Know Your Enemy: Clemson Season Preview

Staples and McGahee take a look at what to expect from the Clemson Tigers

Clemson Season preview

We continue our season previews with the Clemson Tigers. Clemson started 2013 ranked third and largely backed up the high expectations, finishing last season 12-2 and earning some national respect with an Orange Bowl win over Ohio State.

Despite this success, however, the season did take on a different feel after Florida State rolled into Death Valley and embarrassed the Tigers 51-14 in Jameis Winston’s coming out party (444 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD). By contrast, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd struggled under pressure, completing only 17 of his 37 passes for just 156 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs (plus a fumble returned for a touchdown by DE Mario Edwards Jr.).


Win Probability

Aug. 30 - at Georgia


Sept. 6 - South Carolina STATE


Sept. 20 - at Florida State


Sept. 27 - North Carolina


Oct. 4 - NC STATE


Oct. 11 - Louisville


Oct. 18 - at Boston College


Oct. 25 - Syracuse


Nov. 6 - at Wake Forest


Nov. 15 - at Georgia Tech


Nov. 22 - Georgia State






Clemson has only lost four games the past two years, but they will be underdogs in two of their first three of 2014. The Tigers again open with Georgia, but this time it’s in Athens and without Boyd and elite receiver Sammy Watkins. Clemson will have to depend on its improved defense if they want to win.

Clemson has a cupcake, South Carolina State, and a bye week before the game against the Seminoles, which will give them plenty of time to add extra wrinkles for that matchup. The winner of this game has represented the Atlantic division in the ACC championship game for the last five years.

They return home to host North Carolina, the third ranked team in four games. After UNC, Clemson has a seven game stretch where they should be heavy favorites in each game.

At the end of the season the Tigers host in state rival South Carolina. Clemson has not beaten South Carolina in Dabo Swinney’s five-year tenure, though Swinney’s Tigers did defeat South Carolina when he was the interim coach in 2008.

Projecting the Tigers’ Season

We are a bit divided on what to expect from Clemson this year, as Wayne is somewhat more pessimistic about the Tigers than Jason. The Simplified Football formula puts Clemson at nine wins before the postseason, which seems about right to both of us. Wayne, however, believes Clemson will lose all three of its big matchups (UGA, FSU, USCe), while Jason thinks Clemson will again open the season with a win over Georgia and has a solid shot to beat South Carolina, who he expects to take a small step back in 2014. Jason also expects Clemson to be a significantly tougher out for FSU this year than last. Jason does, however, think a loss against UNC, Georgia Tech, or another middle-of-the-pack ACC program is likely for the Tigers this year. Either way, we project Clemson in the Orange Bowl again, with Florida State heading to the College Football Playoff.


Projected Starters


Cole Stoudt

Running Back

D.J. Howard

Wide Receiver

Mike Williams

Wide Receiver

Adam Humphries

Wide Receiver

Charone Peake

Tight End

Sam Cooper

Left Tackle

Isaiah Battle

Left Guard

David Beasley


Ryan Norton

Right Guard

Kalon Davis

Right Tackle

Joe Gore

Key Players

QB Cole Stoudt: Stoudt has spent his career as the back up to the most prolific quarterback in Clemson history and now has the keys to The Chad’s offense. Stoudt, who played mostly during garbage time, completed 80-percent of his passes from last season with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. Don’t be surprised to see a bit of a Tee Martin Effect for Clemson here, as Boyd struggled under pressure at times in his Clemson career, and Stoudt’s steady hand just may wind up an improvement in some respects. Either way, Stoudt must perform well thanks to the presence of immensely talented freshman quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who is waiting in the wings. If Clemson does open the season 1–2, don’t be surprised to see a change at QB with Watson taking over as the Tigers look to the future.

WR Adam Humphries: Humphries is the leading returning receiver on the Clemson roster with Martavis Bryant and Sammy Watkins in the NFL. While he isn’t the playmaker the other two are, he is consistent and will be a nice safety blanket for whichever quarterback Clemson puts out there. He was their leading punt returner from last season as well.

WR Charone Peake: Peake was a top option in the offense before tearing his ACL prior to the 2013 season. He’s a big, fluid receiver who can cause matchup problems down the field.

WR Mike Williams: Williams may be the most talented receiver on the roster, but will have to be more consistent than he was as a freshman. He averaged 15.1 yards per reception and scored 3 touchdowns last season.

Question Marks

The Clemson Offensive Line: Last season Clemson was 102nd in the nation in sacks allowed with 35 in 13 games. Last week the backup to both tackle positions, Shaq Anthony, announced that he was transferring, leaving significant depth concerns at both tackle positions. Right guard Kalon Davis has been getting reps as the backup left tackle and would be the guy if Isaiah Battle goes down. One major injury to either of the tackles this season and the Clemson offensive line will be in real trouble. The starters, however, look to be improved over 2014.

