Top 10 Preview for 2016: Clemson Tigers
Can Deshaun Watson build on a fabulous 2015?
A Review of the Number 2 Tigers' 2015 Season...
The Clemson Tigers were one of the most surprising teams in College Football in 2015, winning their first 14 games before narrowly falling to Alabama in the National Championship Game by a score of 45-40.
In the process, they ran roughshod over the ACC, winning all 9 games against conference foes by an average margin of victory of 18 points. The most surprising aspect of the 2015 version of the Tigers was their defense. After losing 8 starters from the top ranked defense in the nation in 2014, 2015 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The Tigers still managed to field a top 10 defense again with the help of star defensive linemen Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd.
Deshaun Watson got off to a slow start after having ACL surgery in December of 2014. He caught fire in midseason and eventually found himself in New York City in December as a Heisman finalist. The most impressive aspect of Watson's season was the fact that he put up over 5,000 yards and 40 TD's without star Wide Receiver Mike Williams (neck injury on first drive of the season) and had to work behind 5 new starters on the Offensive Line.
The Tigers were fortunate to face their 2 toughest regular season opponents (Notre Dame and Florida St.) at home. They won't be afforded the same luxury in 2016. They managed to take down an upstart North Carolina team in the ACC Championship game by a score of 45-37.
They reached the National Title Game in Glendale by way of a 37-17 route of the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl.
Highlights of Clemson's 2015 Season
Looking Ahead to 2016....
The Tigers figure to boast one of the top offensive units in College Football in 2016. They return superstar Deshaun Watson. Watson will work behind 4 returning starters on offensive line. He will have no shortage of weapons around him with the return of running back Wayne Gallman and most of his receiving corps. Gallman broke the school record for single season rushing yardage in 2015. Watson will also have Mike Williams to work with. Williams will be looking to bounce back from the neck injury that cost him almost the entire 2015 season.
The main question mark for Clemson will be on the defensive side of the ball. Gone are 3 starters in the secondary (Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, and TJ Green) along with linebacker BJ Goodson and defensive linemen Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd. Alexander was a lockdown cornerback who could take away the opponent's best receiver. Lawson and Dodd are taking with them nearly 50 tackles for loss and 25 sacks.
The Tigers will be blessed with a strong infusion of young talent on defense by way of a strong 2015 recruiting class and a 2016 class that could feature several early contributors. The key to forming another strong defense will be finding a defensive end to cause the kind of disruption the Tigers have come accustomed to with Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, and Vic Beasley.
Austin Bryant could be the man to step in and fill this void. Bryant was a prized 2015 recruit and filled in admirably for Lawson when he was injured early in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma. Clemson will also return linebacker Ben Boulware and nIckelback Korrin Wiggins, who tore his ACL in August of 2015. cornerback Cordrea Tanklersley returns for his Senior year and could give the Tigers another lockdown corner to work with.
Clemson will also need to improve their Special Teams, as they were dominated by Alabama in this category. Alabama caught Clemson off guard with an onside kick in the 4th quarter, then proceeded to run a kickoff back 100 yards to put the game out of reach.
Clemson will start off on the road at Auburn. They're an early 7 point favorite in this game. They will also have to face Florida St. in Tallahassee on Oct. 29th. This will be the game that decides whether or not Clemson gets back to the Playoff. The rest of their looks very manageable.
Clemson currently sits at 7/1 odds to win the National Championship on 2016. The Tigers will take a step back on defense, but expect Brent Venables' bunch to be good enough to get the job done. They will have the help of what will be a very explosive offense. It's hard to look at the Tigers' schedule and see many opponents who could outscore them.
Look for Clemson to survive early road tests against Auburn in Georgia Tech (Sept. 22). They will also win a thriller in Tallahassee to propel them to the ACC Championship Game, where once again they will punch their ticket to the Playoff. Clemson is my pick to win the ACC Championship and National Championship in 2016. This will give them their 2nd National Championship (1981) in school history.