Number one ranked teams at the beginning of the season in the standard Polls rarely finish the season as champion. But, I would love to point out that this blog had Clemson number one in the preseason Poll. In case you think I am delusional, I have the post here: Poll
Next year, I will probably have Alabama at the top, but in the meantime, does Clemson have a shot at all of repeating?
The problems with repeating are obvious. Deshaun Watson did things that no other Quarterback has ever done and he led the Clemson Tigers to two championship games in a row. His loss is devastating.
Not only that, the the Tigers lost top Running Back Wayne Gallman. Gallman topped the 1,000 yard barrier the past two seasons. Super man Wide Receiver Mike Williams has also decided to move on taking receiver side kick Artavis Scott with him, plus super Tight End Jordan Leggett.
Center Jay Guillermo was a rock up front and he is also gone.
Across the line of scrimmage, Clemson lost the heart and soul of it’s defense in Linebacker Ben Boulware. They also lost top Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and Safety Jadar Johnson, plus tough Defensive Tackle Carlos Watkins.
But, they had bigger losses in each of the last several seasons. This is actually a pretty good situation for the Clemson Tigers.
Do the Tigers still have the weapons to replace these guys? Maybe.
Kelly Bryant is the favorite to replace Deshaun Watson, but Deshaun Watson’s aren’t a guy that can be replaced.
Bryant was third team Quarterback last year behind Watson and senior Nick Schuessler. In limited opportunities, Bryant threw the ball 9 times and completed 6 for 48 yards and a Touchdown. Bryant is known for his running ability, but he only ran for 22 yards on 12 carries and another Touchdown. Bryant has good size at 6-3, 215 and he can throw the ball, but accuracy has been an issue and most of his completions last year were of the shorter variety.
Bryant is the closest prospect to Watson, physically.
Bryant might be the forerunner, but he clearly does not have the position wrapped up. There are a
number of players that will challenge Bryant for the job. They all have talent and bring something a little different to the table.
Tucker Israel is the only other Quarterback that has played at all. Supposedly, the undersized 5-10, 180 Israel from Orlando, Florida has shown a lot of promise in practice. Israel completed 4 passes in 4 attempts for 25 yards and he ran for 2 yards on 1 carry. Tucker Israel is not exciting on paper, but with his outstanding passing stats in high school he was worth taking a chance on by the Clemson coaches. At Lake Nona High School in Orlando, Florida, Israel threw for an amazing 15,034 yards. As a senior in high school, he threw for 4,446 yards and 56 Touchdowns. He even broke a lot of the great Tim Tebow’s records. Inconceivable.
Zerrick Cooper was one of the top Dual Threat Quarterbacks in the country coming in and he redshirted as a freshman. Cooper is 6-2, 205 and very athletic and has a good arm, but has never played at the college level.
Maybe the most upside of any of these Quarterbacks is 5 star early enrollee Hunter Johnson from Brownsburg, Indiana. The 6-4, 200 Johnson was ESPN’s top rated Quarterback and was once committed to Tennessee.
Chase Brice also signed with Clemson from Loganville, Georgia and Grayson High School. You have to admire a guy that will jump on board with a school that already has a commitment from the top Quarterback in the nation.
He is the nephew of Defensive Backs coach Mickey Conn.
What’s amazing is the Clemson Tigers have a commitment from next year’s top Quarterback recruit in 6-6, 195 Trevor Lawrence.
Clemson’s recruiting machine rolls on with Clemson recently gaining the commitment from the nation’s top recruit, Xavier Thomas who is a 6-3, 270 Defensive End.
Clemson will have to wait on these beasts for another year.
The Tigers should find a quality Quarterback, but it’s highly unlikely that he can replace Watson.
Wayne Gallman was an under appreciated Running Back for the Tigers while leading Clemson in rushing for three straight seasons. Clemson will miss his burst, and his consistency.
But, Clemson does have some talent on the roster and each is eager to earn the starting position. Tavien Feaster may be the most talented of the group. As a true freshman last season, Feaster ran for 221 yards and 2 Touchdowns and averaged nearly 6 yards per carry.
