Clemson is king! Tigers poised for playoff run

Clemson is king! Tigers poised for playoff run

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Eight starters are back on offense. The loss of four-year starter Mitch Hyatt at left tackle is big, but so is Jackson Carman. The freshman got some valuable playing time in 2018 and was a five-star recruit and the No. 2 tackle in the recruiting class of 2018. So it goes at Clemson these days. Key figures get replaced by highly-touted recruits.

The loss of WR Hunter Renfrow will be felt, too. But while Renfrow will go down as one of the most iconic players in Clemson history, the Tigers will do just fine without him either. Did you see Justyn Ross’ performance in the College Football Playoff?

Ross had a ridiculous 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman in 2018. (via ESPN)

“We’ve suffered a few losses since I’ve been there,” Muse said at ACC media days. “I hate losing more than anything. Just having that bitter taste in my mouth. I always think back of those times, how it felt, how bad it was. That always drives me to continue to get better, continue to bring the guys along where they don’t have to feel what we felt in previous years.”

Keep dominating the ACC

Clemson hasn’t lost much in the ACC lately. Swinney has a conference record of 73-17 in his time at Clemson and it’s even more lopsided in recent years. The Tigers have lost just eight ACC games in the last eight seasons and haven’t lost multiple conference games in a season since 2014.

There shouldn’t be multiple ACC losses in 2019.

Sure, it’s easy for SEC homers to say that Clemson’s had an easy road over the last few years, but that’s a lazy take. Alabama hasn’t lost multiple games in a season since 2014. And we all know how Clemson’s gone toe-to-toe with Alabama in the College Football Playoff era.

You win the games in front of you. And Clemson’s not shying away from big non-conference matchups either. Texas A&M visits on Sept. 7 and there’s the annual game against South Carolina at the end of the season. If you’re looking for a barometer to compare the top teams in the SEC West and Clemson, you’ve got a two-game sample in 2019. The Tigers should fare just fine in it.

Biggest game: Florida State (Oct. 12)

Quite frankly, the biggest game may be the matchup with the Aggies. It’s one of the highlights of Week 2 and A&M gave Clemson a run in 2018 when Kelly Bryant was still the Tigers’ starting QB.

But Florida State gets the nod here because it’s a game that should determine the ACC Atlantic. Clemson will probably be a double-digit favorite. And if the Tigers convert on that it should be smooth sailing to the ACC Championship Game.

One of the 24 rushing TDs that Travis Etienne scored in 2018. (Getty Images)

Impact player

RB Travis Etienne

Etienne gets his first mention of the preview here. That’s how loaded Clemson’s offense is. All he did as a sophomore was rush for 1,658 yards and 24 touchdowns. Not bad.

Asking for a repeat of that production in 2019 may be a little much. But there’s no reason why Etienne can’t challenge 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns again in 2019. And with No. 2 RB Lyn-J Dixon also averaging over eight yards a carry in 2018, Clemson can afford to keep Etienne’s rushing attempts below 200 if it wants.

Either way, Etienne will be monstrously productive again this season.

Biggest question mark

Rivals’ TigerIllustrated.com: The biggest question mark all offseason, as Dabo Swinney has acknowledged, is defensive tackle. There’s just no other way around it after you lose not just Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, but also the guy who subbed for Lawrence in the playoff and was plenty disruptive in Albert Huggins.” data-reactid=”114″>From Larry Williams at Rivals’ TigerIllustrated.com: The biggest question mark all offseason, as Dabo Swinney has acknowledged, is defensive tackle. There’s just no other way around it after you lose not just Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, but also the guy who subbed for Lawrence in the playoff and was plenty disruptive in Albert Huggins.

The Tigers are plenty talented on the interior, but Wilkins and Lawrence were otherworldly talented as they pillaged opposing backfields and were regularly in the lap of quarterbacks right after the snap. Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams are the successors, and both missed spring practice while recovering from surgeries. Pinckney stood out during August camp, while Williams might need some time to put it all together. The guy to watch here is freshman Tyler Davis, who enrolled in January and has been a regular sensation during practice. We wouldn’t be surprised if he starts at some point in 2019. There will be a drop-off at defensive tackle, but the Tigers still should be pretty good here.

Tiger Illustrated’s breakout player

LB James Skalski

Brent Venables lost six of his linebackers from last season, including starters Kendall Joseph and Tre Lamar. Yet you don’t detect a great deal of concern from him at this position, and a big reason is Skalski. The fourth-year junior redshirted last season even though he might’ve been the best linebacker on the team exiting 2018 spring practice. Venables and Dabo Swinney firmly believe he’s about to become an all-conference type of player as the quarterback of the defense. He’s a more athletic version of Ben Boulware, and Boulware was pretty darned good.

View photos

Isaiah Simmons led the Tigers in tackles in 2018. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Top 2020 NFL draft prospect

LB Isaiah Simmons

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