Florida State preseason football preview: Clemson

Streeter Lecka

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.

Last year, FSU didn't just beat Clemson. It kicked down the Tigers' front door and proceeded to light the place on fire.

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.

ESPN gives Clemson a seven percent chance of winning the ACC.

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.

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