Clemson is a new team with the same dream – hoisting the national championship trophy in Atlanta. The departure of the best player in Clemson history (Deshaun Watson) along with other star players may lead some to believe that the Tigers can’t repeat, but Clemson has both the talent and the schedule to make it back to the playoffs.
The way Clemson won it all was by focusing only on themselves and the game ahead – so who are the Kent State Golden Flashes?
Kent State went 3-9 last year, going 12-35 in four years under alumni Head Coach Paul Haynes. Haynes is on a leave of absence due to a medical condition. The three wins were over FCS Monmouth (27-7) and MAC opponents Buffalo (44-20) and Central Michigan (27-24). The lowlights included losing to FCS team NC A&T (39-36 in 4 overtimes), Alabama 48-0, and going 1-4 in games decided by four points or less.
Kent State had a decent defense combined with a horrific offense that somehow managed to be better than its 2015 version. Kent State was the worst offense in the country in passing and efficiency, but at least Kent State was creatively awful.
After losing their starting quarterback against Alabama, they started a quarterback carousel of non-quarterbacks until current starter and former backup of all trades Nick Holley took the job.
Holley is a running quarterback that ran for 920 yards, passed for 868 yards, and had 135 receiving yards last year as an athlete and quarterback. Coach Haynes said that multiple quarterbacks will appear in nonconference play, so quarterbacks Bollas (a former starter) or freshman Dustin Crum could face the Tigers.
Speaking of versatile players, the now sophomore running back Justin Rankins was the second leading rusher (511 yards) and leading pass catcher (334 yards).
In straight up misery, now-starter wide receiver Johnny Woods caught six passes on 23 targets for 2.1 yards per target – one of the worst statistics I have ever heard of.
Kent State can’t stay healthy and has no wide receivers to speak of, so their passing game is nonexistent. Their offensive skill players are smaller than ideal and the offensive line is also undersized. but their rushing game based out of the spread is not as painful as their passing game.
Kent State runs a 4-2-5 style defense that is below average. The pass rush is nonexistent and the secondary has lost most of their impact players. 2016 2nd team MAC cornerback Jerrell Foster, 2016 3rd team nose tackle Jon Cunningham, and 2015 1st team MAC cornerback Demetrius Monday lead the defense into 2017.
The most important part of this year will be the quarterback position. If Kelly Bryant can take hold of the starting job and never look back (which he certainly can), Clemson could make a serious run for the ACC Championship and playoffs. If he struggles and Cooper or Johnson cannot right the ship, then Clemson could fight for ten or eleven wins.
The coaches have indicated that all three quarterbacks will play and that the competition will be continual throughout the year. Chase Brice will redshirt and Tucker Israel has stomach problems preventing him from playing.
Despite losing 10 starters, Clemson has players to fill the new starting positions that have either significant game experience, were highly recruited, or both. The new starters (not counting Anchrum because he is a co-starter) averaged 218 snaps last year.
Deon Cain being the best backup wide receiver in the nation and a projected early draft pick had 449 snaps; while Kelly Bryant played just 39 snaps last year.
The offensive line is only breaking in one new starter, center Justin Falcinelli whom is described as extremely intelligent. He struggled with snaps in the spring game, but if that problem is fixed the offensive line should look even better than last year.
The wide receiver position is loaded, and coaches say that the nine scholarship players could all play on Sundays. Clemson is not called “WR U” for nothing.
The defensive line is extremely talented with two possible future top ten picks anchoring the defensive tackle positon in Wilkins and Lawrence. Ferrell and Bryant are excellent defensive ends, but the depth behind them is scarily thin.
The Clemson secondary is faster than ever before, with Muse and Simmons posting sub 4.35 40 times that would translate to 4.40 – 4.45 seconds in the combine setting.
While Clemson is extremely talented, there is only so much we know from past tape, recruiting stars, statistics, and analytics. We will have more information about this team in a couple of games, because games are won and lost on the gridiron. Clemson is talented enough to compete for the national championship (at least 50% blue chip recruits), the coaching staff is incredible, and they should easily defeat Kent State.
Regardless of what happens this year, Clemson has both the total program and players to compete for years to come. This is a golden era in college football, with only twelve guaranteed games to watch the beloved Tigers play.
Prediction: Clemson 45 Kent State 10