Tomahawk Nation is setting up preview pages for each of Florida State's football opponents. This is the page for Clemson. Florida State hosts Clemson on September 20, after a bye week, and it is FSU's most important game of the year.
It's the biggest not because Clemson is Florida State's rival -- it is assuredly not. But rather, because Florida State probably cannot play for the conference title without beating Clemson.
8/20 Update: Paul Myerberg, of USA Today, dropped his preview. He is a snippet, please click on over to read the whole thing.
Yeah, Clemson has some daunting personnel losses to overcome - nearly all on offense, however. This still remains a wildly dangerous team, one more than capable of another double-digit regular season should the new cast come together before hitting against Georgia and Florida State in September. I can think of two reasons in particular why any sense of pessimism seems unfounded: one, the offense still has Morris calling the shots, and two, this seems very much like the best defense of Swinney's tenure with the program. When it comes to the offense, it's possible to understand the losses yet still remain optimistic - because Morris is the finest offensive coordinator in college football.
I think the offense remains among the top three in the ACC. The biggest decline will be seen in general explosiveness: Clemson lacks the big-play threats at receiver, obviously, but also at running back; that means longer, more consistent drives rather than downfield strikes. That, in turn, demands reliability from quarterback: Stoudt's under some major pressure. At some point, Watson will take on more and more of the offense; Stoudt stills holds the key, however, particularly in the opener against Georgia. Clemson still has enough weapons to maintain at least a strong portion of its recent successes - and let's remember that Morris is still around, in case I hadn't mentioned that already.
But what makes Clemson a potential sleeper is this defense. The line might be the best in college football. It's a group that will trickle down throughout the entire defense, giving Anthony and these linebackers room to operate and the secondary - the cornerbacks in particular - time to develop. In fact, one could make a simple case: If the offense remains stout, Clemson will have incredibly impressive balance. Will it be enough to carry the Tigers past Georgia, FSU and the Gamecocks? It won't be easy. But taking just one of the three - and it won't be FSU, sadly - would leave Clemson with a very good chance at double-digit wins and a spot well inside the top 15 teams nationally. That Georgia comes on the road is one issue; that the Tigers seem unable to beat FSU and Carolina is another.
8/1 update: As I was going through my RSS reader, I came across the new weights listed for the Clemson Tiger offensive tackles. Clemson's S&C program has long been a point of complaint for fans and, privately, some within the program. After seeing these, it's hard to disagree. Clemson's top three tackles are Joe Gore, Shaq Anthony and Isaiah Battle. They weighed in at 283, 276 and 285, respectively. I get that Clemson is an up-tempo spread offense and that linemen perhaps need to be more "fit," but don't be fooled: that is too small. Clemson won't win at the point of attack against good edge run stoppers being that light in the seat. Auburn runs almost the same offense, with the same pace, and its tackles are much, much bigger. This is just something to keep in mind as Clemson is going to need the run game more than ever with the losses of Boyd, Watkins and Bryant.
There is no doubt that FSU dominated, building a 41-7 lead with 20 minutes left to go. But it's also unrealistic to expect a repeat performance in the same fashion, because of turnover luck. 2014 is a new year, with new teams. FSU will, and should be favored again by double digits, but being up five scores 40 minutes into the game is probably not going to happen again, though it is certainly possible if it so happens that the game features FSU at its best and Clemson at its worst.
One thing that won't change, however, is something many fans probably won't realize -- particularly if they stopped watching Clemson after the FSU game: Clemson's defense (13th) was better than its offense (19th). This year, it should be even more slanted to the defense.
In keeping with the trend of focusing on the most dangerous part of a team, I'll let you click to read about replacing Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Clemson, and you can read about the defense here from Bill Connelly:
If this isn't the best defensive line in the country ...
... it's in the top three or four. Clemson's was one of only three defenses to rank in the top 10 in both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rate (the others: Virginia Tech and Tulane), and the entire two-deep returns in 2014. Senior end Vic Beasley is one of the best pure pass rushers in college football, and while he takes some risks and falls out of position from time to time, the rest of the defense is adept at covering for him. The tackles position is loaded and deep, and in Shaq Lawson, Corey Crawford, and others, Clemson has quite a few ends capable of standing up to run blocking. This is a nearly flawless unit; it's amazing to think of how much this line struggled barely two years ago.
Gambling note: I really think the under in this game makes sense. People still view Clemson as a dominant offensive team, and with the expected drop-off in offense, and the likely improvement from an already good and underrated defense, this is a good combo.
For those who haven't followed the Tigers all that closely, the defense is going to catch people by surprise this fall (and might even be the ACC's best). Chad Morris' offense has been ahead of Brent Venables' defense the past couple of seasons, but that could easily flip in 2014. In fact, Morris agreed with that sentiment when I suggested it to him a month ago.
The development by the defensive line this past season is the reason the Tigers went from 69th in yards-per-play against in 2012 (5.7) to 23rd in 2013 (5.0). Clemson led the country with 123 tackles for a loss, averaging a stunning 9.5 tackles for a loss per game.
The majority of that unit is back, including All-America candidates at end (Vic Beasley) and tackle (Grady Jarrett).
Then there are infusions like redshirt freshman corner Mackensie Alexander, RecruitingNation's No. 4 overall prospect in the 2013 class. Alexander was dinged up last season, but Venables said he is ready to make an impact now.