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Countdown to Kickoff: The Case for Clemson (Not) as ACC Champions

So I can just post a picture of Trevor Lawrence and Dabo hugging, right?

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Predicting one half of the ACC Championship game in recent years has been easy to do. The past five years have seen Clemson claim the prize with it more often than not being a blowout. However, picking Clemson is an easy out and what’s not fun about trying to poke holes in Clemson’s pride.

Now, everyone knows the major reasons why Clemson is once again the favorite from Trevor Lawrence being the Messiah of College Football, Travis Etienne lathering himself in oil before every rushing attempt, Clemson’s unlimited depth of potential NFL talent, and of course the all-important hype speeches given by Coach Dabo Swinney. While all those things are great they don’t make a complete team. Which is exactly Clemson’s potential downfall this year, it might be all they have.

Reason 1: The Offensive Line Is Gone!

Most everyone is gone anyway. They do get back LT Jackson Carman who has 15 starts to his name, but that’s it. It’s by far the least amount of experience returning in the ACC with Boston College next at...59. The guys departing are LG John Simpson (1st Team All-American), C Sean Pollard (2x All-ACC), RG Gage Cervenka (2nd Team All-ACC), and RT Tremayne Anchrum (2x All-ACC).

Plenty of backups saw time as Clemson rolled through their schedule but that was with games usually already out of reach. They will have to gel fast as a new unit and could be hit hard if there are lingering injuries in this group. Lawrence and Etienne are still special players but those departures along the line could play into reduced production this year.

Reason 2: The Secondary Is Gone!

Having a position group loaded with talent and experience is great until that year ends and they all leave at the same time. Derion Kendrick is the lone starter returning for this group that saw the departures of a few more All-Americans including AJ Terrell (24th Pick by Atlanta Falcons).

Clemson’s secondary did a great job through the regular season at keeping most teams under 200 yards passing but even this elite group was picked apart by top tier QBs in Justin Fields and Joe Burrow. To be fair, most everyone who played Ohio State and LSU had no answer for their passing games but if the ACC has a QB that can elevate their game this year then Clemson’s defense could be exploited.

To make matters worse LB Isaiah Simmons, leading tackler and quarterback harasser, is gone from pressuring QBs into bad decisions. Xavier Thomas won’t be offering his pass-rushing services this year either as he had opted out of the season.

Reason 3: The Kicking Game is Bad!

This area probably gets overlooked for Clemson since they tend to win by several touchdowns against most teams but Kicker BT Potter was 12th in the league in field goal percentage at 63% (Side Note: Tech’s Brenton King was so bad that ESPN stats doesn’t even have him listed). Potter did make all his attempts at 50+ but missed half of his kicks from the 30-49 range. Clemson might not want to be a tight game with that kind of consistency.

Bonus Reason: Dabo Swinney Isn’t Equipped To Handle Pandemics!

Clemson was the first team back together when the ACC allowed conference teams to meet again for practice and conditioning for the upcoming season. One week in and Clemson had 23 football players all test positive for the virus. Now other teams around the country who had smaller outbreaks did the prudent thing and closed practice for a short time but “Lil Old Clemson” wasn’t going to be stopped by the likes of a deadly disease. No, the positive players quarantined while the other players who had been near the positive players trudged on. Maybe having your whole team catch the virus could help you out later in the season if they all have gotten over it but certainly, a coach who claims to love his players like family would do no such thing.

In all honesty, most teams are probably going to get some positives in the season and have key players sit out. Dabo has been very cavalier about his view on the virus and that could lead to a greater number of players and staff being compromised. The face any challenge attitude has helped build Clemson to a top program but against a virus, it may cost them more.