- Trevor Lawrence and a bevy of offensive weapons are set to carry the Tigers as they look to go back-to-back and end the recent string of rotating Clemson-Alabama titles.
Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which are being collected here. Next up, it's No. 2 Clemson.
THE BIG STORY
How do you top a dream season? Clemson will try to become the first back-to-back champion from outside of Tuscaloosa since Nebraska repeated 25 years ago. The Tigers will feel both familiar and new: They're loaded offensively, with their standouts at the skill positions—quarterback Trevor Lawrence, wide receiver Justyn Ross, and running back Travis Etienne—all back. But on the other side of the ball, the dominant D-line is gone, which means that the offense will need to pick up the slack if there's a defensive drop-off.
Etienne averaged a TD about every eight carries last season—the best rate for a starting tailback in college football in six years. The explosive junior carried the ball more than 20 times in a game just twice last season, but with his top backups gone, Etienne should see his workload—and his trips to the end zone—increase.
How dominant will the defense be with their defensive line and their top linebackers from last year gone? The defense is short on experience but still talented: Three redshirt freshmen—ends K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll and linebacker Mike Jones Jr.—could be stars by season's end.
Playing on a defensive line that included three first-round picks, Xavier Thomas was a bit overlooked last year. That should change. The No. 1–ranked defensive end in the 2018 class, Thomas has size (6'2", 260 pounds) as well as speed. During his senior year of high school, the South Carolina native ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, faster than all but one defensive lineman at the 2019 NFL combine. In a rotating role in '18, Thomas finished as a near unanimous freshman All-America with 31/2 sacks and 43 tackles. He got a boost in production with teams concentrating on the four NFL products around him. He won't have that luxury this season.
OVER OR UNDER?
Over 11.5 wins. Back-to-back September matchups against Texas A&M and Syracuse will be tricky, but there's a huge talent gap between the Tigers and the rest of the ACC. There's no room for error to get to 12 wins, but the Tigers will run the table.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even if he won't admit it, Dabo Swinney has built Alabama East—and in April that got him the biggest contract in NCAA history (10 years, $92 million). For that kind of money, it's title or bust for Clemson.