Feaster also averaged 20 yards per return on 7 Kickoffs.
CJ Fuller has the advantage of being in the program an additional year and Fuller ran for 211 yards last season and 171 as a freshman.
Adam Choice is also in the picture and is a little more compact at 5-9, 215. As a true freshman back in 2014 Choice ran for 218 yards and a score. He redshirted in 2015, and then ran for 158 yards in 2016.
A dark horse in the race is 4 star incoming freshman Travis Etienne from Jennings, Louisiana.
I have a feeling that Feaster will come out on top of this race, but all of them will play. Etienne may redshirt in 2017, but that depends on how ready he will be when he arrives in the summer most likely.
Wide Receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott are huge, huge, huge losses. Williams is a franchise type of player, but they did survive without him in all of 2015 on their championship run. Scott helped take up the slack. In spite of huge dents in the roster, don’t cry for the Tigers, they are deep.
Deon Cain does not have the size of Williams, and he has problems with consistency at times, but he is a big time player. Averaging over 19 yards on 38 receptions clearly demonstrates his penchant for the big play. Williams had 11 Touchdown receptions while Cain was close with 9.
Cain is so good, that his brother Abel wasn’t even necessary.
Other talented receivers include Bama killer Hunter Renfrow, Ray-Ray McCloud, Trevion Thompson and Cornell Powell have plenty of big game experience. At 6-5, 200 Diondre Overton is a youngster with enormous potential waiting to be tapped.
The Tigers’ recruiting machine raided the state of Tennessee for 2 of the best Wide Receiver prospects
in the land. Tee Higgins is a tremendously gifted prospect rated as a 4 star by ESPN and the 2nd ranked high school Wide Receiver in the 2017 class. Higgins is 6-5, 190, but doesn’t show up until summer time.
Amari Rodgers is also a talented Tennesseean and ranked as the 12th best in the country. He also comes in the summer and adds to a super group of Wide Receivers in spite of not having Williams and Scott.
There is nobody on the current Clemson roster in the same category as Jordan Leggett at Tight End, but they have some depth. Juniors Garrett Williams and Cannon Smith seem to be the top choices. Herschel Walker’s nephew Milan Richard will also be a junior, but needs to step up. Richard
Another interesting player here is JC Chalk from Texas who is the grandson of former Alabama head coach Gene Stallings.
At Center, Jay Guillermo is gone. But, Justin Falcinelli is more than capable as a replacement. The rest of the Offensive Line looks really strong led by junior Mitch Hyatt who is one of the best Left Tackles in college football.
Tiger fans should not worry about defense at all in 2017.
Christian Wilkins moved out to Defensive End last year because of injuries and his own talent and quickness. With so many guys stepping up at Defensive End, Wilkins just slides back inside at his more natural Tackle position.
Teaming with Dexter Lawrence, they should be one of the best Tackle tandems in the nation if not the very best. But, there is more talent on the roster like Albert Huggins and redshirt freshman Nyles Pinckney.
Ben Boulware was an inspirational leader for the Tigers and his loss might be more felt as far as leadership than actual playing ability.
Clemson has plenty of Linebackers and a lot of talent at that position. Baby faced Chad Smith
probably replaces Boulware at Linebacker.
But, keep a close eye on James Skalski. This kid can play.
Ryan Fields and Mark Fields should be the starters at the Cornerback positions and Van Smith was the top Safety last year.
Watch out for true freshman AJ Terrell an incoming 4 star from Atlanta who is one of those tall corners everyone craves today.
Clemson has become one of those teams under Dabo Swinney that does not rebuild every season. They simply plug somebody else at that position and keep plugging along. Swinney and staff have recruited so well in recent seasons and that will continue having just won the national title.
However, and this is a big however in capital letters, it’s going to be hard to repeat without the guy that led the team down the field similar to Vince Young against USC in the 2005 season and win a championship.
Clemson can repeat, but only if one of the many Quarterbacks on the roster steps up and becomes similar to Deshaun Watson at his best. Anything is possible, but it’s going to be an uphill battle.
I’m anxious to see if they can do it.