Last year’s national runners-up will travel to Doak Campbell for what’s been the de facto ACC title game of late, as well as what will be one of the most anticipated games of the entire 2016 season. It goes without saying that the Tigers had a phenomenal 2015 campaign. Clemson was the undisputed top team in the country for much of the year, rolling to an undefeated regular season, an ACC title, a blowout of Oklahoma in the national semifinal, and a very near national title victory over Alabama. The Tigers were painfully close to notching their first championship since 1981, and a talented 2016 roster will look to clear that final hurdle.
Clemson improved its all-time record against FSU to 9-20 a year ago by notching a 23-13 victory at home. Dalvin Cook returned from injury to put on another stellar performance, but it was not enough in Death Valley against Deshaun Watson and the loaded Tigers. Both teams will be coming off of a bye heading into 2016’s showdown in late October, setting the stage for another epic battle.
Unfortunately for FSU fans, Deshaun Watson and many of his playmaking friends return to Clemson in 2016 from the 10th-best attack in 2015. Among them are Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, Mike Williams, Deon Cain, and Jordan Leggett. Yeah, these guys are going to be difficult to stop. If there’s a hope for opponents on this side of the ball, it has to be that the Tigers will replace two starters up front from a year ago, but CU’s 2015 line replaced four starters, suffered injuries, and were still one of the best in the country. Okay then.
The Tigers do lose many more pieces from the 4th-ranked defense in 2015. Gone are Kevin Dodd, Shaq Lawson, B.J. Goodson, Jayron Kearse, Mackensie Alexander, and others. However, Brent Venables’ defense will reload, at least in the front-seven. Clemson is ridiculously loaded on the interior defensive line and features significant talent in the linebacking corps, though the latter is less proven. The questions are most pronounced on the back end, where the depth is at its shakiest. Much like the offensive line, though, Clemson’s defense sustained massive losses from 2014 and was able to field the 4th best defense in the entire country while playing the 10th-fastest tempo on offense. Brent Venables has earned the benefit of the doubt for now.
SB Nation’s Bill Connelly has published the big 2016 Clemson preview. I promise you that all of it is highly relevant to your interests. To wit:
Still, outside of that team from Tuscaloosa, no team in the country is more proven, ready, or likely to make another huge run. The Tigers have the best quarterback in the country, one of the best skill units, one of the best offensive lines, and at the very least, one of the best sets of defensive tackle and linebacker talent.
Dabo Swinney has put together an impossibly athletic, deep team, one that can both outrun you on the perimeter and push you over in the trenches. Florida State will take a hard run at Clemson's conference crown, and Alabama and plenty of others are entertaining the same national title ambition as the Tigers. But this is going to be a really, really good team once again.