2011 Record: 10-4 (6-2 in ACC)
Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (29-19 at Clemson, 19-10 in ACC)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Orange Bowl: lost to WVU 70-33
Swing Games: 9/22 at FSU, 10/20 vs Virginia Tech
Stat to Cheer: had 222 plays of 10 yards or more in 2011 (1st in ACC)
Stats to Fear: gave up 34 plays of 30 yards or more (tied for last in ACC)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 7; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Corico Hawkins (97 tackles), S Rashard Hall (86 tackles, 2 INT), DE Malliciah Goodman (50 tackles, 2.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Tajh Boyd (33 TD, 12 INT), RB Andre Ellington (1178 yds, 11 TD), WR Sammy Watkins (83 rec, 12 TD, 231 yds rush), WR DeAndre Hopkins (71 rec, 5 TD)
Top Recruits: DT Carlos Watkins (96 Rating from 247sports.com), WR Germone Hopper (95 Rating), QB Chad Kelly (95 Rating), S Travis Blanks (93 Rating), OG D.J. Reader (93 Rating), ATH Zac Brooks (91 Rating)
In 2011, the Clemson Tigers experienced the high of highs and the low of lows. The Tigers stormed out of the gates with a 7-0 record and wins against three ranked teams. From that point, Dabo's squad won just two of their last six and got annihilated by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Entering the 2012 season, the Tigers have the most offensive talent in the league and Chad Morris is in just his second year as OC. Tajh Boyd was a huge upgrade over Kyle Parker as he threw 21 more TDs in 2011 than Parker did in 2010. It helps when you have a wide receiver like Sammy Watkins. As a freshman, Watkins burst onto the scene and finished 17th in yards receiving in the Nation. In addition to Watkins' 83 receptions, sophomore DeAndre Hopkins also had 71 receptions. One key target that will be missing for Boyd this season is TE Dwayne Allen. Clemson hopes Brandon Ford can step up and fill his shoes. Another factor will be the early season two game suspension of Sammy Watkins. Watkins will miss the Auburn game, will that be enough to swing the game to Auburn's favor? Andre Ellington will be back at RB to lead the Tigers. Last year he had 1178 yards rushing and looks to build on that this season because Mike Bellamy was ruled academically ineligible and won't be with the team. If there is an issue on offense it will come from the offensive line which returns 48 career starts.
Defense was the achilles heel of Clemson last season. Despite winning the conference, Clemson finished 10th in the league in points allowed and ninth in total defense. Former Oklahoma DC Brent Venables has been brought in to right the ship. Clemson is going to go with a less complex scheme under Venables with less checks and more relying on instincts. Sophomore Stephone Anthony is one guy that the team is looking to step up and take on more responsibility. The key for Clemson will be for a young defensive line to step up and for Clemson to find some depth at various positions including defensive end. A player to keep an eye on is LB Tony Steward. Steward tore his ACL last year and is looking to return this year. Look for the Clemson defense to improve, how much will be a big key to the season.
Clemson only has one true road game that should give them problems this season (at FSU). Other than that they get their top opponents at home (GT, VT, NC St, South Carolina) and one at a netural site (Auburn). The schedule is built for success but the Tigers will need to get out of the gates quickly against Auburn as they need to wipe the taste of the Orange Bowl out of their mouth. Clemson has the talent to once again win the ACC and possibly go further but the defense has to take a big step forward.
2012 Prediction: 9-3
Top 25 Countdown
#16 Virginia Tech
#17 Boise State
#19 Ohio State
#23 Oklahoma State
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