#5. THE LOUISVILLE GAME - LEFT TACKLE
With the loss of senior Isaiah Battle, Dabo Swinney will be forced to insert a freshman into the starting lineup in Mitch Hyatt. The good news is Hyatt is the highest rated offensive lineman to ink with the Tigers in decades and was a consensus five-star prospect. The bad news? It's nearly impossible to make a seamless transition from the high school ranks to college in the trenches. Chances are Hyatt can handle himself against Wofford and Appalachian State to open the season - but happens at Louisville in Clemson's first road game? Louisville DC Todd Grantham likes to dial up pressure and he'll be sure to bring a hefty dose in this matchup. Hyatt has the raw talent to handle it, but chances are there will be a couple of growing pains in a game like this.
#4. THE ANNUAL TRAP GAME - AT N.C. STATE
Clemson hasn't lost to an unranked team since way back in 2011, so it's been a while since we've seen a true upset. Still, with so many "big" games against ranked opponents at home this year, there could be an opportunity for a slip-up or two on the road. This N.C. State game, which will be played on Halloween of course, tops my list. It comes the week before the Tigers host the Seminoles and the week after Clemson plays at Miami. State also returns one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC in Jacoby Brissett and has the schedule leading up to this game that may only yield one loss. Clemson's last loss to an unranked team also occurred to the Wolfpack - in resounding fashion, 37-13.
#3. WHERE WILL THE PASS RUSH COME FROM?
Clemson's defense still has enough experienced talent to be a top 25 unit this season, but the loss of the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in Vic Beasley cannot be ignored. With Shaq Lawson in the mix, the Tigers will likely be better on his side against the run, but he doesn't offer the same kind of fast-twitch ability that Vic did. Sure, Lawson has all kinds of God-given talent, but can he and a combination of other defensive linemen or linebackers create the same sense of urgency Beasley brought to the defense the last two seasons? Chances are that probably won't happen, so the defense will have to create big plays in other ways. Brent Venables may have to design more blitzes and utilize some of the athleticism in Clemson's secondary to help compensate as well.
#2. WHO IS THE QB OF THE DEFENSE?
In the same way Clemson lost its top pass rusher from a year ago, it also lost its QB of the defense in MLB Stephone Anthony too. Anthony not only developed into a first-round draft pick, he was the leader and signal caller for the defense. Venables thought of him as another coach on the field. There are plenty of candidates to fill this role - including the tackling machine Ben Boulware, B.J. Goodson and others, but is anyone ready to be a leader as well? Anthony's speed and athleticism will be missed, but his leadership and understanding of what Venables wanted day in and day out has to be replaced.
#1. BACK-UP QB
You've probably heard it by now, "Clemson can be a playoff contender, if and only if, Deshaun Watson stays healthy." Well, what happens if he goes down? The QB depth chart tells us Nick Schuessler would take over. Schuessler dazzled as the first team QB during spring practice but was nowhere to be seen last season when starter Cole Stoudt was banged up and struggling with his confidence. Dabo Swinney told me after spring practice Schuessler's emergence was just "like a light going off. He was always capable it was just a matter of getting the reps and knowing he could do the job." If Watson were to miss time, Clemson would likely still be favored in a majority of its games, but Schuessler be good enough to go on the road and win at Louisville or South Carolina? And what about home games against Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Florida State? Hard question to answer in early July, but he's got to be more consistent that Stoudt was last year if the unthinkable happens.
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