Clemson Football Preview: Why The Tigers Can Win The National Title

Clemson Football Preview: Why The Tigers Can Win The National Title

first_imgEditor’s note: This is the fifth in a 15-part series in which we preview college football’s top teams. We’ll be counting down from 15 to one, with the final team, released on Sept. 3 – the day college football starts – serving as our national title pick. 11. Clemson TigersThe Clemson Tigers are a trendy pick to win the ACC this year, despite the fact that Florida State is the three-time defending conference champion. Clemson has won at least 10 games in each of the past four seasons, and many believe that if star quarterback Deshaun Watson can stay healthy all year, the Tigers will have a legitimate shot at taking the next step and competing for a national championship. The program finished on a high note in 2014, blowing out Oklahoma, 40-6, in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Can they keep it rolling into 2015?Clemson kicked off practice just a few days ago. The school has been releasing footage all week.#PAWDrill is back! #Clemson pic.twitter.com/ObxgSOlwt1— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) August 10, 2015Not everyone thinks the Tigers have what it takes to win it all, though.Where They’re At In The RankingsUSA TODAY Coaches’ Poll – No. 12ESPN FPI – No. 19Las Vegas odds – No. 20The Schedule Clemson Russell Athletic Bowl RingsTwitter/ClemsonSept. 5 – vs. WoffordSept. 12 – vs. Appalachian StateSept. 17 – at LouisvilleOct. 3 – vs. No. 11 Notre DameOct. 10 – vs. No. 17 Georgia TechOct. 17 – vs. Boston CollegeOct. 24 – at Miami (FL)Oct. 31 – at NC StateNov. 7 – vs. No. 8 Florida StateNov. 14 – at SyracuseNov. 21 – vs. Wake ForestNov. 28 – at South Carolina Key GamesOct. 3 vs. Notre DameClemson gets its first real test at Louisville on a Thursday night in September, but there’s no doubt that Tigers fans have had Notre Dame circled on their 2015 schedule for years. The Irish and Tigers are both considered national title hopefuls, and assuming both have unblemished records heading into the contest, the winner is going to have a leg up for the College Football Playoff rankings. Notre Dame’s defense struggled down the stretch last year, and assuming Watson is still on the field for the Tigers, they’ll have a decent shot at knocking off the historic program. It’ll also be interesting to see how new Fighting Irish starter Malik Zaire deals with Clemson’s likely-formidable secondary. Nov. 7 vs. Florida StateFor as successful as Clemson has been over the past three years, the Tigers still haven’t been able to crack Florida State. In 2015, former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston (who went No. 1 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) is gone, and the Seminoles will (most likely) rely on Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson to lead the charge. That being said, Clemson lost at home last year, 23-17, with FSU sporting backup Sean Maguire. If Clemson wants to get serious about finding itself in the College Football Playoff, they’ll have to take care of the Seminoles to get there.Nov. 28 at South CarolinaYes, Clemson vs. South Carolina is still just a non-conference game. But even if both schools were 0-11 heading into it, it would still be the most important contest on the schedule. The in-state rivalry between the two, now dubbed The Palmetto Bowl, is one of the best in the sport. The war of words between Dabo Swinney and Steve Spurrier isn’t too bad, either.Key PlayersDeshaun Watson, sophomore quarterbackWatson had a very bizarre freshman season. Back in April, he broke his collarbone. He started the season as the backup to Cole Stoudt, and after performing very well against Florida State in relief, he was named the team’s starter. A few weeks later, he broke his finger against Louisville and was out of action until mid-November. In returning against Georgia Tech, he tore his ACL. After sitting out against Georgia State, he returned for the team’s rivalry game with South Carolina, and led the Tigers to victory, despite the injury. He then shut it down, opting to have surgery instead of playing against Oklahoma. Got all that?When Watson was on the field, Clemson was a much more efficient team. He threw for 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions in limited work. He also rushed for 200 yards on 63 attempts. He’s a player single-handedly capable of winning Clemson the conference title. But can he stay healthy?I knew my time was coming, I just had to wait for it. So every night I prayed for opportunities like this. Time to go LIVE it! #WishMeWell— Deshaun Watson (@ShaunWatson4) August 4, 2015Shaq Lawson, junior defensive endClemson boasted one of the country’s top defenses in 2014, but ahead of the 2015 campaign, the Tigers will have to replace eight starters. Lawson, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound stud defensive end, should help to ease that burden. He’s one of the best at his position in the ACC. If the Tigers are going to hang their hat on defense again this year, he’ll have to be a menace.Lawson was a Freshman All-American in 2013, and last year, he recorded 44 tackles, including 11 for loss. If he’s able to continue improving, he’ll be one of the most feared players in the country.It’s time to seperate the good from the great. Until January social media… It’s time to go to work boys.— Shaq Lawson (@Shaq_Lawson90) August 4, 2015Wayne Gallman, sophomore running backDespite winning 10 games in 2014, Clemson struggled running the football. In fact, the Tigers finished 81st in rushing offense, averaging just 3.5 yards per attempt. Much of that was because Cole Stoudt, who isn’t an overly athletic signal-caller, was on the field a good portion of the year. But the team’s running backs didn’t put up staggering numbers either. The longest run from scrimmage was only 34 yards – by Wayne Gallman. Gallman, who led the team in both carries (161) and yards (769) last season, will need to improve in his sophomore year. Clemson will need to have a strong running game to compete this year – especially if Watson ever catches the injury bug again.twitter see yall in January. #doakseason pic.twitter.com/6iFngorvX8— Wayne Gallman II (@Wanye_Kanye) August 4, 2015 Why They Can Win The National TitleClemson returns just 11 starters from last year’s team, so it’s possible that the Tigers are a year or two away from competing for a national championship. The squad may not have the defense it had a year ago, given the departures of Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward, but head coach Dabo Swinney does seem to have confidence in this year’s unit. If he’s right, Clemson will be formidable.The other major factor, obviously, is Watson’s health. If he can stay on the field, Clemson will be very difficult to stop. But the second he’s sidelined, the Tigers will either be relying on junior Nick Schuessler, who has attempted 10 passes in his career, or a true freshman with zero experience. Every time Watson goes down, Tigers fans will collectively be holding their breath.Regardless, Clemson’s program seems to be in a good place. If everything falls right in 2015, the Tigers could have a special year.Yesterday: No. 12 LSU; up tomorrow: No. 10 Florida Statelast_img


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