Only Alabama has less to complain about regarding their season last year than the Clemson Tigers do. They finished 14-1 and suffered that only loss in the National Championship Game. Now they return many of their most important players, the coaching staff stays almost entirely intact - the only changes were the addition of two high school coaches in analyst roles, and they have a schedule that sets up well for them. There is always a chance that a team will take a step back after a deep but ultimately unsuccessful run. If they can shake off the hangover, though, then the Tigers are well set up to be every bit as successful as last year, and perhaps even more so.
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As was the case last year, the biggest concern for the team has to be the defense. Two years ago they had the top defense in the country. They lost nine starters from that unit, yet through a combination of excellent recruiting and outstanding coaching they managed to have a Top 10 defense again next year. Yet again, though, they have seen several key players depart, and again we have to question if the defense is going to be as good as it has been. Recruiting has again been sound - No. 2 overall recruit Dexter Lawrence will likely make a big impact at defensive tackle, and he's not alone. There are still stars like Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins, too. With the offense being almost certainly good, and likely very good, it could be this defense that determines how things turn out for the Tigers this season.
Key Additions and Departures
On offense the changes aren't significant. Eight starters have returned, and the losses weren't significant - a wide receiver and a running back who went in the seventh round. They also get a potentially massive boost from within - Mike Williams had a giant season as a sophomore two years ago but returns this year after missing last season to a neck injury. He's a major boost to an already good receiving corps, and with the Heisman favorite throwing the ball we could really see some fireworks.
That Heisman favorite, of course, is quarterback Deshaun Watson. He was brilliant as a sophomore last year, finishing third in Heisman voting and leading a very strong offense. Now he's a year older, he has a very seasoned group of skill players around him and he has an excellent offensive line protecting him and making room for the very good running back Wayne Gallman, who ran for more than 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. This offense, barring injuries, will pile up the points.
Defensively, the departures are much more significant, as we talked about earlier. They lost two defensive ends, led by Shaq Lawson, in the first 33 picks of the NFL Draft. Also gone in the draft are three members of the secondary, a linebacker and a DT. They have lost 16 high-profile, talented starters in the last two seasons. Ouch.
Clemson Tigers Schedule Analysis
The Tigers are still in the ACC, so the schedule is fairly advantageous. It's not exactly the deepest of conference. The nonconference schedule is very manageable. They open against Auburn, but that's not as tough a game as it could have been. Then come Troy and South Carolina State - glorified scrimmages. Conference play could have a few tougher games - they play at Boston College and host South Carolina, for example. Let's not kid ourselves, though - this season comes down to the same thing as the last two seasons have, which is the game against Florida State. On Oct. 29 the Tigers travel to Tallahassee to determine the fate of the conference. Both teams could very easily be Top 5 squads heading into that game and will very likely be unbeaten. It's like a pre-Thanksgiving playoff game.
2016-17 Clemson Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has Clemson at +750 to win the National Championship, which has them tied with Ohio State as the second choice, behind only Alabama at +160. The regular season win total is set at 10.5, with the "over" solidly favored at -125. They are favored at +150 to win the ACC, ahead of Florida State at +225.
Clemson was great at winning games but not nearly as good at covering spreads. They were just 8-7 ATS, so were barely a break-even proposition for bettors. They were better against the total, going over nine times in 15 tries.
2016-17 Clemson Predictions and College Football Picks
I love the offense - it's impossible not to. The defense, though, is a concern. It will be good enough to win most of their games alongside the offense, but the game against Florida State is a concern. The Seminoles have some questions at quarterback, though, so all is not lost. If the game was a home game for the Tigers then I would very confidently pick them to win it, the ACC, and a berth in the playoffs. As it stands, though, it's really a coin toss. I lean very slightly to Clemson at this moment, but it isn't until we have seen them play four of five games that we will really have a better sense of where the chances to match or exceed last season really stand.
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