Auburn Opponent Preview, Game 1: Clemson

In the first of a series of previews of Auburn's 2012 football opponents, the Clemson Tigers are featured.

Part one in our series of previews of Auburn's 2012 football opponents features the Clemson Tigers, who defeated Auburn 38-24 in the third week of the 2011 season on the way to their first ACC Championship in more than a decade.

The rubber match of the three-year series between the two Tigers comes a season after Clemson ended Auburn's nation's longest 17-game winning streak, improving its record to 3-0 all-time against defending national champions in games played at Clemson's Memorial Stadium.

Clemson returns seven starters on offense, including quarterback Tahj Boyd who threw for 386 yards on Auburn last year. The junior completed 30-42 passes and added four touchdowns that day.

Sammy Watkins was on the receiving end of 10 of those passes, which went for 155 yards and two touchdowns. It is not clear if the first team All-American will play against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic after being arrested on drug charges during the offseason.

Sammy Watkins is a big-play threat for Clemson who was outstanding last fall as a freshman.

Michael Dyer led Auburn in rushing at last year's Clemson game with 151 yards on 16 carries. However, the rest of the team combined for only 86 yards. Dyer has transferred to Arkansas State, but the Tigers return senior Onterio McCalebb, who rushed for 34 yards vs. Clemson last year.

Clemson returns a pair of safeties who played well against Auburn last season, making it difficult for Auburn to stage a comeback. Jonathan Meeks recorded eight tackles and Xavier Brewer added six in Clemson's comeback victory.

With Clemson returning four other defensive starters, including all three linebackers, Auburn's new offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler, will have his hands full on Sept. 1 if Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney has his team prepared like he did for the 2011 Auburn game. With the ACC champ coming off an embarrassing 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl in its last outing, the Clemson defense should enter this year's season opener with something to prove.

Key Players to Replace: Dewayne Allen had 48 catches 577 yards and eight TDs, which are Clemson records in all three areas for a tight end. Safety Rashard Hall led the 2011 Tigers in tackles with 81. He was closely trailed by defensive end Andre Branch's 78 tackles. Branch also recorded 16 TFL and 10 1/2 sacks. Defensive tackle Brandon Thompson made 73 tackles on the year, which ranked fourth, and seven TFL.

Tajh Boyd can challenge defenses with his feet as well as his right arm.

All-Star Candidates: Quarterback Tahj Boyd (274-453, 3,578 yards, 31 TDs, 10 INTs); running back Andrew Ellington (213 attempts, 1,062 yards, 10 TDs); wide receiver Sammy Watkins (77 receptions, 1,153 yards, 11 TDs); linebacker Coricio Hawkins (73 tackles, 4 TFL); linebacker Jonathan Willard (69 tackles, 2 1/2 TFL); DE Malliciah Goodman (55 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks)

Series Results: Auburn leads 34-12-2

Clemson's Schedule:

Sept. 1--Auburn vs. Clemson (Georgia Dome)
Sept. 8--Ball State at Clemson
Sept. 15--Furman at Clemson
Sept. 22--Clemson at Florida State
Sept. 29--Clemson at Boston College
Oct. 6--Georgia Tech at Clemson
Oct. 20--Virginia Tech at Clemson
Oct. 25--Clemson at Wake Forest
Nov. 3--Clemson at Duke
Nov. 10--Maryland at Clemson
Nov. 17--NC State at Clemson
Nov. 24--South Carolina at Clemson

Key Games For Clemson:

Clemson at Florida State–With the 35-30 victory in 2011 being Clemson's fifth straight win at home against Florida State, the Tigers travel to Doak Campbell where they haven't won since 2008.

This rivalry, formerly known as the Bowden Bowl because it once featured a father vs. son coaching matchup, could favor FSU because of homefield advantage and the return of quarterback E.J. Manuel, who did not play in last season's Clemson game. Manuel has a pair of talented targets to throw with the return of Rashad Greene and Rodney Smith, who had 98 and 118 yards receiving, respectively, in last year's Clemson game. Each scored a touchdown vs. the Tigers.

Virginia Tech at Clemson–Clemson's 23-3 win over the Hokies marked its third consecutive victory over a ranked BCS team last season. While Virginia Tech has to travel to Death Valley in October, it does have quarterback Logan Thomas returning. He recorded 125 yards on 15-27 passing a year ago vs. Clemson. Four of those completions were to D.J. Coles for 44 yards, who is also returning.

A key player for Virginia Tech in this matchup could be cornerback Antone Exum. A player who recorded 10 tackles vs. the Tigers last year, he would seem to be Virginia Tech's best option to cover the speedy Watkins if the sophomore is back on the field for Clemson.

South Carolina at Clemson– The Tigers' embarrassing 34-13 loss to South Carolina will likely be on the mind of the players when the visiting Gamecocks of the SEC travel to Memorial Stadium for the last regular season game of 2012.

Last season Coach Steve Spurrier's quarterback, Connor Shaw, had his way with the Tiger defense throwing for 210 yards and three touchdowns on 14-20 passing. Shaw also led the team rushing with 107 yards on 19 carries. Despite star running back Marcus Lattimore not playing due to injury, South Carolina still racked up 420 yards of offense. The Tigers will likely have to deal with Lattimore this year.

Dabo Sweeney is beginning his fifth season as head coach at Clemson with a 29-19 record.

Worth Noting: The last time Auburn and Clemson played in the Georgia Dome was the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl, which featured that bowl's first overtime contest. Auburn won 23-20 on a seven-yard run by then-freshman quarterback Kodi Burns.

The Challenge For Auburn: Last year Coach Gene Chizik's Auburn team did not perform well in the opener, nearly falling to Utah State. This year's Auburn team cannot afford to play poor or mediocre football and expect to return home a winner vs. a Clemson team that has talent, experience, depth and will be highly-ranked coming into the game. Clemson will have an experienced quarterback, a strong running back and, depending on his suspension status, one of the best receivers in the country when Swinney's Tigers line up against Auburn on Sept. 1st.

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