"Unlimited potential" has Swinney excited

Zach Lentz

The Clemson Tigers are projected by ESPN to have the best offense this season, ranking No. 1 in their "Future Offensive Power Rankings"

"Scouting the Tigers: This was a fairly easy choice, mainly because Trevor Lawrence will lead the unit for two more seasons," ESPN wrote. "Clemson has also established itself as the nation's premier wide receiver program, and while the legendary Hunter Renfrow departs, standouts such as Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross are back. The Tigers get 1,600-yard rusher Travis Etienne for at least one more season, and Lyn-J Dixon is only a sophomore. 

"Offensive line recruitment and development has steadily improved at Clemson, which loses standout tackle Mitch Hyatt but should be in good shape. Clemson's overall recruiting on offense is virtually unmatched nationally."

The 2019 season will mark the second time in school history (and the second time in the last four years) that Clemson has returned a 3,000-yard passer (Trevor Lawrence), a 1,500-yard rusher (Travis Etienne) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Justyn Ross) in the same year. The only other Clemson team to welcome back such a trio was the eventual national champion 2016 squad, which returned quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Wayne Gallman and wide receiver Mike Williams.

The feeling that this group of offensive players could be one of the greatest to ever take the field--not only at Clemson, but in college football history also--is not lost on the coaching staff either.

"Oh, man, unlimited potential, incredible," head coach Dabo Swinney said. "It's incredible. And Tee (Higgins); that (touchdown) catch (in the national championship game) Tee made was spectacular. The throw, he put it in one spot where only Tee could go get it, and I think Justin...his confidence, his development, he is easily one of the most technically advanced players I've ever coached at that position."

Ross announced his presence on a national stage in a big way as a true freshman in 2018, combining for 12 catches, 301 yards and three touchdowns in College Football Playoff games against No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 1 Alabama. 

Despite not starting a single game, he led Clemson with 1,000 receiving yards a season ago, including nine touchdowns among his 46 receptions. He joined Sammy Watkins (1,219 in 2011) as the only players in school history to post 1,000 receiving yards as a freshman.

However, the coaching staff saw the potential that Ross had in practice well before the CFP games started.

"I've spent my whole life coaching wideouts, and sometimes you get guys, and they have all the tools, but it's going to take a little – you've just kind of got to put it all together. But from day one," Swinney said. "I mean, his physicality, his – he's a big guy, and his ability to stick a foot in the ground and go another direction is unique, and you saw that last night. But his understanding and knowledge of route running, his technique at his break points, his ability to influence and manipulate the defender, and then he's just got freaky ball skills. I mean, it's unbelievable those catches he made last night. We see it all the time in practice.

"He made a catch in camp that – I mean, he hadn't even played a game, and he was like on ESPN from one of our scrimmages. Those plays come natural to him. It's pretty special to see what he was able to do this year as a freshman and how humble he is and how he went about his work and the development of he and Trevor this year, and then as we progressed we were able to get those guys on the field a lot together, and that created – and you put him back there under center, ET at tailback, man, it gave us a lot of options."

It is that kind of offensive monster that is sure to have opposing defensive coordinators spending many sleepless nights trying to figure out how to stop the Tigers. While leaving Swinney bubbling with excitement. 

"So I'm excited to know that we got that No. 8 (Ross) back next year, and Tee and Trevor," Swinney said. "So should be fun."