CLEMSON, S.C. — Though there are some who think Clemson slipped a bit after its streak of six straight College Football Playoff appearances was snapped, Athlon Sports is not one of them.
The folks over at Athlon have the Tigers ranked No. 4 in their preseason top 25 poll, which was released earlier this week. The magazine, which has been producing its annual college football publication since 1967, has Alabama ranked No. 1 in its preseason poll, followed by Ohio State at No. 2, defending national champion Georgia at three, Clemson at four and Texas A&M to round out the top 5.
Michigan is ranked No. 6, followed by Notre Dame, Utah, Southern Cal and Oregon to round out the top 10.
Athlon feels the Tigers will improve on last year’s 10-3 season thanks to a defense which ranked second nationally in points allowed. Clemson returns eight starters from a unit that ranked in the top 10 nationally in total and rushing defense as well.
“This unit smothered opponents last fall, holding offenses to 4.4 yards per play and 14.8 points a game,” Athlon’s wrote. “Linebacker James Skalski and cornerbacks Andrew Booth and Mario Goodrich need to be replaced, but the line returns standouts Myles Murphy, Xavier Thomas, Tyler Davis and Bryan Bresee and linebacker Trenton Simpson is a rising star.
“New coordinator Wes Goodwin has big shoes to fill in replacing Brent Venables in his first on-field role. However, his first audition in the bowl against Iowa State went well, and there’s no shortage of talent in place. Few questions surround the defense, but the story is different on the other side of the ball.”
Clemson also returns eight starters on offense. However, there are big questions on the offensive line, especially at center and both guard positions. Then there is the quarterback spot, where DJ Uiagalelei returns, but can he hold off freshman Cade Klubnik for the starting job?
“New coordinator Brandon Streeter has to get quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (9 TDs, 10 INTs) back on track or turn to touted freshman Cade Klubnik to jumpstart an offense that averaged only 24.5 points a game in ACC contests last year,” Athlon wrote. “Four starters are back up front but improvement is needed. The Tigers also need more consistency and big plays at receiver.
“The strength of the offense rests at running back with Will Shipley and Kobe Pace leading the way. Clemson’s defense is good enough to win the ACC title again. However, in order to return to the playoff, the offense has to improve.”
Clemson is one of five ACC teams in Athlon’s preseason poll. NC State is ranked No. 12, Wake Forest is No. 16, Miami is No. 20 and defending champion Pitt is ranked No. 23. The Tigers, of course, play NC State, Wake and Miami this season, as well as No. 7 Notre Dame.
The ACC’s five ranked teams is tied for second with the Big Ten for most teams ranked. The SEC has six teams ranked in the top 25.