CLEMSON, S.C. — The key for Clemson to get back to the College Football Playoff is simple. It just has to win the ACC.
As Dabo Swinney explains, it is not as simple as it seems.
The Tigers entered the 2021 season as the overwhelming favorite to win a seventh consecutive ACC Championship. However, season-ending injuries, especially to key players like Bryan Bresee, Matt Bockhorst and Justyn Ross, derailed their run to Charlotte.
Despite 14 players being out for the year and more than 30 missing at least one game due to injuries, Clemson still managed to go 10-3. Its three losses came to National Champion Georgia, ACC Champion Pittsburgh and to a 9-win NC State team that was within a game of playing for the league title.
“We had a ton of injuries last year. So getting healthy and getting everybody available, growing up some guys that weren’t quite ready for the show last year, need to be ready,” Swinney said to reporters at an IPTAY Prowl and Growl event in Aiken last week. “Then making those few critical plays. And some of those guys that maybe did not play to their level last year, improving on that. So, if we can do those things, then I think, hopefully, we can end up in Charlotte. If we end up in Charlotte, then anything can happen.”
Clemson has the team coming back to end up in Charlotte. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is back, as is running backs Will Shipley and Kobe Pace. There is talent at wide receiver in Joseph Ngata, E.J. Williams, Beaux Collins and Dacari Collins, to name a few.
The defense is loaded. Bresee is back at defensive tackle. So is defensive tackle Tyler Davis and defensive ends Myles Murphy, Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry. The linebacking corps did lose James Skalski and Baylon Spector, but Trenton Simpson is back, and his position-mates, Jeremiah Trotter, Jr., and Barrett Carter, combine to give Swinney his most athletic and fastest linebacking corps in his head coaching tenure.
Yes, there are questions on whether Uiagalelei can get back to where he was as a freshman. Yes, there are question marks on the offensive line, especially at center. And yes, there are questions that need to be answered in the secondary.
But the talent is there. The depth is there. The question is can the Tigers put it all together and win another ACC Championship?
It is not as easy as it sounds.