2010 NCAA Football Preview: Clemson Tigers

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 9-5, 6-2
Bowl Game: Music City Bowl (W 21-13 vs. Kentucky)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): 24, NR
Conference finish: 1st ACC Atlantic
Offensive rank: 74
Defensive rank: 20

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: C.J. Spiller, 1,212 yards, 12 TD
Passing: Kyle Parker, 2,526 yards, 20 TD, 12 INT
Receiving: Jacoby Ford, 779 yards, 6 TD; Michael Palmer, 507 yards, 4 TD; C.J. Spiller, 503 yards, 4 TD
Tackles: Kavell Conner, 103 total tackles; DeAndre McDaniel, 98 total tackles; Marcus Gilchrist, 96 total tackles; Brandon Maye, 95 total tackles
Sacks: Ricky Sapp, 5 sacks (5 solo)
Interceptions: DeAndre McDaniel, 8 interceptions (1 touchdown); Rashard Hall, 6 interceptions

2010 Season Outlook

(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

October 2 vs. Miami: Clemson came into last year's matchup with the Canes as a .500 team taking on the 10th ranked team in the nation. An excellent performance from C.J. Spiller in the running, passing and return game provided the Tigers with the spark they needed and the Tigers ended up winning in overtime. With Spiller and Jacoby Ford, who scored the winning touchdown in last year's game, now in the NFL, the Tigers will look elsewhere for a spark.

October 9 @ North Carolina: Any team who plays North Carolina in the ACC must look at it as a key game. They're not the same team that finished near the bottom of the conference for so many years. Butch Davis has built this program into a legitimate conference contender with eyes on a BCS bowl berth. Clemson has played UNC just once since the conference expanded.

October 30 @ Boston College/November 13 @ Florida State: The Tigers will compete with the Eagles and Seminoles for the ACC Atlantic crown and the right to play for the ACC Championship and ultimately a spot in the Orange Bowl. The defending Atlantic champs beat both the Eagles and Seminoles last season and would help themselves if they could do the same in their bid to get another shot at the ACC title.

Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)


Coaches': N/A

Key Losses

C.J. Spiller, RB; Jacoby Ford, WR; Michael Palmer, TE; Thomas Austin, G; Ricky Sapp, DE; Kavell Conner, LB; Kevin Alexander, LB; Chris Chancellor, CB; Crezdon Butler, CB

Key Returning Players

Kyle Parker, QB; Jamie Harper, RB; Andre Ellington, RB; Chris Hariston, OT; Landon Walker, OT; Da'Quan Bowers, DE; Jarvis Jenkins, DT; Brandon Maye, LB; DeAndre McDaniel, S

Offensive Overview

Clemson fans everywhere let out a collective sigh of relief when quarterback Kyle Parker announced that he will be returning to play for the Tigers football team this season. Parker enjoyed a fabulous freshman season in which he passed for 2,526 yards and threw 20 touchdowns with 12 interceptions and was named a Freshman All-American. Parker's return is a major boost for the Tigers as they compete with Florida State and Boston College in the Atlantic Division.

To Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington falls the responsibility of replacing C.J. Spiller in the running game. Both Harper and Ellington hold high expectations entering the fall after individual seasons of for 400+ rushing yards and four touchdowns in secondary roles behind Spiller. Ellington is the speedier of the two, with Harper a 6'0, 230 pound force in the running game. At this point, replacing Jacoby Ford will also be a team effort with Xavier Dye, Marquan Jones, Terrence Austin and Brandon Clear vying for time. Dwayne Allen emerged this spring as the successor for All-ACC first teamer Michael Palmer at tight end. Allen hauled in 10 passes for 108 yards in 2009, while also scoring three touchdowns.

FSU and Boston College will field two of the game's top O-Lines, but the Tigers will field one of the conference's top lines as well. The loss of guard Thomas Austin hurts, but the four returners have plenty of starting experience. Tackle Chris Hairston will hold down the left side with tackle Landon Walker holding the right. Dalton Freeman will start at center after a freshman All-American and co-Offensive Rookie of the Year debut with Antoine McClain starting at right guard. Filling Austin's shoes at left guard will come down to either David Smith or Mason Cloy, who was injured this spring. Wilson Nelson's torn ACL suffered in the spring hurts the depth of the offensive line.

