ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Clemson Tigers

Following a Big Postseason Win Over LSU, Expectations Are Sky-High at Clemson

Following a Big Postseason Win Over LSU, Expectations Are Sky-High at Clemson in 2013

Team: Clemson Tigers

2012 W-L: 11-2 (7-1)

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (40-21; sixth season)

Returning Starters: 13 (6 Offense, 7 Defense)

The Tigers are on a rocket ship ride over the last couple seasons. Following countless years of underachievement (“Clemson-ing”), it appears that Dabo Swinney has righted the ship for a program that’s always knocking on the door of college football’s elite, but can never quite get in. Clemson seemingly won the lottery with Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who have changed the culture in Death Valley to one of top-10 recruiting classes and dreams of national titles. They’ve at least tied for first in the Atlantic Division in three of the past four seasons, with one ACC title. They’ve also won 21 games in the past two, capped by an impressive victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-a Bowl on New Year’s Eve. So was that victory indicative of the future, or just a lucky blip?

Offensively, there are very few questions facing this group, and rightfully so. Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd is entering his third season as the starter and is enjoying all the Heisman hype to go with it. Despite what may be perceived as a “down year” by top wideout Sammy Watkins last season, he’s returning to regain his all-world freshman year form. And maybe most importantly, Morris is back for another go-around. Near the top of every head coaching search for two years now, this may be his last season in Clemson, but he appears determined to go out with a bang. The 2012 Tigers were one of the top 10 attacks in the country, averaging 41 points per game, to go along with a staggering 512.7 yards per. If they manage to replicate those types of figures (and I’m firmly convinced they will), he’ll be leading another program come fall 2014.

But to say this offense is perfect would be foolish. The rushing attack will depend on unproven running backs, none of whom will be able to match former starter Andre Ellington’s numbers right away. And while Watkins is one of the country’s best receivers, there’s still a lot of production to replace in the absence of now-Houston Texan DeAndre Hopkins. On the bright side, no one really knew how good Hopkins could be before 2012, so perhaps we’re about to witness the arrival of another breakout Clemson receiver this fall. Looking at the depth chart, Charone Peake‘s probably the best bet, as he’ll benefit from Watkins drawing double teams nearly ever Saturday. Also worth noting: Clemson returns four of five starters on the offensive line, and actually possesses a ton of depth there, too. With a pass-first attack, they’ll need to have a solid rotation ready to handle constant blitzing, though — something to keep an eye on as the year wears on.

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ACC Football Kickoff 2013: Top 10 Storylines

What Are the Main Storylines We'll See at This Year's ACC Football Kickoff?

What Are the Main Storylines We’ll See Brought Up at This Year’s ACC Football Kickoff?

Can you believe we’re actually within shouting distance of football season once again? North American sports’ longest offseason is nearly over! We know this because media days are popping up all over the place, most notably (for our purposes here), the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C., starting this Sunday, July 21 and going on through Monday, July 22. Sadly, I will not be there in-person.

We’ve already see the list of student-athlete attendees, but that’s not the only focus — far from it. Below, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 talking points we’re likely to see addressed at the two-day event. Some topics (see: the top few items) will be the overarching theme for all in attendance, while others will simply be underlying points of conversation everyone wants to try desperately to escape from. Without further ado, your guide to the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff:

1. Say Hi to the New Guys: Syracuse and Pittsburgh (plus non-football member Notre Dame) got a very warm welcome to the ACC on the weekend prior to July 1, hanging around New York City with mascots and such. But the festivities included very little talk of football, so you’ll be hearing plenty about the Orange and Panthers now instead. Expect questions about the adjustments the teams will need to make coming from the Big East, road trips they’re most looking forward to and plenty on whether they expect to compete right away. Also curious about the local media turnout from both areas, plus with no dedicated ACC beat writer (especially for football), will the New York Times be attending?

2. Six-Year Bowl Cycle: I wrote up a pretty extensive breakdown of the bowl agreements the ACC announced yesterday over at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, so for full details I’d recommend going there. But with a drastically improved bowl lineup, this will be a hot topic. People will also want to know how some of the alternating bowls will work, specifically the Gator/Music City setup, and I’d love to hear that response myself.

