With all the returning talent, depth and experience, we believed Clemson's defensive line had all the makings of the best unit in the ACC.
In the Bold Predictions feature in this season's magazine preview, the group was named Strength of the Team.
"NFL talent rests at every single position on Clemson's defensive line this season, even with many of the backup roles. The Tigers are blessed with the kind of talent that would make Danny Ford do a double-take. From Da'Quan Bowers to Brandon Thompson to Andre Branch, this unit is loaded as one of the premier defensive groups in the ACC."
Everything started with Bowers, who needed to step up his play to avoid the bust tagline.
Thompson and Jarvis Jenkins didn't get off lightly either.
Both had to prove they could stay trim after admitting weight gain slowed them down towards the end of 2009.
WHAT WE LEARNED
The group lived up to the hype.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele credits tackles coach Dan Brooks and ends coach Chris Rumph.
But again, it all starts with Bowers.
All those whispers as a potential bust are now a distant memory. He led the nation in sacks (15½) and was second in tackles for loss (25). He's close to breaking Keith Adams' single-season school record of 16.
Da'Quan Bowers was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and picked up the Nagurski Trophy and Hendricks Award earlier this week. (Roy Philpott)
Thompson and Jenkins have held up. Thompson is sixth on the team with 53 tackles. Jenkins is seventh with 51.
Solid play from those two has been needed all season, because the depth of the interior group began to dwindle before the season started.
Jamie Cumbie was dismissed from the team at the end of the summer.
Jenkins missed a game with an injury.
Miguel Chavis was sidelined for three games late in the season, because of an injury.
Those setbacks allowed Rennie Moore to have the most productive season of his career. So far, he's picked up six tackles for loss in just 289 snaps. He's third on the team in tackles for loss behind Jenkins (7½) and Bowers.
It's the performances against the run that tell this unit's story.
Heisman front-runner Cam Newton, who's rushed for over 1,400 yards, was limited to just 68 yards on 17 carries against the Tigers.
Boston College running back Montel Harris was the only player to eclipse 100 yards rushing against Clemson in the Tigers' last six games.
In the last four games of that stretch, Clemson didn't allow any team to rush for more than 100 yards.
Heading into the bowl game, Clemson ranks 30th in the nation in rushing defense average (131.67) and sacks per game (2.42). The Tigers are 12th with a 7.33 tackles for loss average.
With the success comes Bowers' rapid ascent as one of the top prospects for the 2011 NFL Draft.
It'll be hard to blame Bowers if he forgoes his senior season.
For the record, most folks closely involved with the program believe he'll take his talents to the next level in 2011, provided there's no lockout of course.
The departure will give another highly touted defensive end a full-time role. Malliciah Goodman has 31 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack in 329 snaps this season. He's patiently waited his turn during his two years at Clemson.
Branch, the starter opposite of Bowers, who's second on the team with four sacks, will be back for one more in 2011.
There's some depth returning in the name of Kourtnei Brown, who will back in a reserve role behind Branch. Next season is when we'll see his redshirt in 2009 payoff.
Corey Crawford, a member of the 2011 class, spent this season in prep school. He's expected to enroll in January. We believe he'll ultimately end up at the bandit end position that Branch and Brown play, but he'll be able to provide depth on the edge.
Tavaris Barnes will backup Goodman, if he's not moved inside to tackle.
Kevin Dodd and Joe committed in 2011, but Dodd is believed to be a long-shot to qualify.
The Tigers are still in on a pair of highly touted ends that have yet to make a decision—Ray Drew and Jeoffrey Pagan.
Depth on the interior will also be a concern. After sending his papers in last year, Jenkins is gone now that his eligibility is up.
Fortunately for the group, Thompson recently told CUTigers that he intends on sticking around for his senior season. He and Moore are the likely starters with Tyler Shatley as the next most experienced player in the rotation.
Things get dicey from there. It's nothing but youth and inexperience to choose from.
Josh Watson and Tra Thomas spent their first season on campus as redshirts. Plus, Barnes could make the move down inside one day.
Several defensive tackles have already committed to join next year, including Deshawn Williams, Grady Jarrett and Jerome Maybank.
Clemson also remains involved with Phillip Dukes, Gabe Wright and North Carolina commit Devonte Brown.
Simply put, it's critical for the Tigers to sign two more defensive linemen, preferably one of the tackles and one of the ends.
With so many losses over the past two seasons, things might get a little rocky next season, regardless of who else signs in February.