One of the major questions coming into the 2017 season was how Clemson could maintain its success from the last couple of seasons after losing many principle players on both offense and defense? More questions came after a now-inexplicable loss at 4-8 Syracuse that threatened to potentially derail their season.
But as with the bizarre loss at home to Pittsburgh last season, that only served as motivation to see the Tigers reach even higher, and with their demolition of Miami in the ACC Championship game, Clemson is definitive favorites in the College Football Playoff no matter who they play.
With the number of playmakers they have on defense, there aren’t many offenses that will be able to compete with the Tigers. Auburn couldn’t, as evidenced by the number of sacks they gave up, nor could Louisville, Virginia Tech, South Carolina or Miami keep up with the speed, depth and athleticism of a Clemson defense that somehow seems even better than last year. Christian Wilkins and Kendall Joseph, among several others, comprised the sixth-best defense in the nation coming into the ACC Championship game. But after a dominant performance against an admittedly limited Miami offense, sixth seems like an understatement of their abilities.
Even though the Tigers had trouble running the ball against Miami, the short fields created by their special teams and defense made sure that Kelly Bryant and Clemson’s offense didn’t have to go above and beyond their capabilities to win. With receivers Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow, there is enough experience on the offense to keep Bryant grounded. But based on his efficient performance against an opportunistic Miami defense, there is every reason to believe Dabo Swinney could ask him to do even more and not worry too much about taking risks.
game over pic.twitter.com/bIyBRmCNsm
— nobody (@nick_pants) December 3, 2017
Unless other teams find a way to exploit the few weaknesses in Clemson’s defense that only NC State and Syracuse could consistently, the Tigers may be snatching chains from other teams too.
Clemson will be No. 1 and in the Sugar Bowl, and they have no one to fear going forward. Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma have the offense to make Clemson sweat, and they’ve passed every other major test this season. Georgia? If Clemson contains Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, Georgia would have to rely on freshman Jake Fromm against a defense that has swallowed up some of the most experienced quarterbacks in the sport.
That defense certainly won’t fear Alabama or Ohio State considering recent history, and Wisconsin isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. With the way Clemson forces turnovers and pressures teams into mistakes, and all of the NFL-ready talent up and down that two-deep, is there anyone that Clemson can’t outscheme and outplay when they’re on defense?
And with Kelly Bryant’s growth game-by-game, even in a defensive slugfest, the Tigers’ offense can make all of the plays necessary to win these games in any fashion. If they can find the success on the ground that they didn’t have (or need) against Miami, watch out.
Dabo Swinney’s Tigers are a big-game team, and play their best when the stakes are the highest. They played their most complete game of the season when the ACC and College Football Playoff were on the line. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be fairly heavy favorites, no matter who they play.