Can Boyd keep the Tigers on top?
Clemson Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris rejuvenated the Tiger's offense last season, will Clemson pick up where they left off in 2012?
Ryan Trapp | Staff Writer
2011 Record (ACC):10-4 (6-2)
Returning Starters (Off/Def/ST):15 (7/7/1)
The defending ACC Champs bring back as much offensive firepower as any other team in college football, returning a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver. Leading the way is the one-two punch of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, who look ready to build upon a 2011 campaign that catapulted both players into national prominence. Watkins broke 11 school freshman records in the first seven games last season, led all freshman in the nation in reception yards per game, all-purpose yards and touchdowns and became just the third ever true freshman to be named AP first-team All-American. However, the Tigers will have to make-do without their star receiver during the first two games of 2012 as Watkins serves a two-game suspension. Junior DeAndre Hopkins, who nearly reached the millennium plateau himself with 978 yards in 2011, will step in as the number one guy in Watkins’ absence.
Running back Andre Ellington will look to improve upon his 1,178 yard, 11 touchdown performance last season, and could make a run at the Clemson career rushing record with a stand-out senior campaign. All-ACC Center Dalton Freeman is the only returning starter on the offensive line, but a pair of juniors, Tyler Shatley and Brandon Thomas, have stepped up this spring and have head coach Dabo Swinney feeling incredibly confident about his offensive line heading into this season.
Incoming Safety Travis Blanks should add some serious depth to a secondary that returns four starters in Rashard Hall, Xavier Brewer, Jonathan Meeks, and Bashaud Breeland. While the secondary is brimming with experience, the Tigers have lost some bulk in their front seven. Defensive end Malliciah Goodman is the lone upperclassman on the defensive line that has to replace ACC sack-leader Andre Branch. Sophomore tackle DeShawn Williams saw action in every game last season, and he’ll likely step into a starting role alongside Grady Jarrett. Also vying for reps on the line is true freshman Shaq Lawson. There’s a little more experience at linebacker, with Junior Quandon Christian and seniors "Tig" Willard and Corico Hakwins all expected to see significant playing time in 2012.
ROAD TO THE BCS
Clemson’s road to their second national championship runs through a tough non-conference schedule that includes SEC opponents Auburn and South Carolina. They kick off ACC-play in Tallahassee on September 22, and will need a win there for an early leg up in the ACC Atlantic Division. Four weeks later they play host The Hokies in Death Valley on October 20th to try and make it three straight against Frank Beamer and company– who they took two games from last year by a combined score of 61-13.
BURNING QUESTION:Will there be a hangover?
One of the Tigers’ biggest problems in recent years has been handling success. In 2003 Clemson came home with a Peach Bowl win and finished at 9-4 on the year. The following season saw the Tigers fall to 6-5. The 2007 squad also won nine games and finished second in the ACC Atlantic, but struggled again the following year and managed to go just 7-6. Same song and dance over the next two years, going 9-5 in 2009 and just 6-7 in 2010. So how will the Tigers fare after their first ten-win season since 1990? On paper they have the talent to make another BCS run, but it’ll come down to whether or not they can finally put it all together in back-to-back seasons.