Clemson No. 1 in USA Today Rankings; Favorite to Return to CFP

Zach Lentz

The Clemson Tigers only had nine practices this spring, but that did not stop USA Today from naming the Tigers as their top team in their post-spring rankings. 

After going more than two calendar years between losses, Clemson looks to kick off another extended winning streak in the wake of January's loss to LSU," Paul Myerberg wrote. "Very few things are a given — including whether there is actually a college football season in 2020 — but Clemson's dominance of the ACC can be safely assumed."

Joining the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship runners-up in the Top 25 from the ACC are No. 20 North Carolina and No. 25 Louisville.

"If catching up to Clemson is an impossibility in the short term, UNC could put a strong hold on the Coastal Division and be a factor in reaching a New Year's Six bowl should the Tigers once again advance to the playoff," Myerberg wrote of the Tar Heels. "In sophomore Sam Howell, the Tar Heels have a contender for the nation's best quarterback once Trevor Lawrence heads off to the NFL."

"A program clearly on the rise led by a second-year coach, Scott Satterfield, whose national popularity will continue to expand in the near future," Myerberg continued.          "(Satterfield could be college football's next Matt Rhule, meaning a coach shortlisted by the media for most major openings regardless of interest from either party.) After taking a big step forward in 2019, the Cardinals could be in line for another breakthrough in September."

Also on the list of Top 25 teams, is 2020 opponent Notre Dame.

Entering the rankings at No. 10, the matchup between the Tigers and the Fighting Irish may be the Tigers only hope of a marquee win.

"Brian Kelly continues to speak of how winning a national championship is his final goal at Notre Dame," Myerberg wrote. "(Well, obviously.) Is handing the offense to 27-year-old assistant coach Tommy Rees the way to take that step? Kelly clearly believes that Rees, a former Notre Dame quarterback, can draw the most from this offense and senior Ian Book." 

Tigers are the top pick to make return trip to CFP:

According to Sportsbettingdime.com, the Tigers are the odds-on favorite to make their sixth appearance in the College Football Playoff.

The Tigers enter with at -200, followed by Ohio State (-150), Alabama (-125) and Oklahoma (+125).

According to John Perrotto, the reason for the Tigers anticipated success is one person: Trevor Lawrence:

Clemson will have 14 starters back from a team that went 14-1, the most important being rising junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Lawrence has compiled plenty of impressive statistics during his two seasons with the Tigers, none other than Clemson going 29-1 with him running the offense.

The likely top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft has completed 65.5% of his passes in his career for 6,945 yards and 66 touchdowns. He has been intercepted just 12 times, though the jump in picks to eight last season from four in 2018 is a bit of concern.

Clemson’s offense should again be very balanced. Running back and 2019 ACC Player of the Year Travis Etienne surprisingly bypassed entering the NFL Draft to return for his senior season.

In his three seasons, Etienne has averaged a whopping 7.8 yards per carry while rushing for 4,038 yards and 56 touchdowns on 518 carries. He was also integrated into the passing game last season, posting career highs with 37 receptions and 432 receiving yards.

Wide receiver Justyn Ross had a team-high 66 receptions last year for 865 yards and eight scores.

Furthermore, Xavier Thomas is generally considered the best defensive end in college football.

Clemson must replace four offensive linemen but coach Dabo Swinney should compensate after landing the best recruiting class in the country.

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