10 questions for 2010

CLEMSON - As good, bad or disappointing the 2009 season may have been for Clemson fans, the new year brings plenty of expectations for 2010 and beyond.

Coming off the school's first Atlantic Division title, the Tigers will look to take the next step and win the ACC Championship.

With spring practice a few months away, here's a look at 10 storylines to look out for in 2010.

1. Will Kyle Parker play football at Clemson this fall?
There are a couple of different scenarios that could play out here. First, there's the possibility Parker will be drafted in this June's Major League Baseball draft. As to how high and to whom ... well those are both unknown pending this junior season this spring at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Keep in mind he could be drafted to play professional baseball and remain a member of the Clemson football team, even if he was to sign to play baseball. Whether that could happen, of course, is up to the franchise that selects him.

Most supporters seem to be content with Tajh Boyd taking over next season if Parker signs to play baseball and doesn't return to school. If that were the case, depth at quarterback would look really thin considering the program would be just a year removed from having three viable candidates.

First-year starter Kyle Parker completed 205-of-309 (55%) passes for 2,526 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this past season for the Tigers. (Roy Philpott)
If Parker is back to play football, Boyd's role will be the obvious follow up question.

2. Can Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper fill the void behind by Spiller?
Spiller ran for over 1,200 yards and scored 12 touchdowns, better numbers than Ellington and Harper put up together.

There's been debate that Ellington might be a better running back than Spiller. Harper's performance in the Music City Bowl has fans clamoring for more, though he spent the better part of his sophomore season with many wondering when he was going to start running with authority.

Throw in Roderick McDowell and Clemson's running back trio shouldn't have a big drop in production, especially with six of the top seven offensive linemen returning.

3. Will the running backs and tight ends continue as the focus in the passing game?
Losing C.J. Spiller and Michael Palmer means whoever is throwing the ball next year is losing a combined total of 77 catches for 1,010 yards and eight touchdowns. They caught 35 percent of the 220 completions to Clemson pass catchers this season.

Dwayne Allen has all the tools to become an even better tight end than Palmer, who had the best single-season for a Clemson tight end. Harper and Ellington both proved to be quality receivers too.

Red-shirt sophomore tight end Dwayne Allen figures to be an integral part of Clemson's offense next season with the departure of Michael Palmer. (Kevin Bray)
With Jacoby Ford's departure, the wide receiving corps lacks an truly established pass catcher.

4. Who steps up as the go-to wide receiver in place of Ford? There are plenty of candidates here. Xavier Dye came along in the second half of the season, showing flashes of skill with his 14 catches for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Marquan Jones the season off with a hot start, but tapered off as the weeks went by. Jaron Brown continues to be on the radar too.

Bryce McNeal has spent his first few months on campus playing on the scout team and getting his weight up. He's one of three freshmen whose names will be mentioned plenty by Clemson coaches this spring and summer. Freshman DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant arrive to campus this summer.

5. Now that Spiller and Ford are gone, who's going to return kicks and punts.
Over the past four years, they became one of the most feared return duos in the nation. As many yards and touchdowns they accounted for over their respective careers, their presence has forced teams to kick away from them, many times at the expense of field position.

Ellington appears to be the likely candidate on kickoffs, maybe punts too. Brown fielded a couple of punts too. Freshman cornerback Martin Jenkins could avoid a redshirt if he's able to prove his worth as a return-man.

A plethora of younger players will challenge Xavier Dye for playing time in 2010. (Roy Philpott)
It's hard to replace one of the most electric players to play at Clemson. The candidates expected to compete for that right aren't bad themselves. With all do respect, none are named Spiller.

6. Will the defense struggle again against running quarterbacks and the zone read/option? We'll find out the answer to that question in the first few weeks of the season when Clemson travels to The Plains to play Auburn and quarterbacks Kodi Burns and Cam Newton. Matched up with Coastal Division rival Georgia Tech in Clemson this fall, the Tigers will have to measure themselves against the conference's best team.

Even quarterbacks like Maryland's Chris Turner and Texas Christian's Andy Dalton showed they were able to have success on the ground against the Clemson defense this season.

Youth at linebacker could make things appear to shaky early on. Jonathan Willard and Quandon Christian appear poised to be candidates as starters on the outside, along with Scotty Cooper. Corico Hawkins will push Brandon Maye as the back up in the middle.

Brandon Maye's continued development at linebacker will be critical for Clemson's defense next season. (Roy Philpott)
7. Does Maye take the next step?
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele relays his calls through his middle linebacker, essentially making him the quarterback on defense. Maye's one of the team's most emotional leaders, and at times, his emotions may have interfered with his play.

He's been working to channel those emotions in the right way and works hard at making himself a better player on the field. Some questions whether he's instinctive enough to make the jump. Next season, he'll a year older and have another year of Steele's system under his belt.

He was named a freshman All-America in 2008 and was third on the team in tackles in 2009.

8. Who are the starting cornerbacks?
Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor each spent the better part of their Clemson careers as starters. Some soured on Chancellor this season after he was the victim of a couple of deep touchdown routes and double moves. But as good as Butler was, he wasn't perfect. And chances are good that they're replacements won't be flawless either.

Byron Maxwell is a big, physical senior who's been waiting his turn. He'll step right in and likely be the starter along with Marcus Gilchrist. If Gilchrist remains in the same role he had this year, splitting time at safety, Coty Sensabaugh and Xavier Brewer could push for the other spot.

Future five-star tight end Jay Rome would give a tremendous boost to Clemson's already hot start in the 2011 recruiting class. (Chad Simmons)
9. Will the 2011 recruiting class continue to pick up big-time commitments? There's already been a solid foundation laid for the 2011 class with commits from several touted prospects, including Florida four-star running back Marlin Lane.

Clemson appears to have the upper hand in the race for wide receiver Charone Peake, offensive tackle Brandon Shell and tight end Jay Rome, all of whom are four-star prospects, according to Scout.com. Three-star quarterback Tony McNeal could be the next commitment. Outside linebacker Stephone Anthony, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and quarterback C.J. Uzomah, are some of the top names among the names remaining on the 2011 board.

After taking a hit in the recruitment with players in the 2010 class, the 2011 class could be rated as one of the top classes in school history when it's all said and done.

10. Is this team better than it was in 2009?
Losing Spiller, Palmer and Thomas Austin from the offense take away three quality players on the field and three quality leaders in the locker room.

Leading sack man Ricky Sapp is gone from the defense along with Conner, Butler, Chancellor and Kevin Alexander. Assuming McDaniel's back, the defense should improve with Steele manning the ship for a second consecutive season.

If Clemson can find leaders to replace the departed seniors, the Tigers could find themselves playing in a second-consecutive ACC title game.

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