The college football season is approaching pretty quickly, even if the Syracuse Orange kick off six days later on a Friday. As you already knew (since we're pretty far into these), we've been taking a look at all of SU's opponents for this fall. The schedule is still as difficult as always. Just the same, we're choosing an optimistic outlook on each week, where possible. Today, we test that with the:
#BRAND Slogan: "All In"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "DISRESPECKTED Since 1896." "One of Five Orange Teams in the ACC."
Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician Shakin' the Southland
Coach: Dabo Swinney, 8th (full) year. Since assuming the Clemson head coaching role mid-way through 2008, Swinney has gone 75-27, including 48-14 in the ACC, and turned the Tigers into a national power. While the program has always historically been viewed favorably and as a league title contender, their ascension to national contender status is a recent phenomenon. Swinney has managed to cultivate a winning and fun culture that's attracted some of the nation's top recruiting classes in recent years. Clemson fell five points short of a national championship last season, much to your author's (and probably your) amusement.
2015 Record: (14-1) (8-0)
Recapping Last Season:
As mentioned, Clemson nearly won the national title back in January, if not for some Nick Saban trickeration and the Tigers simply running out of time. Dabo's group spent a good deal of the season ranked number one, and certainly proved themselves among the nation's top programs. The team's ACC championship, blowout win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and title game appearance likely scrubbed away any lasting memories of a certain evening against West Virginia.
Clemson's impressive run was led by star quarterback Deshaun Watson. As a sophomore, Watson finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting after amassing 47 touchdowns and 5,200 total yards. Clemson's offense, always impressive under Swinney, seemed better than ever in 2015, as Watson's mobility added a new dimension to the attack. The Tigers averaged over 514 yards per game (11th in the country) and 38.5 points (16th) per contest. Both the rushing and passing games were among the top 25 in the country, making it very difficult to stop the onslaught from Clemson. Too many playmakers simply made it impossible for most defenses to really hang around for a full game.
Defensively, a veteran group played its own part in the trail of lopsided victories for the Tigers. Brent Venables has obviously done a fantastic job over the last four years building this unit from scratch, and the results have been stunning the last two years. Clemson was top-10 in total defense, 24th in scoring (21.7 points per game), and ranked top 20 against both the run and pass. Their constant pressure (48 sacks ranked second in the country) was a large part of how they simply suffocated opponents all season, also creating turnover opportunities for their speedy defensive backs.
2016 Season Outlook:
Like we mentioned yesterday, it's hard to see Watson's numbers declining much, even if he does lose a couple pieces from last year's offense. Along with replacing two of five starting linemen, Charone Peake's the only major piece he'll do without. The rushing attack will once again be anchored by Wayne Gallman, who is also a capable receiving option out the backfield. At receiver, Artavis Scott will look to replicate last year's 93-catch campaign and potentially contend for some All-America honors. The 2015 receiving corps. spread the love quite a bit (eight players caught 20 or more passes), and that should be the case yet again with so many of those players back.
The Clemson defense is in for a major overhaul, and it'll be interesting to see how Venables' unit handles a second straight season of departures. The Tigers return just a few starters from last year's group, but as a result, cycle in another young crop of speedy defenders. They'll be anchored for the time being by a a couple seniors, however. Linebacker Ben Boulware will need to increase his sack and tackle numbers if Clemson wants to get close to last year's results rushing the passer. Likewise, fellow senior Cordrea Tankersley will be tasked with leading the charge again in the secondary. He snagged five picks last year to lead the team, but that was with plenty of help from NFL-bound safeties Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green. If there's a question mark for Clemson, this is probably it.
Still, you're looking at one of the country's most talented teams and one that should be right in the thick of the national championship conversation yet again. Watson's one of the early favorites for the Heisman Trophy, while Gallman and perhaps Scott could sneak their way into that sort of conversation as well. As of right now, Clemson will be favored in every game on the schedule. The biggest challenges probably coming in the opener at Auburn and the road game against Florida State come October 29. There are other tricky contests there too, of course. But this level of talent can usually outlast "tricky."
Syracuse Game Date: November 5
Location: Clemson Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
Odds of Orange Victory: 10 percent
Very Early Outlook:
Clemson's the better team. I don't think you'll find too many Orange fans stating otherwise -- even if there will be plenty of Tigers fans that tell you we all said much. But the Tigers have been the better team each of the last two seasons, and only come out of both matchups with 10-point wins that had their fans at least a little nervous. This probably isn't the year this upset happens. We're getting closer, however. The talent gulf can't be this wide forever, and a couple years into Dino Babers's system could be exactly the type of jolt SU needs to pull a victory. In the short-term, the offense will keep it a little closer than predicted, before ultimately falling in the likely shootout.