With the ACC Football Kickoff only four short days away, one thing is certain—football season is almost here.
But before Tigers put the pads on for the first practice of August and begin preparations for the opening game of the regular season Sept. 3 against Kent State, there is another pre-season rite of passage that they will face—talking season.
Today we look at the four burning questions every Clemson fan will want answers to at the ACC Kickoff.
1: Did Dabo learn his lesson?
The last time the Clemson Tigers were faced with a quarterback controversy was in 2014, when a young-gun by the name on Deshaun Watson arrived on campus looking to take the reins from incumbent Cole Stoudt.
Even with the media, the fanbase and even opponents stating the obvious—that Watson should be the starting quarterback—the Tigers’ head coach rode the incumbent to a 1-2 star (losses at Georgia and at No. 1 Florida State) before relinquishing the starting job to Watson in the fourth game of the season.
The Tigers’ are poised to make another run at the College Football Playoff this season, with, arguably, the best defense in program history. But the key will be who is leading the offense, and did Swinney learn his lesson in how to manage a quarterback battle that will likely determine the success of the team?
2: Who will be the defensive leader?
There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the 2017 Tiger defense has the potential to be one of the greatest in Clemson history with names like Wilkins, Lawrence, Ferrell, Lamar, Fields, Joseph, O’Daniel and the list goes on.
But the one key to a great defense is leadership, and that is something that the Tigers will need to find before they put on the pads for their first game. Gone is the leader of the last two seasons, Ben Boulware, and if there is one thing that concerned the Tigers’ defensive coordinator Brent Venables as the team broke from spring practice, it was would a leader emerge.
“You start over at everything,” Venables said. “You have to start over. Who are your leaders. You are building depth and competing to replace really good players and really good leaders.
“You have to replace them with good players, tough guys and great leaders. You have to earn that, too. Again, you have to earn it and it will take us time to judge a guy and grade a guy and that takes time.”
3: Will the offensive line be as good as advertised?
The play of the offensive line has been incredible the last couple of seasons, with the Tigers giving up no more than 27 sacks over the last three years. While the quick feet of former Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson helped the offensive line out at times, there is little doubt that the Tigers strength lies in the trenches on both sides of the ball—and this season appears to be the same.
Entering the 2017 season, the Tigers can boast the No. 2 ranked offensive line in the nation according to ESPN, but it was only a year ago that they could boast the preseason No. 1 ranking in this category and it took them the better part of the season before they lived up to the billing.
With a new quarterback, much of the Tigers success offensively this season will fall directly on the shoulders of the five offensive linemen—four returning starters—and their ability to gel quickly into the dominant group that many across the nation believe that they will be.
4: Can the Tigers handle the pressure?
Last season the Tigers entered the ACC Kickoff with a chip on their shoulder, having lost the national championship game to an Alabama team that they felt they were better than. This season the Tigers enter the ACC Kickoff as the national champions—and as many teams have learned before them, heavy is the head that wears the crown.
The Tigers have not been the defending national champions in 35 years, dating back to the 1982 season. And while they have been the hunted at times over the last two seasons, they will have the biggest target on their backs that they have every had as the defending national champions.
From day one, beating the Tigers will be the job of every team—from Kent State to Florida State—each one of the Tigers’ opponents will want to be one to dethrone the champions. It is a new pressure that the Tigers will face, and how prepared they are for getting every teams best shot will determine whether or not they get the chance to defend their title.