3. Grant of Rights: The amount of “Ninja Swofford” references during the two days may reached the hundreds. And why shouldn’t it? Without commissioner John Swofford’s typical backdoor dealing, the mood around the weekend is very, very different. Instead, it’s a pretty jovial occasion, which also leads to another topic that’s been on everyone’s minds ever since said grant of rights announcement was made…

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #49, Vic Beasley

Clemson’s Vic Beasley is #49 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Clemson’s Vic Beasley is #49 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

We’re now less than two months away from the start of the 2013 college football season, and that means preview countdowns! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 49, Vic Beasley, DE/Clemson (Last Season: NR)

Here’s a stat you may not have been aware of: Clemson’s defense recorded 34 sacks last season, tied for 20th in the country. So while pundits continued bringing up Orange Bowl embarrassments and a porous defense, the Tigers were actually improving immensely under new defensive coordinator Brent Venables. While it’s not the entire story, much of that was due to the more aggressive pass rush led by the departed Malliciah Goodman and returning junior Vic Beasley. Despite missing six of last year’s 13 games, Beasley still managed to record eight sacks. Now, so long as he’s healthy, he’s poised to see that number spike as he switches over to Goodman’s strongside position as the unquestioned leader of this defensive front.

A lot of that will depend on what type of size he brings into the fall, though. Previously, he was incredibly undersized at just 6’2″ and 225-230 pounds; his speed functioning as his main advantage over slower (yet much larger) offensive linemen. Now, already putting on 10 pounds in the offseason, he’s aiming to be at 250 pounds of muscle. Rather than just adding bulk, Beasley is maintaining a delicate balance between getting stronger and losing speed around the edge. If the speed start to go, he’ll lose his advantage due to size. If the size doesn’t increase, the speed won’t matter.

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ACC Football 2013 Payback Games: Clemson

Can Clemson Put an End to South Carolina's Four-Game Winning Streak Against Them?

Can Clemson Put an End to South Carolina’s Four-Game Winning Streak Against Them?

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2012. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2013.

As part of our 2013 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: Clemson Tigers

Opponent: South Carolina Gamecocks

Last Year: Loss, 27-17 vs. South Carolina

This Year: November 30, at South Carolina

Win or lose the previous year, each iteration of the Battle of the Palmetto State will always be the most important game on Clemson’s schedule. And for a very long time, the Tigers had the upper hand in the clash between them and their cross-state rivals, South Carolina. In recent years, things have changed however, and the SEC’s Gamecocks are now riding a four-game winning streak that’s allowed coach Steve Spurrier to crow about his squad’s superiority even more so than normal. The war of words between Spurrier and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has added fuel to the fire and intensity of this matchup, but not wins for the Tigers. Swinney, who secured the full-time head coaching job with a victory over South Carolina in 2008, has not won this grudge match since. He hopes that changes in 2013, as there’s arguably never been more on the line for both teams to end the season.

Last year’s iteration was wild enough — the 11th-ranked and 12th-ranked programs in the country, respectively, going at it for in-state supremacy. But despite the fanfare around the Tigers’ offense, Clemson was effectively shut down all game, playing second-fiddle to a surprisingly effective Gamecocks attack. Backup quarterback Dylan Thompson threw for three touchdowns against CU’s beleaguered secondary and to make matters worse, the Tigers’ offense was completely terrorized by Jadeveon Clowney (who recorded 4.5 sacks) all day. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, who’d been on a statistical tear all season, was held to just 183 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-24 passing. For all intents and purposes, it was a nightmare scenario.

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NCAA Releases APR Rates: How ACC Football Fared

Duke Once Again Topped the ACC's APR Scores; But How Did the Other Schools Fare?

Duke Once Again Topped the ACC’s APR Scores; But How Did the Other Schools Fare?

Today, the NCAA released its annual APR rates, which evaluates just how well institutions encourage actual “student athletes” to progress through school and graduate. As you may have heard, it’s caused some controversy around college sports, specifically because it penalizes schools for transfers, and schools see additional penalties if players don’t complete classes after declaring for the draft (more common in basketball than football, really).

