Ryan Hess previews the upcoming College Football season and explains why the Clemson Tigers are the best bet for the National Championship this year.
The last time we saw the Clemson Tigers they were getting smoked by Heisman and #1 overall pick Joe Burrow and the high-powered LSU offense. After an offseason that featured NFL and XFL rumors for QB Trevor Lawrence, 37 players contracting COVID-19, and a ton of uncertainty over the upcoming season, Clemson is heading into a very important season.
Trevor Lawrence is entering into his third (and probably final) season at Clemson and will undoubtedly be starting. After leading Clemson to back-to-back National Championship games (including a win against Alabama) and an incredible 29 game winning streak, expectations for Lawrence and Clemson will be sky-high. A third-straight great season from Lawrence should solidify himself as the undisputed #1 overall pick heading into the NFL Draft.
As of now, it looks like Clemson will be handing backup duties to Taisun Phommachanh, but they won’t have to worry about replacing Lawrence unless something catastrophic happens. Lawrence will be looking to put his performance in the National Championship game behind him while ending his time at Clemson on a high note.
After shockingly deciding against declaring for the draft, Clemson will have Travis Etienne Jr. returning for his senior season. Etienne is coming off a season in which he was named ACC Player of the Year after leading the ACC with 19 touchdowns and 7.8 yards-per-carry. Etienne’s surprising return will unfortunately force Lyn-J Dixon back to his former role as a back-up, Dixon will still play a large role.
With Clemson dealing with some uncertainty at wide receiver, both Etienne and Dixon will both have large roles on the offense. On a broader note, the Etienne vs Chuba Hubbard debate will continue on this season for the title of best RB in the NCAA. Etienne has a great chance to end that debate once and for all.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends:
Wide receiver is a tough position for Clemson, especially after losing top-option Tee Higgins to the draft, but they still have a lot of talent. Star receiver Justyn Ross will be sorely missed this season as he recovers from spinal surgery, but Clemson will turn to Amari Rodgers to lead their receivers. Rodgers is coming off a very solid season in which he came back from a torn ACL to catch 30 passes and 4 touchdowns, but he will need to produce a lot more as their #1 option.
Behind him will be Joseph Ngata, who is a massive question mark. Ngata has a ton of potential but hasn’t proven much of anything at the college level yet. Clemson also has interesting options in Frank Ladson Jr. and redshirt senior Cornell Powell, but Rodgers and Ngata will be the top 2 options. While Rodgers and Ngata haven’t put up great seasons yet, they will be given a great opportunity to break-out and lead the Clemson offense alongside Lawrence and Etienne.
Tight end has been the weakest position for Clemson since Jordan Leggett left for the draft in 2016. Braden Galloway has a chance to stop that trend, as he will begin the season as Clemson’s starting tight end. Galloway hasn’t seen regular season action since 2018 after being hit with a 1-year suspension for PEDs. He returned for the Fiesta Bowl and the National Championship but wasn’t able to have much of an impact. Galloway has lots of potential, and we’ll finally be able to see if he can put it all together.
Clemson will be entering the season with a great defense (as if any defense under Brent Venables wouldn’t be) but will have to replace some big-time contributors. Isaiah Simmons was one of the best linebackers in the country last season, but fifth-year senior James Skalski will be taking a huge step and taking over Simmons spot as the leader of the Clemson defense.
While I’m not sure Skalski will offer the incredible versatility that Simmons showed, his incredibly solid play should continue this year. It seems that Skalski will be the only definite starter, as there will be a lot of fighting for starting roles between guys like Baylon Spector, Mike Jones Jr., and Jake Venables.
Cornerbacks & Safeties:
After losing AJ Terrell, K’Von Wallace, and Tanner Muse to the draft, their secondary depth will be tested. Derion Kendrick will lead the cornerbacks while Nolan Turner will lead the safeties. The rest of the spots will be need to be fought for by the collection of unproven defensive backs that Clemson will have heading into training camp.
Clemson will head into the season with B.T. Potter at kicker and Will Spiers at punter. Potter has shown to have a powerful leg as he hit 3 FG of 50+ yards, including a National Championship Game record 52 yarder against LSU. While he has proven to be effective from long-range and on kickoffs (5th in the country in touchback percentage), Potter hit just 10 out of 18 kicks on kicks under 50 yards last season. He has shown steady improvements, but he must be better to keep his job.
Spiers is coming off a season in which he was one of the best punters in college football, including 10 of his 16 punts being downed inside the 20-yard line. Spiers looks to be safe, but Potter will have some work to do.
BETS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
This is the only one I really have. I’d say to take Clemson to win the ACC, but at -455 it’s not a very attractive option. However, this is a pretty good bet to make. Clemson is the favorite to win the National Championship, and that number could drop even lower as we head into the season. Putting a future bet on them at +200 is a great deal, and one that has a great chance to payout.
I’m not usually one to simply roll with the favorites, but Clemson is too strong of a team to bet against.
There is no doubt that Clemson is one of the most talented and well-coached teams in all of college football. Trevor Lawrence’s swan song to Clemson should end in his second National Championship Game win, and possibly his first Heisman trophy.
As with every other sports league operating during the current pandemic, this will be a strange season for the NCAA. We won’t see as many games. There won’t be any home-field advantage. There will be no massive send-off to Trevor Lawrence and other players entering their final season. Clemson will look to continue one of the most consistent programs in college sports history when it starts its strange season next month against Wake Forest.