News

Powered by Athlon Sports

Can Clemson Make Another Championship Run in 2017?

After two sensational years, Clemson reached the ultimate pinnacle with its 35-31 victory over Alabama in a classic championship game Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. At this moment, it is hard for anyone wearing Orange to think ahead to the fall.

 

Related: Clemson Gets Revenge, Beats Alabama 35-31 to Claim College Football's 2016 National Championship

 

But in the blink of an eye, it will be September and Clemson will be raising a banner in Memorial Stadium. The new champions will have many moving parts and here are some things to watch before they kick it off again on Sept. 2 versus Kent State.

 

Offense

 

Key Returnees:

OT Mitch Hyatt

OG Tyrone Crowder (could declare for the NFL Draft)

OT Jake Fruhmorgen (if he returns to the team)

OT Sean Pollard

OG Taylor Hearn

WR Deon Cain

WR Hunter Renfrow

WR Ray-Ray McCloud

RB Tavien Feaster

RB Adam Choice

RB C.J. Fuller

 

Key Departures:

QB Deshaun Watson

RB Wayne Gallman

WR Artavis Scott (said after the game that he hasn't decided whether he will declare for the draft)

WR Mike Williams

TE Jordan Leggett

C  Jay Guillermo

 

Really, Really, Ridiculously Early 2017 Top 25



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

Defense

 

Key Returnees:

DE Christian Wilkins

DT Dexter Lawrence

DT Scott Pagano

DE Clelin Ferrell

DE Austin Bryant

MLB Kendall Joseph

LB Dorian O’Daniel

S  Van Smith

CB Ryan Carter

 

Key Departures:

DT Carlos Watkins

LB Ben Boulware

CB Cordrea Tankersley

S  Jadar Johnson

 

Three Offseason Storylines to Watch

 

1. Developing the Next Quarterback

There won’t be another Deshaun Watson, that’s obvious. Junior-to-be Kelly Bryant will enter spring practice at the top of the depth chart now that the two-time Heisman Trophy finalist is off to the NFL and backup Nick Schuessler is out of eligibility. Like Watson, Bryant is a dual-threat option and will be able to run the current Clemson system. But he has played sparingly in two years and will likely be challenged by Tucker Israel, Zerrick Cooper, and five-star recruit Hunter Johnson. Clearly, after three years of Tajh Boyd followed by three years of Watson, the next Tigers quarterback has some big shoes to fill.

 

2. Who is the Next Lockdown Corner?

The Tigers seamlessly moved from Mackensie Alexander to Cordrea Tankersley as the team’s top cornerback and the defense didn’t miss a beat. The 2017 Tiger defense will again be nasty, but just how nasty could hinge on finding another top corner. Ryan Carter came on the scene with a very strong junior season, but the true answer may be one of the younger Tigers. Many hoped sophomore Mark Fields would earn the starting spot opposite Tankersley in 2016. While that didn’t happen, he has been a valuable reserve and his time may come. Also, 6-foot-2, 185-pound Trayvon Mullen flashed some serious potential as a true freshman. This spring, Fields and Mullen will be put in a position to see if they can cover the best receiver on the other team.

 

3. Finding New Leaders

Not only is Clemson losing a great deal of talent, a good chunk of the team’s leadership will be moving on as well. Obviously, Watson was far more than just a skilled quarterback. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott (hasn't declared his draft intentions yet) guided the younger receivers over the past two years. And Jay Guillermo was the rock in the middle of a good offensive line. Carlos Watkins, Ben Boulware and Cordrea Tankersley were multiple-year starters that were inspirations for other Clemson defensive players. Dabo Swinney has lost leaders in the past and guys like Christian Wilkins, Kendall Joseph and Van Smith have played a lot of football and appear to be ready to take on a bigger role.

 

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.