Given the ACC‘s sense of academic stature, ratings like these should not be much of an issue, though. Out of a score of 1000, all you have to do is maintain at least a 930 (very few institutions were unable to do this during the 2011-12 evaluation period). And yet, a couple ACC schools struggled mightily. Two were just above the cut line, while another finished under. Just four were under 950 this year, though (compared to five last year). Overall, however, the league managed a pretty high average, with Duke achieving the third-highest football score in FBS, at 989. Northwestern was tops in FBS at 996, followed surprisingly by Boise State (993). The full ACC team breakdown for you:

Duke: 989

Clemson: 985

Georgia Tech: 983

Boston College: 982

Miami: 977

Wake Forest: 970

Virginia Tech: 970

Pittsburgh: 962

Virginia: 959

Syracuse: 958

Florida State: 954

NC State: 947

Maryland: 937

North Carolina: 934

Louisville: 924

Some additional thoughts:

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ACC Football Standout Senior 2013: Clemson

For Clemson's Tajh Boyd, the Goal is Now Winning a Title for the Tigers

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Hopes to Close His Career with a Heisman Trophy AND a National Title

As schools’ academic years are wrapping up, last season’s juniors are about to become this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

Clemson Tigers: Tajh Boyd, QB

As if there was any other logical choice for the Tigers? When he announced he’d be returning for his senior season, Boyd, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, not only altered the conference landscape but the national championship race as well. As a junior in 2012, Boyd came into his own (with some help from departed receiver DeAndre Hopkins too, of course), improving upon his accuracy, athleticism and overall decision-making skills to the point that he was one of the nation’s best at his position. Just take a look at his passing numbers and how much they improved from 2011 to 2012:

Season Games Attempts Completions Comp. % Yards YPA TD
2011 14 499 298 59.7 3828 7.67 33
2012 13 427 287 67.2 3896 9.12 36

Saying he was just “more efficient” as a junior would be putting mildly. And as a runner, the trimmed-down Boyd also made great strides; his 500 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground proving him to be a legitimate dual-threat. Unlike his inconsistent sophomore campaign, he actually took over games last year, most notably his eight-touchdown game against NC State, the final crowning achievement on a four-week stretch that saw him account for 22 scores in all.

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Very Early 2013 ACC Football Season W-L Predictions

Can Tajh Boyd and Clemson Live Up to Early Predictions and Win the ACC Championship?

Can Tajh Boyd and Clemson Live Up to Early Predictions and Win the ACC Championship?

With a nod to SB Nation’s Barking Carnival for the basis of this idea, we wanted to take a very early, top-line view of each ACC team’s prospects for 2013 with regard to schedule. What we’ve done to avoid diving into each and every game, however, is limit this look to just in-conference matchups (eight per team), and provide you with the basic info you’ll need on each squad. In particular, how much experience they have at the quarterback position, how long their respective coach has been there, and how many returning starters they have. Obviously, it takes more than just that information to surmise how a team will fare in a given year, but since it’s so early, this should be plenty to get a conversation going. All figures on returning starters are from Phil Steele.

Boston College Eagles: Coach: Steve Addazio (first year); Quarterback: Chase Rettig (fourth year); Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense); Projected conference W-L: 1-7

Clemson Tigers: Coach: Dabo Swinney (sixth year); Quarterback: Tajh Boyd (third year); Returning starters: 13 (seven offense, six defense); Projected conference W-L: 8-0

Duke Blue Devils: Coach: David Cutcliffe (sixth year); Quarterback: Anthony Boone (first year); Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense); Projected conference W-L: 2-6

Florida State Seminoles: Coach: Jimbo Fisher (fourth year); Quarterback: TBD; Returning starters: 10 (six offense, four defense); Projected conference W-L: 6-2

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: Coach: Paul Johnson (sixth year); Quarterback: Vad Lee (probable; first year); Returning starters: 16 (eight offense, eight defense); Projected conference W-L: 5-3

Maryland Terrapins: Coach: Randy Edsall (third year); Quarterback: C.J. Brown (probable; second year); Returning starters: 12 (seven offense, five defense); Projected conference W-L: 2-6

Miami Hurricanes: Coach: Al Golden (third year); Quarterback: Stephen Morris (second year); Returning starters: 19 (10 offense, nine defense); Projected conference W-L: 7-1

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