ACC 2012 Season Preview: Clemson Tigers

Clemson’s Offense Will Once Again Be Among the Nation’s Best, But Can the Defense Improve Enough?

Team: Clemson Tigers

2011 W-L: 10-4 (6-2)

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (29-19; four seasons)

Returning Starters: 14 (7 Offense, 7 Defense)

Clemson enjoyed a banner season in 2011, clinching the ACC for the first time in 20 years and playing in their first Orange Bowl since 1981, they’d announced their resurgence on the national scene. Or at least they would have…

Despite their obvious and numerous accomplishments last year, the one glaring thing the Clemson Tigers will be remembered for is being annihilated by the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl, 70-33. It’s unfortunate, sure, but moments like this can also spark a change, and in this case, they did almost immediately. Within a week of the drubbing, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was out, and in came long-time Oklahoma defensive guru Brent Venables. He vowed to change things, and erase that game from everyone’s memory. While there are far too many memes to let us ever do that (West Virginia just scored again, guys), a new coordinator was probably the best remedy for a group whom tackling was not a specialty.

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ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Clemson Tigers

Teams Thought Clemson's Sammy Watkins Was Intimdating Before, But Just Wait 'Till He Starts Handling Punts

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Clemson Tigers

Clemson enters 2012’s spring practice with the harsh, yet thrilling reality of inflated expectations. And why shouldn’t they? Sure, the Orange Bowl loss stung. But look at all the good that came from 2011: the schools’ best football season in 20 years, their first conference title in 20 years, three wins over ranked opponents… just to name a few of the accomplishments under head coach Dabo Swinney. Most of all, the team discovered the types of weapons it has at its disposal on offense. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington were all stellar last season, and all are projected to improve this season, too. Yet it all starts here in spring. For Boyd, he’ll look to improve upon his accuracy and decision-making under pressure (below average in 2011), while Ellington’s likely to gain more involvement in the passing game. As for Watkins — one of the most dangerously fast men in football — he’s actually demanding to take on punt return duties as well. When someone leads the conference in all-purpose yards as a freshman, are you honestly going to doubt him? The other key for the offense will be quickly developing camaraderie on  line tasked with protecting Boyd and their season. The less Boyd is flushed out of the pocket, the more effective he’ll be as the year wears on — the central cog in Clemson’s offense continuing to be as explosive as it was for most of 2011. Continue reading