|Clemson's 2013 schedule|
The ACC title game is Dec. 7 in Charlotte.
Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.
The case for
The Tigers bring back the ACC's best player and best offense. Quarterback Tajh Boyd lit up the ACC in 2012 to the tune of 3,896 passing yards and a conference-record 36 touchdowns. The senior has a trio of talented receivers to help him match last season's performance. Junior wideout Sammy Watkins looks primed to bounce back from a down year in 2012, while fellow juniors Martavis Bryant (10 catches for 305 yards) and Charone Peake (25 for 172) should be ready for bigger roles. With the bulk of a veteran offensive line intact -- led by senior tackle Brandon Thomas and senior guard Tyler Shatley -- Clemson could actually outdo last season's averages of 512.7 yards and 41.0 points, both school records.
Clemson's defense showed improvement under new coordinator Brent Venables in 2012, finishing third in the league in scoring (24.9 points per game), and the front seven is as experienced as any part of the roster. Clemson has only won the ACC once since 1992, but it looks as if coach Dabo Swinney's team has the talent to make a BCS run.
The case against
If Watkins struggles again, the Tigers will need new players to emerge. They also have no proven replacement for two-time 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington.
For the opener there's a matchup with Georgia in Death Valley, but Clemson won't truly be tested again until it sees Florida State on Oct. 19, also a home game. The Tigers don't have a tough road game until the Nov. 30 finale against South Carolina -- and for that they don't even have to leave the state.
3: Clemson's wins against SEC teams ranked in the top 25 over the last two seasons, the most by any non-SEC program. Swinney and the Tigers should have two chances to add to that total in 2013: their opener against Georgia and their finale at South Carolina.
WR Martavis Bryant: Bryant returns as Clemson's second-leading receiver after carving out a niche as a deep-ball threat; he has averaged 27.7 yards per catch over his career with the Tigers. With opposing defenses likely to be zeroed in on Watkins, Bryant could quickly develop into Boyd's second option.
Freshman to watch
CB Mackensie Alexander: The Tigers' secondary is razor thin, with only one starter returning. Alexander, a five-star recruit out of Immokalee (Fla.) High, has a chance to nail down a starting role and should make an immediate impact.
Defense in transition: Swinney brought in coordinator Venables to help revamp his defense in 2012, and the unit made some strides. The Tigers were the stingiest red-zone defense in the league last fall. But with a suspect secondary and the loss of leading tackler Jonathan Willard (95 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss), development on this side of the ball will play a big role in Clemson's season.
Projected 2013 stats (By RotoWire.com)
QB Tajh Boyd: 3,525 passing yards, 34 TDs; 450 rushing yards, 6 TDs
RB Roderick McDowell: 1,025 rushing yards, 10 TDs; 55 receiving yards
WR Sammy Watkins: 1,240 receiving yards, 13 TDs; 150 rushing yards, 1 TD
Coach speak: Dabo Swinney
SI: Your team was picked to win the ACC. What does that mean for you?
DS: It's so not even worth having a conversation about. As I tell our team, all that preseason stuff is based on past performance. Come November, that's when it's based in reality.
SI: What has reigning ACC player of the year Tajh Boyd meant to the program and its recent success?
DS: He could have easily gone [to the NFL]. But he wants to win. He has unfinished business at Clemson. It's exciting to see where we are now and where we were when I was sitting in his living room in 2008. It makes me dizzy thinking about it.
SI: Your program doesn't shy away from playing a difficult schedule. Why are those games important?
DS: We're about to play our third SEC team in a row. We've got the type of schedule where if we win, we can be in the [BCS title] mix. I want a schedule that allows us to compete at the highest level.
SI: Are the pieces in place to win the ACC, contend for the BCS title and end the SEC's streak?
DS: We're going to have success again. How we handle that is going to determine our season.