As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2017 ACC conference slate when it hosts Clemson on Oct. 13.
REPLACING AN OFFENSE: It will be a different Clemson team that will be defending its championship in 2017. The Tigers lost 78 percent of its offense in the offseason, of course headlined by Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson. Also gone are tailback Wayne Gallman, receiver Mike Williams and tight end Jordan Leggett. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney seemed nonplussed when asked how he’d replace that kind of production. “When Tajh Boyd was gone, it was, how are you going to replace Tajh Boyd,” Swinney said during ACC Kickoff. “Well, we went and got a guy named Deshaun Watson. He did okay. When Vic Beasley left, oh my God, how are you going to replace Vic Beasley. Well, we got a guy named Clelin Ferrell, he did all right last year.”
WHO TO WATCH FOR: At this time two years ago, Swinney was being asked the same questions about how he’d replace Grady Jarrett, now with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. “Well,” Swinney said, “we went and got Christian Wilkins.” All Wilkins did in 2016 was get named a Nagurski Trophy finalist after recording 56 tackles, 13 for loss and 3.5 sacks. He leads one of the nation’s elite defensive fronts that also includes Dexter Lawrence and the aforementioned Ferrell. On offense, the race for replacing Watson comes down to three candidates: Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson and Zerrick Cooper. Bryant was listed atop the depth chart to start summer, and it’s easy to see why. The dual-threat signal caller averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the spring game, which was more than even the running backs. The backfield is expected to be done by committee, with CJ Fuller, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice all in the mix.
PREDICTION: Clemson will host Auburn and Florida State at home this season, giving the Tigers a leg up on repeating. But it’s no easy feat in college football, with Alabama and Nebraska as the only two schools to repeat in recent memory, especially given the high turnover in South Carolina. Perhaps that’s just what Swinney wants. “Everybody keeps wanting to talk about last year and what we don’t have, but what I’m excited about is what we do have,” he said. And we’ve got a football team that I think is committed, a football team that I think is focused, and a football team that I think is hungry, because we’ve got a lot of guys that nobody talks about.” CLEMSON 48, SYRACUSE 17.