Countdown to Kickoff: Clemson Tigers
Swinney's Tigers hope to roar again in 2012
Dabo Swinney is making his mark in Clemson, South Carolina. Last year, Swinney led Clemson to its first ACC title in 20 years. It was the Tigers' first season of 10 or more wins since 1990. Check out the last couple of seasons of recruiting rankings, and Clemson is doing well in that department, too. Things are certainly looking up for the program, but the work is not done. The 2011 season ended on a sour note with a disappointing performance in the Discover Orange Bowl that should serve as motivation to keep the Tigers hungry in 2012. Swinney will have a lot weapons at his disposal, especially on offense, as the Tigers look to defend their ACC Title.
Clemson's offense is one most dynamic in college football and features some of the ACC's best playmakers. QB Tajh Boyd, RB Andre Ellington, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and WR Sammy Watkins will keep defensive coordinators up nights trying to figure out how to stop the Tigers. The offensive line is a question mark, though. All-ACC senior center Dalton Freeman and tackle Brandon Thomas return, but three new starters will have to be found.
Defensively, the Tigers lost some talent from last year. Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, defensive end Andre Branch and Clemson's top cover corner Coty Sensabaugh are gone, and those will be big shoes to fill. This was a unit that had an uneven season in 2011, yielding 30 or more points eight times. But the Tigers also held Coastal Division champ Virginia Tech to a total of 17 points in two meetings. New defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who crafted nationally ranked defenses at Oklahoma, was hired to do the same at Clemson. After a spirited spring practice, Swinney is looking for some major strides here. Safety Rashard Hall, ends Malliaciah Goodman and Corey Crawford and cornerback Brashaud Breeland look to be leaders for the Tigers' new stop troops. On special teams, Chandler Catanzaro looks to be one of the conference's better kickers after leading the ACC with 118 points while making 22 of 27 field goal attempts.
If Clemson can successfully rebuild its offensive and defensive lines in 2012, it should again be a contender for an ACC title and have a shot with another season of double-digit victories. Not many teams can match the athleticism the Tigers boast offensively. The schedule, though, will be formidable. Clemson opens the year facing nationally ranked Auburn in one of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff games and faces an early road test (Sept. 22) at ACC favorite Florida State, as well as difficult home games with Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and arch-rival South Carolina, all ranked nationally in the preseason by one poll or another. - Charlie Sallwasser
2011 In Review
In just his fourth season as the head coach at Clemson, Dabo Swinney led the Tigers to their first ACC Football Championship in 20 years and their first appearance in the Orange Bowl in 30 years behind a potent offense fueled by QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins...The Tigers finished with 10 wins (10-4 overall, 6-2 ACC) for the first time in 20 seasons and ended the year ranked 22nd nationally by both AP and USA Today...Clemson defeated Virginia Tech twice, including a 38-10 decision against the 5th-ranked Hokies in the 2011 ACC title game in Charlotte...Boyd earned first-team All-ACC honors after completing 59.7 percent of his throws for 3,828 yards and 33 TDs, both Clemson school marks...Watkins, who became the first ACC true freshman and only the fourth from any conference to be named a first-team All-America by the Associated Press, set ACC freshman records for pass receptions (82), receiving yards (1,219) and TD receptions (12)... Watkins was also named National Freshman Offensive Player of the Year by Rivals.com... Both benefited from new offensive coordinator Chad Morris' spread offense... TE Dwayne Allen, who earned consensus All-America honors, after leading all ACC tight ends with 50 catches for 8 TDs... DE Andre Branch earned 2nd-team All-America honors after leading the ACC in QB sacks with 10.5...Boyd and DT Brandon Thompson earned Honorable Mention All-America honors.
The Tiger lose nine starters, four each on offense and defense, and four-year punter Dawson Zimmerman, but the losses were heavily weighted in experienced linemen. Offensively, Clemson will be without starting tackles Philip Price and Landon Walker and G Antoine McClain, as well as TE Allen... On defense, the Tigers also lose three of their starting front four in Branch, the team's leading pass rusher, as well as DT Rennie Moore (43 tackles, 4 sacks) and NG Brandon Thompson (46 tackles, 2.5 sacks) as well as CB Coty Sensabaugh, who had a team-high 13 pass deflections. Also gone is coordinator Kevin Steele, who was replaced by former Oklahoma assistant coach Brent Venables.
Numbers & Notes
5.78 -The per-carry average for Clemson junior RB Andre Ellington for his career. Ellington has 409 career carries for 2,355 yards and 25 TDs. His 5.78 per-carry average is second-highest in the ACC among returnees who have more than 1,000 career rushing yards (Georgia Tech's Orwin Smith, 9.87).
10 - The national ranking of Clemson's 2012 recruiting class by ESPN.com. Rivals.com ranked the class 14th nationally. Scout.com ranked it 17th-best in the nation.
30 - When WR Sammy Watkins broke both the Clemson and ACC records for most receptions by a freshman last fall. Watkins, who ended the year with 82 catches, broke the Clemson single-season freshman mark set by DeAndre Hopkins in 2010 by 30 catches. Hopkins had 52 catches in 2010, his freshman season.
38 - Clemson QB Tajh Boyd set a single-season ACC record by running and throwing for 38 touchdowns last year. In his first season as a starter, Boyd threw for 33 TDs which ties for the 2nd-most in league history; and added 5 rushing scores to break the previous mark of 37 set originally by NC State's Philip Rivers (2003) and tied by the Wolfpack's Russell Wilson in 2010.
314.49 - Over the last seven years, Clemson ranks 10th among all NCAA FBS teams in total defense. The Tigers have allowed an average of just 314.49 yards per game during an 103-game span.