That is the question that will be asked by many Clemson fans over the next four months, while anxiously awaiting the start of football season.
What will the Tigers’ do with the losses that were suffered to the NFL Draft, transfers or simple attrition?
What will the offense look like? Will the defense be as dominant as expected and what will this team look like?
Luckily for Tiger fans, those are questions that are not being asked by the coaching staff, because for the staff and the players those are questions that have nothing to do with the expectations of the 2017—those are related to the 2016 team, the team that won the national championship.
“This is a different team and a different challenge,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Our goal is to go be the best we can be—that’s never going to change. I want us to be a team that is focused, has great leadership from within and is committed to being the best they can be day in and day out and lives up to the standard—the best version of them. That is the goal of this team and that’s our challenge as coaches.”
Even if names like Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott and Mike Williams (who could have received a medical redshirt for the 2015 season) had all decided to return, the process would still be the same for the Tigers.
Even with the Tigers climbing all the way to the pinnacle of college football and “planting their flag” at the top as the 2016 national championships—the process remains the same for the Tigers.
It is that process that has cemented the Tigers as one of the nation’s elite programs, being only one of two schools to have won at least 10 games each of the last six seasons.
And it is Swinney’s passion to guard the process with the ferocity of a mother lion (or Tiger) that has the Tigers believing that they will, even with the questions surrounding personnel losses, once again be in the discussion when it comes playoff time.
“You start over,” Swinney said. “You’ve got to fight like crap to protect your culture in every area. For us, I don’t assume anything. We start over. I re-install everything from the coaches to the players—you name it.
“You’re always trying to get better and always challenge yourself. It’s all about the people and the little things. The little things are critical; you just try to protect that every single day. Who we recruit, the discipline of the staff, you name it.”
While the process is the cornerstone for the Tigers’ program, it is recruiting the elite caliber of players that has ensured that the Tigers have the talent to win with the process.
With 10 signees having been on campus for spring practice, including the nation’s top quarterback, Hunter Johnson, Swinney believes that it is not just the depth that the Tigers will possess that will once again make them a contender—it is the functional depth.
In other words—the talent.
“The main thing is not just the depth—it’s functional depth,” Swinney said. “It’s one thing to have depth and a bunch of guys who don’t know what they’re doing. We’ve got a lot of functional players and not a lot of drop off in some areas. I think we’ll be a team that its strength will be in its numbers as we go through the summer and the fall.
“You’ll see guys that nobody is talking about that we know and think are ready to play. There will be a lot of new faces getting some opportunities to go play in the fall.”