He played many snaps on defense, and even returned a 64-yard interception for a touchdown against Syracuse.
The stronghold for the Tigers this season will be the defensive line. They have to replace sack leader Carlos Watkins, but the line is full of depth and experience, and shouldn’t struggle finding the next guy for their edge rush. That looks like its going to be Christian Wilkins, who switched to end last season and produced 3.5 sacks. Clogging up the middle will be reining ACC Freshman of the Year Dexter Lawrence. At 6’5-340, Lawrence is a mammoth for the Tigers, and was a problem for opposing linemen all of 2016. It doesn’t stop with those two either. Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant look to earn many snaps at end, and Nyles Pinckney will back-up Lawrence in the middle.
Some key games for the Clemson Tigers in 2017:
Sep. 9- Clemson vs. Auburn – Clemson, SC
Sep. 16 – Clemson @ Louisville – Louisville, KY
Nov 11 – Clemson vs. Florida State – Clemson, SC