Key players returning - QB Woodrow Danztler, RB Travis Zachery, C Kyle Young, T Akil Smith, G - Will Merritt
Key players lost - WR Rod Gardner, RT John McDermott, RG Theo Mougros, FB Terry Witherspoon
Strengths - Danztler drives defenses crazy with his ability to break long runs and make big plays. Currently, he is 2nd in the nation in total offense at 342.4 yards per game. Dantzler rolled up 517 yards of total offense last week versus NC State. Travis Zachery was second in the ACC last season in rushing, with over 1,000 yards rushing, and led the ACC in scoring. Zachery is also a big weapon in the passing game, averaging 4.8 catches per game and 110.4 yards per game in all-purpose running. WR Derrick Hamilton has stepped up and is ranked 21st in the nation in receptions per game with a 6.2 average. This week, Roscoe Crosby and Jackie Robinson may return to the line-up.
Weaknesses - If any, Danztler may miss his top receiver from 2000, Rod Gardner, who was fourth in the ACC in yards receiving and receptions per game. Gardner had three touchdown catches last year against the Heels, and had 7 catches for 182 yards in that game.
Key players returning - DT Nick Eason, LB Chad Carson, SS Charles Hafley, DT Donnell Washington, CB Brian Mance
Key players lost - DE Terry Bryant, DT Terry Jolly (1st team All-ACC), DT Jason Holloman, Keith Adams (1st team AA), CB Alex Ardley, FS Robert Carswell
Strengths - Linebacker corps has 5 of top 6 players back. Even though Keith Adams is the one missing, this is still a solid and experienced group. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring has designed the defense to a 5-2 base defense to compensate.
Weaknesses - In addition to losing a ton of accomplished players off the defensive line from last season, three other defensive linemen were dismissed from the team after being charged with burglary charges in off-campus incidents. Starting defensive tackles Jovon Bush (pulled groin) and Nick Eason (sprained ankle) are listed as probable. Overall, the defensive front of the Tigers is weaker overall.
Brian Mance is having a great year at cornerback but is not expected to play on Saturday, according to latest reports. Mance has not practiced all week, due to his brother's tragic death in a car accident last week. Mance would be replaced by former walk-on Toure Francis, who started in place of Kevin Johnson last week.
This unit will take a hit if ACC-leading kickoff returner (26.6 yards per kickoff)Mance does not play. Mance is also second in the conference in punt returns with an 11.9 yard per return average. Derrick Hamilton will return kickoffs if Mance does not play, and Joe Don Reames will return punts.
Clemson does not kick field goals or punt very often, fortunately for them, as this phase of the game is not a strength for them. Aaron Hunt is the place-kicker and has connected on three of only four field goal attempts this season. Wynn Kopp, a Georgia transfer, is averaging 38.6 yards per punt.
The Tiger offense puts up a lot of points (35.0 per game), and gives up a significant amount as well (26.8). Dantzler has been in a "zone" the past two weeks, putting up incredible numbers in those two games while directing the Tigers to big wins on the road at Georgia Tech and NC State.
Clemson's defensive line and secondary have had incredible losses to graduation, early departures to the NFL, and Brian Mance's tragic circumstances, if he does not play. The Clemson linebackers are solid, but they can't do it alone. Particularly vulnerable will be the Clemson defensive line and secondary where several players nicked up.
Not many teams will win a scoring contest with the Tigers, as the Georgia Tech and NC State games proved. What Clemson does not want is for this contest to turn into a battle of field position. They do not punt the ball well, and their leading punt returner may not play. They have to get in close to get in Hunt's range for field goals.
If Clemson can score on big plays, get behind the UNC secondary and Dantzler can rip off some of his characteristic long runs, it will be a long day for the Tar Heels. If the Tar Heels can turn the game into more of a boxing match, there could be cause for celebration in Tar Heel country Saturday evening.