2013 was the year that could have been for the Clemson Tigers. The Tigers opened their season against Georgia in Death Valley on the national stage and came out with a 38-35 victory. Five more games and five more wins later, the stage was set for the mid-season showdown with division foe Florida State, who were coming off a 63-0 win over Maryland. The game that everyone thought would be one for the ages turned out to be one to turn off at half time. Florida State routed Clemson by a score of 51-14, and did it in front of the Death Valley crowd. The Tigers were humbled but they regrouped and pulled out four straight wins against Maryland, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and The Citadel. Their annual rivalry game against the South Carolina Gamecocks didn't go the way Clemson hoped, resulting in a 31-17 loss in Columbia. The Tigers did finish strong, though, by beating the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl 40-35. They would finish the season with an impressive 11-2 mark.
How could one forget about #2 Sammy Watkins? Well, I'm sure Clemson won't, and neither will the rest of the ACC. The first round draft pick had a very successful career at Clemson. For his career, Watkins totaled 28 receiving touchdowns and 3391 total receiving yards. He will be dearly missed in Chad Morris's offense. Another key piece gone from the Tiger offense is quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was a dynamic passer that ran Clemson's offense for three years while putting up huge numbers and some lopsided victories. While at Clemson, Boyd accumulated 11904 yards passing, 107 passing touchdowns, a 64.3 completion percentage, 1165 yards rushing, and 26 touchdowns on the ground. Tajh will likely go down as one of the most accomplished dual-threat Quarterbacks in ACC History. Dabo Swinney will also have to replace two-time First-Team All American All-ACC Offensive Tackle Brandon Thomas, who was a third-round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers, and wide receiver Martavis Bryant, the Steelers' fourth-round pick who averaged 19.7 yards per reception on 42 catches which was best in the nation among players with at lease 40 catches.
Starting under center for the first time will be junior Cole Stoudt. As Tajh Boyd's backup for the past three seasons, Stoudt has been pretty effective. Last season he was 47 of 59 passing for 415 yards with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. Against South Carolina St. he set a school record for his 95.0 completion percentage. Among the starting wide-receivers lining up are Germone Hopper, Adam Humphries, Charone Peake, and Mike Williams. All have considerable experience and have shown they can carry the load for the Tigers offense.
Dabo Swinney has been one of the best recruiters in the ACC and the nation since becoming head coach of Clemson. His recruiting classes have been in the top 10 the past three years and for 2015, the Tigers are currently ranked second in the nation right behind Alabama. One player everyone in the state has been waiting anxiously to play is Quarterback Deshaun Watson. He was the number one dual-threat quarterback in the nation coming out of high school last year. To this day he is the all-time leader in passing touchdowns in Georgia's high school ranks. Most experts are predicting a strong quarterback battle this season with Watson pushing for time to see if he is the real deal.
WR Adam Humphries: In 2013, Humphries had 41 receptions, third-most on the team, for 483 yards and two touchdowns. He has 97 career catches for 893 yards, which is more than any other active Tiger.
RB Zac Brooks: He is the leading returning rusher for the Tigers with 246 yards on 48 carries and two touchdowns from the 2013 season. Brooks was the number one player in his high school class coming out of the state of Arkansas and is probably one of the most physical backs Clemson has had since James Davis. Expect him to get the majority of carries this season.
DE Vic Beasley: If you noticed how good Clemson's defense was last season you can thank this guy for contributing to that. Beasley is one of the top pass rushers in the country and last season he led the team in sacks, tackles, and forced fumbles. For his career he has 64 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, 20 quarterback pressures, eight pass breakups, and five caused fumbles. Against Georgia Tech last season he had two tackles for a loss, one pass breakup, and two quarterback pressures. This guy can create havoc.
OLB Stephone Anthony: One of the team's most athletic defensive players, last season Anthony had 131 tackles, four sacks, three quarterback pressures, one interception, and five pass breakups. He helped secure the Tigers Orange Bowl win with a pick late in the game against Ohio State.
Clemson has some holes to fill on both sides of the ball but coach Dabo Swinney has said that this is his most veteran team he has had. He is right -- the Tigers have 38 returning junior and senior scholarship players who have the experience to help lead this team and pick up where they left off. It will be interesting to see how the Tigers do on offense without Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. They have the benefit of plugging in a Quarterback like Cole Stoudt who has been in the system for three years and has shown he can move the offense. If Deshaun Watson does play, it will interesting to see how quick he learns the system, picks up the speed of the game, and if he does push for the starting QB position. Defensively, the Tigers won't skip a beat. Vic Beasley has returned for his senior year and they have recruited really well on the defensive side of the ball. If Clemson can get consistency under center and continue their success on defense, I see no reason why they can't win the ACC and be one of the top teams in the nation.