As we inch closer to kickoff, we are going to preview BC’s opponents by talking with writers who cover that school. Today we talk with Ryan Kantor, football writer at Shakin the Southland, SBNation’s Clemson blog. Please make sure to follow Ryan and Shakin on Twitter for more Clemson news and opinion.
BCI: 2017 was quite the year for the Clemson Tigers, but petered out in the playoffs. How are Clemson fans feeling after last season?
Kantor: Last year was expected to be a rebuilding year so a third-straight ACC Championship and third-straight playoff berth exceeded expectations. Losing to Alabama was frustrating. That was a very unenjoyable experience in the Superdome, but we have a lot to be excited about this year.
BCI: What are the Tigers’s offensive strengths and weaknesses going into 2018?
Kantor: The offense should be better at each position group. At QB, Kelly Bryant is now more experienced and Trevor Lawrence will provide a QB-2 that can push him and make him take his game to the next level (or be unseated at the starter). We’re already hearing they’re neck-and-neck in practice.
Running back should be stronger too. As the year progressed, Travis Etienne emerged as the most explosive player on the team. He’ll hit the ground running (pun intended) in 2018. Tavien Feaster will get plenty of snaps and Adam Choice seems to be earning significant snaps as a short-yardage back. True freshman Lyn-J Dixon has impressed in Fall Camp and will provide depth.
The offensive line loses two starters, but has highly-touted prospects ready to contribute and fill the void. The line should be as good or better than last season.
The biggest strength though is at WR. Despite losing Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud to the NFL draft, I expect this group to improve and it should be the best Clemson WR corps since Sammy Watkins and Deandre Hopkins were on the same team. Rising Sophomore Tee Higgins is ready to breakout, but the depth around him will likely limit his numbers. Justyn Ross and Deondre Overton would start on most ACC teams. Hunter Renfrow is back and while he is often type-cast as a slow, small, sure-handed option, he has enough explosiveness to do THIS to the Cocks. Also, he was statistically the most sure-handed across the conference in ACC play. Amari Rodgers is likely to start and will remind many of Artavis Scott, the tough mudder who made big plays as a versatile weapon.
The weakness is TE. Last year, Clemson had the fewest receiving yardage from TEs since 2010. The blocking wasn’t great either. They should be better with Milan Richard more experience and Garrett Williams returning from knee injury, but it’s still the obvious weak spot on an otherwise star-studded offense.
BCI: Clemson’s defensive line is arguably the best in the country. How scary are they going to be this year?
Kantor: I think most teams will have to plan their entire game plan around dealing with our defensive line. When playing Alabama, teams generally discover they can’t run between the tackles to any success and have to rely on quick passes much more heavily. I think we’ll see this throughout much of the season. The only team on our schedule that has a good chance to establish the run against Clemson is Boston College. AJ Dillon is exceptional and could potentially give Boston College some balance when the Tigers go to Chestnut Hill.
BCI: Are there any teams on your schedule this year that you actually think can beat Clemson?
Kantor: Clemson generally puts together a very strong schedule. We’ve played Georgia, Notre Dame, and Auburn in the past couple of seasons. This year the schedule is much softer as our big non-conference game is at Kyle Field against Texas A&M and our rotating Coastal Opponent is Duke (it was at VT last season). Clemson has lost to Pittsburgh and Syracuse in the past two seasons, so anything is possible, but Texas A&M, Florida State, Boston College, and South Carolina are our toughest matchups. I’m high on BC and think that and the road game against FSU are the most probable loss. My expectations now is 11-1, and since BC has a ridiculous ACC schedule, I don’t think a lone loss there would impact our season like a loss at FSU could.
BCI: Tell me a player that BC fans don’t know yet, but should be aware of before our matchup?
Kantor: WR Tee Higgins was quiet against BC last year, but expect Clemson to get the most out of the “9-WR” spot (where Mike Williams and Deandre Hopkins played) as we should have a couple of options who can win jump balls, one of them being Tee Higgins.
BCI: Hollywood producers are going to make a movie on Clemson football, who would play Dabo Swinney, and who would play the Clemson Tiger?
Kantor: Bradley Cooper as Dabo Swinney (We Are Marshall is fantastic) and Zach Galifianakis is the Tiger.
BCI: What is the craziest or most unique Clemson tradition (football or non-football)?
Kantor: For about 40 years we released balloons while the players ran down the hill. The most epic iteration of this was in 1983. Reportedly, PETA pressured Clemson to end the tradition (Source: TCI) and now it’ll end this year. My understanding is that the balloons used for the past couple years were biodegradable, but that either wasn’t enough to avoid environmental problems or the narrative had already formed. We’ll see how they adjust to keep running down the hill awe-inducing. Hopefully it continues to be a great tradition.
My favorite tradition is our Military Appreciation Day ceremony. Last year, there was a flyover, a 21-gun salute, and Lee Greenwood show at halftime. It’s always well done and last year was next level.
BCI: It’s summertime. What is your beer/liquor and song choice for this summer?
Kantor: Skim milk and “God Bless the USA.”
I’m just busting your chops! How about Hell or High Watermelon by 21st Amendment Brewing (also shout out to my local Atlanta brewery Three Taverns for their Rapturous sour) and THIS Capital Cities song for a great summer tune?
BCI: Final question: Pick a GIF that best describes how you envision Clemson’s season going this year.