The college football season is now officially in the books, and it's now time to turn our attention towards 2022.
After dropping completely out of the polls after a 2-2 start, Clemson rebounded nicely in 2021, winning their final six games and eight of their last nine, to finish ranked No. 14 in the AP Poll.
Looking ahead to next season, it appears to be a critical time for Dabo Swinney and Clemson. Not only are the Tigers coming off of a season in which the offense was uncharacteristically one of the least productive in the ACC, but the coaching staff has also seen a major shakeup after the departures of both Tony Elliott and Brent Venables.
The good news is, the offense that was littered with inexperience in 2021, returns every skill player but WR Justyn Ross. The quarterback room, which struggled with consistency with DJ Uiagalelei as the starter, also gets an injection of talent with Cade Klubnik, the nation's top-rated player at the position, joining the program.
So where can we expect the Tigers to be ranked when the preseason polls start to come out ahead of the 2022 season? Looking at some of the 'Way Too Early Top-25 Rankings' that have already been released, despite most agreeing that next season is crucial for Swinney's program, the general consensus is that Clemson will return to national prominence, with one outlier.
Sports Illustrated is high on Clemson, ranking the Tigers No. 4, and expects the program to rebound in a big way, despite the disappointing 2021 season.
"This will be a fascinating season for the Tigers, with Dabo Swinney overhauling his previously super stable coaching staff after losing both coordinators and others. But the player roster is stocked with guys who gained valuable experience in 2021 and should be improved in ’22. Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei must make strides after a disappointing season, but there is an intriguing Plan B in freshman Cade Klubnik."
Sporting News is also expecting a big bounce-back season for Clemson, also ranking the Tigers No. 4.
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"Yep, Dabo Swinney will have the Tigers back in the mix despite replacing longtime coordinators Tony Elliott and Brent Venables with Brandon Streeter and Wes Goodwin. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei will benefit from another offseason in his effort to hold off incoming five-star freshman Cade Klubnik, and Coby Pace and Will Shipley form a dominant running game. The passing game needs to be better. Bryan Bresee returns to a defense that matured through a six-game win streak to end the season. A trip to Notre Dame on Nov. 5 should be another top-10 showdown."
Clemson comes in at No. 6, according to 247 Sports, who considers the Tigers a legitimate contender for a national title.
"As you can see, despite a season that fell below program standards, Clemson is still on the shortlist of title contenders according to our 247Sports experts. In fact, the Tigers would've been in our preseason top five had one voter not placed Clemson outside of his top 10. Dabo Swinney enters a crossroads at a program he built into a national power. He lost both of his longtime coordinators to head coaching jobs and another high-ranking assistant, Todd Bates, last week. Can Swinney maintain national championship-level expectations in Death Valley and get there from the ACC with other programs seemingly gaining on his own? Clemson is one of the more interesting teams for 2022 that will surely be inside most, if not all, preseason top 10 lists."
FOX Sports' analyst Joel Klatt also ranks Clemson at No. 6 and is anxious to see if Swinney can navigate through all of the obstacles that come with so much turnover on the coaching staff.
"Dabo Swinney enters a crossroads at Clemson following another double-digit win season with the Tigers. He lost both of his longtime coordinators to head coaching jobs and another high-ranking assistant, Todd Bates, last week. Can Swinney maintain national championship-level expectations in Death Valley and get there from the ACC with other programs seemingly gaining on his own? Clemson is one of the more interesting teams for 2022 that will surely be inside most, if not all, preseason top 10 lists."
That one aforementioned outlier is ESPN, which has the Tigers ranked outside the Top-10 at No. 11. Clemson isn't even the highest-ranked ACC team, as NC State comes in at No. 8.
"Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine) in his first full season as a starter, and he might be pushed by Klubnik, who is enrolling this month. The Tigers have to play better on the offensive line and need playmakers to emerge at receiver. Streeter might look to get running backs Will Shipley and Kobe Pace and tight ends more involved in the passing game. The defense will get a boost from the return of tackle Bryan Bresee, who missed much of 2021 with a torn ACL."
While Clemson undoubtedly failed to live up to preseason expectations this season, fans can take solace in the fact that most of the pundits are expecting the program to return to its familiar spot atop the ACC standings in 2022, while once again competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Clemson is currently +1,000 to win the national title in 2022, according to FanDuel, with only Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State getting better odds.
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