CFN: 2007 Clemson Football Preview

Once again, Clemson has one of the most talented teams in the ACC, led by the running tandem of James Davis and C.J. Spiller, but will that be enough to finally get over the hump and win an ACC title?

- 2007 Clemson Offense Preview | 2007 Clemson Defense Preview
2007 Clemson Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Clemson Preview 

Here we go again. One year after Tommy Bowden seemingly solidified his position atop the Tiger program, thanks to a 6-1 closing burst in 2005 that included wins over Florida State and South Carolina, he’s back in the hot sauce again, thanks to a 1-4 collapse late last year.

Head coach: Tommy Bowden
9th year: 60-38
11th year overall: 78-42
Returning Lettermen: 50
Lettermen Lost: 28
Ten Best Tiger Players
1. RB James Davis, Jr.
2. RB C.J. Spiller, Soph.
3. OT Barry Richardson, Sr.
4. LB Nick Watkins, Sr.
5. DE Phillip Merling, Jr.
6. FS Chris Clemons, Jr.
7. NG Dorell Scott, Jr.
8. LB Antonio Clay, Jr.
9. DE Ricky Sapp, Soph.
10. SS Michael Hamlin, Jr.
2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
Sept. 3 Florida State
Sept. 8 UL Monroe
Sept. 15 Furman
Sept. 22 at NC State
Sept. 29 at Georgia Tech
Oct. 6 Virginia Tech
Oct. 20 Central Michigan
Oct. 27 at Maryland
Nov. 3 at Duke
Nov. 10 Wake Forest
Nov. 17 Boston College
Nov. 24 at South Carolina

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 10-2

2006 Record:
Preview 2006 predicted wins

9/2 Florida Atlantic W 54-6
9/9 at Bost Coll L 34-33 OT
9/16 at Florida State W 27-20
9/23 North Carolina W 52-7
9/30 Louisiana Tech W 51-0
10/7 at Wake Forest W 27-17
10/14 at Temple W 63-9
10/21 Georgia Tech W 31-7
10/26 at Virginia Tech L 24-7
11/4 Maryland L 13-12
11/11 NC State W 20-14
11/25 South Carolina L 31-28
12/28 Music City Bowl
Kentucky L 28-20

On the surface, things look great for Bowden. He’s signed for four more seasons. He returns many starters. But last year’s season-ending flop was loud and could be costly, particularly if Clemson follows it up with another thud.

Bowden has made a name for himself by making his teams better as seasons progress, while escaping those in the Tiger community who’d like to see him gone. It’s hard to argue with someone who leaves everybody smiling, and the good feelings earned him a contract extension in 2003 after the Tigers closed 4-1 and beat Tennessee in the Peach Bowl. There was no similar deal struck after ’06, and though Bowden is locked up through 2010, some may look at the unwillingness to extend the coach as an indication the school is waiting to see what happens next. It sure didn’t help Bowden that his Tigers dropped a 28-20 decision to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

Now Clemson is in the familiar position of having plenty of talent, but not necessarily enough to challenge for the ACC title. The defense is great (although big-play end Gaines Adams is off to play on Sundays) with eight starters returning, including the top three tacklers. The defense will be fine, and the running game should be among the ACC’s best. The season likely rests on the passing game.

It’ll be an interesting year, full of high expectations in an improved league. Clemson should be able to turn it up a few notches in a couple of key games, just to get everyone excited enough to expect consistent greatness, and then it’ll come up with a flop or two, thanks to the overall inconsistency and quarterback situation. Essentially, expect the usual, while for Bowden, the hope is that whatever happens ends up with a strong finish.

What to watch for on offense: If you thought the Tigers ran it a lot last year, just wait. The uncertainty at quarterback, coupled with the loss of top receiver Chansi Stuckey, will mean plenty of work at running back for junior James Davis and sophomore C.J. Spiller, each of whom could be an All-American at just about any school in the country. Look for the Tigers to pound it out while QB options Cullen Harper and Willy Korn get comfortable. And if neither becomes a reliable thrower, expect even more from the ground late in the year.

What to watch for on defense:
More of the same. Even though Adams is gone, the Tigers return plenty of stalwarts on this side of the ball and should be even better than in 2006, when they ranked 13th nationally in total defense and 16th in scoring defense. Linebackers Nick Watkins and Antonio Clay are standouts, and though both starting corners have moved on, the secondary should be fine. Look for the front seven to be a rock against the run.

This team will be far better if …
there’s consistent play under center. Teams were able to load up against the Clemson ground game last year, and while the Tigers were successful running the ball, finishing fifth in the nation, they were also 67th through the air. Without more big plays from the passing game, forget about any dreams of an ACC title.

The Schedule: It's manageable. Three of the four toughest ACC games (Florida State, Virginia Tech and Boston College) are in Death Valley, while the other, at Georgia Tech, comes early. There are just enough seemingly easy breaks throughout the year to let the Tigers catch their breath, and there aren't any painful stretches. However, there are two make-or-break two-game battles facing the Yellow Jackets and Hokies early, and Boston College and at South Carolina to close out the regular season.

Best Offensive Player: Junior RB James Davis.  Davis will continue sharing carries with C.J. Spiller for as long as the two are Tigers, but remains the primary option in an offense that’ll be breaking in a new starting quarterback for the second straight year.  He’s a powerful, straight-ahead runner who has outstanding vision and balance to go along with a nose for the goal line.    

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Nick Watkins.  An afterthought in the Tigers’ class of 2003, Watkins has developed into the team’s most consistent linebacker and a special teams terror.  Last year’s leading tackler had more than 200 stops over the past two seasons from his weak-side position, while distinguishing himself as the best linebacker in pass coverage. 

Key player to a successful season: Freshman QB Willy Korn. The offense must replace quarterback Will Proctor, who was steady but unspectacular last season and lacked a strong arm. To some, the solution is easy: just give the ball to sophomore Cullen Harper, who has had ample opportunity to digest Rob Spence’s system, but things aren’t always as simple as they seem. The early arrival on campus of the highly regarded Korn turned up the heat. Whom Bowden ultimately chooses, and whether that player delivers, could go a long way toward determining Bowden’s future. Clemson fans expect Korn to pile up the conference titles, while Bowden worries whether the freshman will have problems adjusting, as Arkansas’ Mitch Mustain and Georgia’s Matthew Stafford did last year. For now, Harper will start, but that could quickly change.

The season will be a success if ... the Tigers win the ACC title. That’s shooting big for a team with as many offensive issues as Clemson has to overcome, but with Florida State, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College all coming to Death Valley, the schedule works out relatively well. The defense is good enough to carry things early, but eventually, the running game will have to beat the better teams.

Key game: Sept. 3 vs. Florida State. The next four ACC games are at NC State, at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, at Maryland. It’s not getting too dramatic to call this an ACC title elimination game for one of the Bowdens.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- First half scoring: Clemson 227; Opponents 81
- Average yards per carry: Clemson 5.7; Opponents 2.9
- Penalties: Opponents 77 for 604 yards; Clemson 54 for 471 yards Top Stories