The Clemson Tigers are projected to win their seventh consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championship this year – even after losing their two top offensive weapons to the first round of the 2021 National Football League (NFL) draft.
That just shows how well head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have continued to reload on both sides of the football during their recent run of greatness …
According to a poll of 147 preseason media voters released on Monday, Clemson received 125 first-place votes compared to only 16 votes for North Carolina, which won eight games last year en route to the program’s first-ever Orange Bowl appearance.
In the ACC’s Atlantic division, Clemson received 146 of 147 first-place votes.
Just a slight favorite, huh?
Clemson has been tapped to win the ACC in each of the last four straight seasons – which is exactly what Swinney’s team has done. In fact, Clemson has captured six straight ACC titles dating back to the 2015 season.
Florida State currently owns the conference record for consecutive titles – winning (or sharing) the ACC crown for nine straight seasons from 1992-2000.
The Tigers have also appeared in a record six straight College Football Playoffs (CFP) – winning national championships following the 2016 and 2018 seasons and appearing in the championship game following the 2015 and 2019 seasons. At one point during that six-year CFP run, Clemson won a school-record 29 consecutive games – a streak broken by LSU in the championship game following the 2019 campaign.
The Tigers have finished the last six seasons ranked No. 4 or higher in postseason polls. Can they continue that momentum despite several high-profile personnel losses?
Clemson enters 2021 without quarterback Trevor Lawrence – the No. 1 overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2021 draft and the winningest signal caller in Tigers’ history. Lawrence completed 758-of-1138 career passes (66.6 percent) for 10,098 yards with 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound native of Cartersville, Georgia also rushed 231 times for 943 yards and amassed 18 rushing touchdowns during his collegiate career.
Lawrence posted a 34-2 record as Clemson’s starting quarterback, with his only losses coming in CFP play.
In addition to Lawrence, Clemson will have to find a way to replace tailback Travis Etienne, a two-time ACC player of the year performer who was selected by the Jaguars with the No. 25 pick of the 2021 draft. Etienne rushed 686 times for 4,952 yards with 70 rushing touchdowns during his career at Clemson – averaging an incredible 7.22 yards per carry. He also caught 102 passes for 1,155 yards and 8 touchdowns.
The 5-foot-10, 215-pound native of Jennings, Louisiana departed Clemson as the ACC career leader in rushing yards, total touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and points.
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Clemson will look to D.J. Uiagalelei to pick up where Lawrence left off as quarterback. The strong-armed 6-foot-4, 250-pound freshman from Inland Empire, California completed 78-of-117 passes for 914 yards with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions as a true freshman in 2020. Uiagalelei also ran 28 times for 60 yards and scored 4 rushing touchdowns last season.
He started two games when Lawrence went down with Covid-19, posting a 1-1 record as a starter.
At tailback, Clemson’s featured option in 2021 is expected to be senior Lyn-J Dixon, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound native of Butler, Georgia who has already racked up 1,372 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 208 career attempts as Etienne’s backup over the last three years. Dixon has also recorded 183 yards on 18 receptions.
Worth noting? He enters 2021 ranked second in school history (behind Etienne) with a 6.6 yards per carry average.
While the loss of Lawrence and Etienne is the major storyline for Swinney’s team headed into 2021, the Tigers locked down arguably the most important piece of their championship puzzle earlier this month – inking defensive coordinator Brent Venables to a new deal that will pay him $2.5 million annually through 2026.
Venables is now the highest-paid assistant coach in college football – and deservedly so, based on the metrics his units have consistently churned out since he was hired prior to the 2012 season. Clemson has led the ACC in total defense four years running – and was tied for No. 1 nationally last year in sacks.
From 2014-2019, Clemson ranked in the top ten nationally in total defense each year – despite Venables’ unit losing a total of twenty players to the NFL draft during that stretch (including six first-round selections).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that Fayetteville Woodpeckers’ lid pictured above).
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