Defensive Overview

The Tigers also lose some key players on the defensive side of the ball, most notably both starting cornerbacks and two starting linebackers. The Tigers also lost pass rusher Ricky Sapp, but hope junior Da'Quan Bowers can reach his full potential this season after two injury riddled seasons hampered his production. Andre Branch, coming off a 38 tackle, two sack season, and Malliciah Goodman, a co-Rookie of the Year on defense and most improved defensive end following spring practice, will battle for the other spot. Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson both return to start in the middle. There is great depth along the line which will prove handy in keeping fresh bodies lined up all game long.

Only Brandon Maye returns among last season's starting linebackers. Maye started in his first two seasons and recorded 95 tackles last season, but is being challenged for his spot on the weakside by sophomore Jonathan Willard. Corico Hawkins is expected to take over in the middle, while Quandon Christian is the favorite on the strongside. Christian will be challenged by Scotty Cooper, a senior looking for his first opportunity to start.

The secondary must replace both cornerbacks in 2010. Marcus Gilchrist moves over from safety to assume one of the starting spots, while Byron Maxwell will line up on the opposite side. Rashard Hall, the other co-Defensive Rookie of the Year, will take Gilchrist's spot at free safety after a true freshman campaign of 63 tackles and six interceptions. DeAndre McDaniel is the leader and star of the unit after deciding to return to Clemson for his senior season. McDaniel was second on the team with 98 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, recorded two sacks and led the ACC with eight interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. He was the team's Defensive MVP, a first team All-American, a preseason All-American in 2010 and is one of the nation's top safety prospects entering the season..

Special Teams Overview

It appears that both punter Dawson Zimmerman and kicker Richard Jackson defended their starting spots this spring after questions were raised about their job security. Zimmerman averaged 39.1 yards per punt last season, while Jackson was 20 for 31 in field goals, missing nine of his 16 attempts from beyond 40 yards. He was second in the conference and tied for 12th in the nation with 20 field goals, but his 64.5% accuracy has some worried. He did make six field goals to beat Boston College last season, though. Consistency is needed in the kicking game, meaning if Jackson falters, one of the Tigers' younger legs could get their opportunity.

The return game will miss C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford who each scored a touchdown off of a punt return. Spiller even returned four kicks for touchdowns last season. Four! Spiller and Ford combined to average 19.6 yards per punt return and 29.0 yards per kick return. Finding replacements who can deliver close to what Ford and Spiller delivered on a consistent basis is important for the Tigers, as their big play potential in the return game gave Clemson that added element that proved so valuable. Andre Ellington and Marcus Gilchrist have been mentioned as possible replacements, although the return spots sit vacant on the preseason depth chart.

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney

Dabo Swinney started at Clemson as the wide receivers coach in 2003 and was promoted to head coach following the 2008 season after a stint as interim head coach following Tommy Bowden's resignation in October of that year. Swinney coached the Tigers to a 4-3 record after taking over midway through the 2008 season (7-6 overall) and coached the Tigers to a 9-5 record and ACC Atlantic Division title in his first season as full-time head coach.

Swinney was a wide receiver at Alabama in the early nineties and even got his coaching start as a graduate assistant and later wide receivers and tight ends coach from 1993 to 2000. Swinney returned to coaching in 2003 with Clemson and the rest, as they say, is history.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Chris Hairston, OT; Jarvis Jenkins, DT; Marcus Gilchrist, CB; DeAndre McDaniel, S

Season Prediction

2nd ACC Atlantic

Parker's return makes Clemson one of the ACC's biggest players. With a year of experience now under his belt, he returns as one of the conference's top quarterbacks. If the Tigers hope to win the Atlantic Division and have their shot at the ACC title, they'll have to find a spark on offense. Replacing Spiller and Ford will be tough, but not impossible. Clemson recruits well and bring in the 19th ranked class in 2010 according to Rivals, and a top 20 recruiting class in five of the past six seasons. Ellington and Harper will carry the load at running back with a committee of receivers looking to make their presence known in the passing game. A talented and experienced offensive line will help things along.

On defense, Clemson replaces five starters, but do so with some talented individuals. Hall's emergence last season will prove significant, as it made possible Gilchrist's move to cornerback, where the Tigers are replacing two starters. Getting pressure on the quarterback and stiffening up in run defense will be two important goals for the Clemson D in 2010.

As a side note, a lot of college football fans have heard the story of linebacker recruit Jake Nicolopulos and Clemson's decision to honor his scholarship after he had a stroke in December that ended his football career, but for those who haven't, this is a good article on the subject.

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.