Clemson being a part of the College Football Playoff seemed to be automatic for the nine years it has existed. They played in six of the nine with the exception being the first year, and more importantly to Clemson fans, the last two. Dabo Swinney has maintained success with top recruiting classes and keeping some of the best coordinators on his staff despite offers for head coaching jobs at other schools. The consistency with the coordinators fell apart last year as defensive coordinator Brent Venables left to become head coach for Oklahoma and offensive coordinator Tony Elliot went to Virginia.
Now Clemson didn’t fall from grace. They posted an 11-3 record and went 8-0 in the ACC and claimed the conference title. The black marks they suffered were a shellacking by Notre Dame, a close loss to hated rival South Carolina, and an ugly bowl loss to Tennessee. They also got lucky in two close games to Wake Forest and Syracuse. Georgia Tech held them close through halftime to open the season last year but things got out of hand in the third quarter. Clemson has beaten the Yellow Jackets in the last eight meetings. Georgia Tech last won during the 2014 season when a rookie Deshaun Watson was injured early in that contest.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei looked impressive stepping in for an injured Trevor Lawrence in the Notre Dame game during the 2020 season. He was the number one recruit in the 2020 cycle and looked to be a good replacement once Lawrence departed for the NFL. He would start the whole of the 2021 season but the passing game took a hit and the struggles continued in the 22 season. Cade Klubnik appears to be the next man up now the DJ has transferred to Oregon State. Cade threw for 697 yards with two touchdowns to three interceptions. He was MVP of the ACC title game but struggled with turnovers against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl. Clemson has hired OC Garrett Riley away from TCU where he helped QB Max Duggan to a Heisman Finalist and CFP Championship appearance. Antonio Williams returns as the leading receiver but only had 604 yards. They lose WR Joseph Ngata and TE Davis Allen who were next in production but still have some experienced veterans to replace them.
The ground game is where Clemson was able to maintain its dominance on the offensive side of the ball. Will Shipley led 1182 yards and 15 touchdowns and has a claim to be the best running back in the nation. His backup, Phil Mafah, could be a contender on about every other team and had 515 yards with 4 touchdowns. Both will return this year. The offensive line returns all but one starter and includes their two-deep. Any team that faces Clemson with a weak defensive front will not last long this year.
When you look at an NFL roster there is a good chance you’ll find a defensive lineman from Clemson somewhere on the depth chart. The Tigers have done well recruiting and developing pass rushers and interior linemen. They had a host of returning talent last year but did miss Coach Venables's playcalling and slipped from 14.8 points per game to allowing 20.9 a game. The line itself loses all but one starter but they will get back Xavier Thomas after being injured most of last year. The linebackers should help ease in a new front with Jeremiah Trotter and Barrett Carter returning. They combined for 12 of Clemson’s 44 sacks last season.
The secondary had mixed results defending the pass last year. They had great games against Georgia Tech and Miami allowing 164 and 68 yards passing in each. They held Notre Dame to 85 but some of that was due to Notre Dame torching Clemson on the ground. Teams that had more potent offensive attacks were able to move effectively through the air. Wake Forest threw for 337 and South Carolina for 360. Clemson does return everyone in the unit and should see improvement.
Special teams wasn’t bad for Clemson last year but it also wasn’t all that special either. BT Potter had a long-range making one from 52 yards out but still finished 20-26 made. He will depart this year and someone new will need to prove themselves. The fight for field position should still be in good hands with Will Shipley handling the kick return duties.
The Tigers are itching to get back into the playoff discussion after missing the last two seasons. They have the talent to do it and are the deepest team in the conference on paper. Any improvement on offense would make Clemson unstoppable for most teams in the nation and Garrett Riley will do that in his first year running the offense. The only three stumbling blocks appear to be FSU, Notre Dame, and a rising South Carolina. Concerning the matchup with Georgia Tech, I could see the Jackets giving them a game because Clemson will be coming off Notre Dame near the end of the season. Georgia Tech has played them hard the last two seasons and will be improved this go around. Clemson will still come out the better Score: Georgia Tech 14 - Clemson 32