Overall: Offense

Last season Clemson finished 19th in offensive F/+. One might expect the offense to take a step back after the loss of the Tigers’ four-year starting QB, top two receivers, and top two running backs, but Clemson has been consistently good on offense since coordinator Chad Morris’ arrival (2011: 21st; 2012: 7th). Morris will have his work cut out for him, but Jason at least expects essentially comparable overall efficiency from the Tigers’ offense on the year. Wayne is again more pessimistic, expecting a slide.


Fortunately, the Clemson defense should be one of the elite units in college football and will put less pressure on their own offense to outscore opponents than in recent years.

Projected Starters

Defensive End

Vic Beasley

Defensive Tackle

Grady Jarrett

Defensive Tackle

De’Shawn Williams

Defensive End

Corey Crawford

Outside Linebacker

T.J. Burrell

Middle Linebacker

Stephone Anthony

Outside Linebacker

Tony Steward


Mackensie Alexander

Strong Safety

Jayron Kearse

Free Safety

Robert Smith


Cordrea Tankersley

Key Players

DE Vic Beasley: Beasley is considered by many to be the best pass rushing DE in college football. He finished last season with a team leading 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss. Beasley is undersized (235#) and needs to improve when defending the run, but last season he lived in many quarterbacks’ nightmares.

DT Grady Jarrett: Arguably the best player on the Clemson roster, Jarrett (6’1, 300) anchors the defensive front and is one of the most explosive DTs in college football. He has been named to every major preseason All-ACC first team, and was named a third team All-American by CFBMatrix.

MLB Stephone Anthony: A very athletic LB at 6’2, 240+, Anthony was second on the team in tackles with 86. He also tallied 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and 1 INT. He was also named to every major preseason All-ACC first team.

CB Mackensie Alexander: The former 5-star corner redshirted last season due to a nagging groin injury but is reportedly fully healthy now. Alexander’s addition immediately improves what was the weakest position on the defense in 2013, and his fluidity and ability to play man coverage gives this defense an entirely different dimension than in 2014. A hair undersized at just under 5’10, 190 but has terrific speed and excellent hips.

Question Marks

LB Tony Steward: The former 5-star linebacker tore one ACL in high school and then his other during his freshman season at Clemson and is finally getting his chance to start for the Tigers. The talent is still there, but Steward has to finally stay healthy and productive.


This defense has outstanding talent and really should be one of the best in the country. [Jason: I expect this defense to finish in the top 10 of the F/+ ratings.] For the first time in a very long time Clemson is stronger on this side of the ball, and it all starts up front with the defensive line. Beasley and Jarrett are two guys who will be taken early in the next NFL draft, and DE Corey Crawford is no slouch himself. He will miss the Georgia game due to suspension. The linebacker group should be solid if Steward can play up to the level that he is capable of and the secondary should be much improved from last season.

Special Teams

Projected Starters


Ammon Lakip


Bradley Pinion

Punt Returner

Adam Humphries

Kickoff Returner

Charone Peake

Key Players

PR Adam Humphries: Humphries averaged a very respectable 10.6 yards per return last season and catches the ball well.

Question Marks

Everything Else: Lakip only attempted two field goals last season and missed one of them. Pinion averaged an abysmal 39.38 yards per punt last season—two yards worse than Cason Beatty. Starting kick returner Charone Peake was out with an injury last season. This entire unit has a lot to prove.


This is arguably the toughest game on the Florida State schedule, but the Seminoles do get the Tigers in Tallahassee. Clemson’s offense has quite a few question marks, and it doesn’t help the Tigers that they’re playing this game early in the season.

Clemson will have difficulty creating mismatches in the spread against FSU’s back seven, and we expect Florida State’s defensive line to win its matchup overall against the Clemson offensive front, but Morris will likely be able to manufacture some offense coming off two weeks of preparation. [Wayne: Clemson’s offensive line against the Seminole defensive line is a terrible mismatch and it should make for a very long night for the Tiger offense.]

Clemson’s strength on defense is their defensive line, and against most teams that may be good enough to give the Tigers the overall edge. Not against Florida State, which handled CU’s defensive front last year with nearly the same personnel on both sides. Cam Erving dominated Vic Beasley, who struggled with Erving’s size and length. Clemson will surely try to match Jarrett one on one with center Austin Barron, but FSU’s guards are good enough to neutralize that with combo blocks if necessary. Alexander’s addition in the Clemson secondary will help against FSU’s receivers, but Clemson still lacks the athletes across the board in the secondary to stop the Seminole passing game. Finally, Nick O’Leary remains a mismatch against the Clemson linebackers.

Wayne’s prediction: Florida State may not win by as many as last year, but it will be close to that margin. 42–13 FSU (Win Probability: 85%)

Jason’s Prediction: Jason Last year’s margin of victory was influenced by several quick turnovers, which is unlikely to happen two years in a row. I expect Clemson to put up a good bit more fight in 2014, but FSU remains about 17-21 points better on average and I expect the Noles to come out on top here. 38–17 FSU (Win Probability: 87%)

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