2017 Record: 12-2 (7-1) - Lost in College Football Playoff Semifinal
2018 Coaches Poll Top 25 Rank: No. 2
Compiling a record of 40-4, winning three ACC Championships and a National Title while qualifying for the College Football Playoffs in each season, the Tigers have been among the most dominant teams in College Football over the last three years. It's likely to continue in 2018.
The Favorites to win a fourth consecutive ACC Title, the Tigers are once again loaded with NFL talent. Headlined by arguably the best defensive line in the Country, Clemson returns eight starters on defense and seven on offense. For a national powerhouse, Clemson has more returning talent that what is expected of a perennial contender.
Kelly Bryant filled in admirably for replacing Deshaun Watson at quarterback in 2017, but his limitations as a passer were exposed by Alabama in last year's Sugar Bowl. Bryant is currently in competition with five-star freshman Trevor Lawrence for the starting gig.
Regardless of who wins the quarterback competition, they are surround with weapons. Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster provide a dynamic running back duo while the ever-reliable Hunter Renfrow returns at receiver. While the other Clemson receivers aren't proven, Tee Higgins has the makings of the next Clemson great alpha receiver. The offensive line is experienced, returning Mitch Hyatt and Justin Falcinelli who were both First-Team All-ACC picks in 2017.
The schedule stacks up favorably and Clemson is likely to be favored in every contest this season. Week Two against Jimbo Fisher's Texas A&M Aggies' in College Station is an interesting matchup given Fisher's familiarity with the Tigers considering his time at FSU. The Tigers do travel to Florida State in Week Nine but do host South Carolina to close out the regular season as the other most challenging games on the schedule. With that said, it was Pittsburgh and Syracuse that handed Clemson its only two regular seasons losses over the past two seasons so nothing can be assumed.
Top 5 Draft-Eligible Prospects
1. EDGE Clelin Ferrell
Ferrell has the makeup of a high first round selection with his nuanced pass rushing repertoire, polished hand technique and length. Racking up 30.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks over the last two seasons, Ferrell is primed to dominate the ACC again in 2018.
2. DT Christian Wilkins
A two-time All-ACC and All-American, Wilkins has been hyped for years now and has upside as an interior penetrator in the NFL. While there is growth needed as both a run defender and pass rusher to live up to his billing and become a first round pick, Wilkins offers a foundation of traits that make him appealing.
3. DT Dexter Lawrence
A mammoth interior player, Lawrence is 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds and plays as his size suggests. He's a load at the point of attack and pushing the pocket. That said, his lack of burst and mobility is apparent. Lawrence battled injuries in 2017, making 2018 a defining season for him should he declare for the 2019 NFL Draft.
4. CB Trayon Mullen
Mullen is a long and physical corner that is ideally suited in press and zone coverage. He sharply reads the backfield and diagnoses route combinations while excelling close to the line of scrimmage. He has his limitations in off man coverage given tight hips and lack of top recovery speed but his ball skills and length are appealing.
5. EDGE Austin Bryant
Bryant has a long, athletic frame and enjoyed a breakout junior season in 2017 where he tallied 15.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks to go with 50 tackles. Bryant can't be expected to consistently win 1v1 as a pass rusher given his modest athletic profile but he's a interesting chess piece that finds success when it's schemed up.