The Clemson Tigers continued their impressive run under head coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers went a perfect 12-0 in the regular season and were ranked No. 1 in the country.
They held on for a 45-37 win over UNC in the ACC title game and put away Oklahoma 37-17 in the playoffs. That set up a shot at a National Championship against Alabama. Clemson held their own and put up 550 on the vaunted Crimson defense, but fell short 37-45.
Their 14-wins marked the fifth straight year they have reached double-digits wins. The only other program in the country to do that during this stretch is none other than Alabama. Since Swinney took over in 2009, Clemson has gone an impressive 75-27.
The Tigers will head into the 2016 as one of the favorites to win it all. In fact, they have the second best odds to do just that behind the Crimson Tide. They certainly have the talent to do it, but last year’s success has painted a huge target on their backs.
|Date||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|9/17||South Carolina St|
|9/22||@ Georgia Tech|
|10/7||@ Boston College|
|10/29||@ Florida State|
|11/19||@ Wake Forest|
|Estimated Wins: TBD|
Clemson will be tested right out of the gate in 2016, as they go to Auburn in Week 1. Auburn is coming off a disappointing 7-6 season and will be out to make a statement at home. Winning on the road against any SEC team is no easy task, especially when it’s your first away game of the season.
The Tigers get two cupcake games at home against Troy and South Carolina St before a tough two game stretch. First they have to go on the road to face Georgia Tech on a Thursday night. That’s a tough spot on short rest, plus there’s a big edge for the home team in those weekday night games.
After that they return home to face a Louisville team that I think is going to be a major factor in the Atlantic. The Cardinals have 17 starters back from a team that took Clemson to the wire last year.
They then have to go to Boston College. This may appear like an easy win, but it’s another weekday night game.
Clemson will follow that up with their homecoming game against NC State. After that comes their only bye week and it’s at a good time. It comes right before their huge showdown at Florida State. This won’t be easy for the Tigers. Clemson has 1 win at Tallahassee since 1989 (2006).
If the Tigers can get past this portion of the schedule unbeaten, they will be in prime shape to go undefeated. Three of their final four are at home and the lone road game is at Wake Forest.
Clemson brings back just 12 starters from last year, but 8 of those come on offense. That includes Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson at quarterback.
With Watson calling the shots for an entire season, the Tigers put up historic numbers. Their 515 ypg set a new school record. Watson threw for 4,104 yards with 35 touchdowns and rushed for 1,105 yards and 12 more scores.
As long as Watson stays healthy, the offense is going to be explosive in 2016. He gets back his favorite target in Artavis Scott, who hauled in 93 receptions for 901 yards and 6 TDs. As well as junior Mike Williams, who led the team with 1,030 yards in 2014. Williams was lost in the opener of last season and out for the year.
The Tigers also get back leading rusher Wayne Gallman (1,527 yards, 13 TDs). The offensive line will also be a strength with three starters coming back. That includes two NFL prospects at guard and center, plus stud left tackle Mitch Hyatt.
One of the reasons that people were cautious with picking Clemson to make the playoffs last year, was they only had 3 starters back on defense. Not only did they lose 8 starters, but four NFL draft picks (two 1st round selections). While the defense slipped to 21.7 ppg from the 16.7 ppg they allowed in 2014, it was better than expected.
The big question is can they do it again in 2016. The Tigers only have 4 starters back this year and watched 7 more players get drafted in the NFL. That’s an impressive 11 NFL draft picks lost in two years on this side of the ball.
The good news is that Clemson does recruit very well on this side of the ball. They are loaded with highly touted recruits at all three levels ready to step in and contribute at a high level.
The concern up front is how they replace the talented duo of Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd at defensive end. The duo combined for 24.5 sacks. The pressure is on sophomores Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins. They do get back both starting tackles, plus add in star freshman tackle Dexter Lawrence.
At linebacker the only starter back is senior Ben Boulware. He’s also the only player returning who finished in the top 6 in tackles in 2015.
The only starter returning in the secondary is senior corner Cordrea Tankersley. Even with some talented players ready to step in, a drop off here is to be expected. Last season teams only completed 48.5% of their passes against the Clemson defense.
Regular Season Win Total
ACC Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesty of 5Dimes
I don’t care how much talent you have, replicating a year like the Tigers had in 2015 is no easy task. Just look at Ohio State from last season. Almost everyone thought they were a lock to go undefeated and make the playoffs. They didn’t even win their own division in the Big Ten.
Clemson’s biggest challenge in 2016 will be handling the pressure of the expectations. Anything short of an ACC title and playoff berth will be considered a disappointment.
The good news for the Tigers is they have one of the best quarterbacks in the country. I believe Watson isn’t going to let the hype get to this team. Plus, they have unfinished business after coming so close to a title in 2015.
I do have some concerns with the defense, but with the offense they have they don’t need a dominant stop unit. With all that said, I do think the Tigers will slip up at some point in the season on the road.
I have them going 7-1 in the conference and 11-1 overall. I also have Louisville going 7-1 in the ACC, but I have the Tigers winning the head to head matchup. If they can take down the winner of the Coastal and go 12-1, they will be in prime shape to return to the playoffs.
Win Total Prediction