2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Clemson Tigers

Tajh Boyd Was Clemson's Star This Year, But He Wasn't the Only Elite Performer

Tajh Boyd Was Clemson’s Star This Year, But He Wasn’t the Only Elite Performer

Team: Clemson Tigers

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

Postseason: 25-24 Chick-fil-a Bowl win over LSU

Top Offensive Performer: Tajh Boyd, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Jonathan Willard, LB

As a program, Clemson took a big, undeniable step forward in 2012. They beat an elite SEC opponent on a national stage, won 11 games for the first time since 1981, and even effectively put an end to “Clemson-ing.” Unlike their usual hiccup(s), the Tigers ran through a subpar group of ACC opponents this year, winning by an average margin of nearly 24 points against conference teams not named Florida State. And speaking of the Clemson offense, it’s impossible to get through a paragraph about the Tigers without discussing their record-setting high-flying attack led by QB Tajh Boyd and coordinator Chad Morris. Clemson finished sixth in the country in scoring average this season, putting up 41 points per game (one of just eight teams in the FBS to average 40 or more). Boyd, who had a stellar 2011 in his first full year as a starter, truly bloomed as a junior this season. While he didn’t get the Heisman trophy hype he well deserved, the passer showed marked improvement year-over-year, boosting his accuracy (up 7.5 percent) and touchdown passes (three more, in one less game), and managed to boost his running ability as well. With the help of some offseason conditioning, Boyd ran for nearly 300 more yards than he did in 2011, and tallied 10 scores on the ground, too.

And all of this — all the accolades and record-breaking performances — were somehow accomplished without star receiver Sammy Watkins operating at 100-percent (I’d argue he wasn’t even at 50-percent for most of the year). Following an offseason run-in with the law, Watkins was suspended for the first two games, and then missed a third with the flu. He was also a non-factor in the Chick-fil-a Bowl after an injury knocked him out for the game. Instead, it was DeAndre Hopkins that burst onto the scene, to the tune of 82 catches, 1,405 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. Frighteningly, for the ACC’s defenses, two of this offenses’ stars are back next season.

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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