If the three Clemson related blog posts this week didn’t give it away, I, like the rest of Tiger Nation, am very excited about the impending football season (that can happen when you’re a reigning champion). I asked former Clemson football recruiting assistant, Jon Tomevi, to share his expectations for Clemson’s upcoming football season, as I did earlier in the week. Jon did that and more with an insightful game-by-game breakdown for our Tigers.
2012 Clemson Football Preview
Clemson comes into the 2012 season ranked 14th in the country, its highest pre-season ranking since 2008 (9th). After a 10-4 record, ACC Championship, and the program’s first BCS bowl appearance, the expectations in Tiger Town are very high. Clemson returns virtually all of its playmakers from the 2011 team which had the nation’s 24th best scoring offense under first year Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris. Below are my brief game-by-game predictions for the 2012 season.
vs. Auburn (September 1, 7:00pm, ESPN)
Unlike the past three years, Clemson will open the season away from Death Valley. A matchup with a familiar Auburn team in a city where Clemson has struggled of late makes for a very intriguing game to start the 2012 campaign. There are quite a few storylines in play, but three stick out to me in particular.
First, Clemson will be without preseason ACC Player of the Year Sammy Watkins. Watkins torched Auburn in their 2011 matchup and was a huge reason Clemson broke Auburn’s 17 game winning streak. Believe it or not, I am not too worried about Clemson missing Watkins. Wide Receiver is Clemson’s deepest position and Nuk Hopkins has proven he can be a big-time receiver when needed. The offseason progress of sophomores Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake, along with the reliability of senior Jaron Brown, should give Tajh Boyd plenty of options to attack a depleted Auburn secondary.
Second, both teams are dealing with new coordinators and this will be their first true test. Brent Venables was brought to Clemson because of his proven ability to stop the spread offense. Meanwhile, Auburn brought in new coordinators on both sides of the football. I have only heard good things about Venables thus far and the players seem to love his system. Although I expect Kiehl Frazier to be starting for Auburn’s offense and eventually be an All-SEC QB at Auburn, I am not sure how he is going to handle learning a new offense and making his first career start against a Clemson secondary that returns three starters from 2011. On the other side of the football, Auburn’s defense is young but returns nine starters from last season.
Lastly, the game is in Atlanta where Clemson historically has struggled. Clemson hasn’t won in the Gate City since January 2004 and is 1-5 in openers away from Death Valley since 1975. Despite Clemson’s inexperience on the offensive line, I think their talent at the skill positions will prove too much for Auburn’s defense which was prone to big plays in 2011.
Favorable Stat: Auburn’s defense held opponents just to 48.39% on third down conversions in 2011 which ranked last in the SEC and 107th nationally.
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 27, Auburn 21
vs. Ball State (September 8, 12:30pm, ESPN3)
Next on Clemson’s schedule is Ball State. The Cardinals finished 2011 with a 6-6 record and a 4th place finish in the MAC’s West Division. While their offense finished in the middle of the pack nationally in 2011, their defense was atrocious and surrendered nearly 35 points a game. Ball State was blown out against the two ranked opponents they faced last year and I don’t see this trend changing when the visit Death Valley. Even without Sammy Watkins suiting up, Clemson shouldn’t have a problem scoring enough points to put this game away in the third quarter.
Favorable Stat: Ball State’s defense gave up at least 500 yards in 8 of their 12 games in 2011.
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 45, Ball State 13
vs. Furman (September 15, 3:00pm)
The Paladins come marching down I-85 with nothing to lose in a week three matchup versus the Tigers. While compiling a 6-5 record in 2011, Furman ended the season by giving Florida a run for their money in Gainesville. Furman outscored their 2011 opponents 103-46 in the first quarter last year, so a quick start from the FCS challengers would not be shocking. In the end though, the return of Watkins along with superior talent across the board propel the Tigers to their third win of 2012 and set up a huge ACC opener in Tallahassee.
Favorable Stat: Furman ranked near the bottom of the FCS with only 5.09 tackles for a loss per game in 2011.
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 49, Furman 17
at Florida State (September 22)
Clemson’s toughest road test of the season comes early in the season and could very well determine the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Florida State, ranked 7th in the Coaches’ Poll, has only lost to Clemson in Tallahassee once since 1990. Although they underachieved in 2011, the Seminoles are a very talented squad and won’t make things easy on the Tigers. Although Clemson has the playmakers to win this game, Florida State’s talented defensive line may give Clemson too much trouble in front of a raucous crowd. I do think this will be a close game, but I have to give the edge and inside track to a division championship to the home team.
Favorable Stat: Florida State was 110th nationally in 2011 allowing 3.15 sacks per game.
Jon’s Prediction: Florida State 30, Clemson 24
at Boston College (September 29)
Coming off a tough loss to Florida State the week before, Clemson will be the more talented team and hungry for their first ACC win of 2012. Without Luke Kuechly and Montel Harris, I can’t see the Eagles being much better this season. Despite the hire of Offensive Coordinator Doug Martin, Clemson’s defense should be able to contain a Boston College offense that ranked in the bottom half of the FBS last season. The Eagles’ run defense was very poor last year, and I expect All-ACC RB Andre Ellington to have a big afternoon.
Favorable Stat: Boston College ranked last in the nation with only 8 sacks in 2011.
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 38, Boston College 14
vs. Georgia Tech (October 6)
It’s Brent Venables’ turn to figure out Paul Johnson’s triple option offense. Truthfully, not too many teams figured out how to stop Georgia Tech last season as the Jackets averaged nearly 35 points per game with the nation’s second best rushing attack. Luckily for Clemson, they don’t need to stop the triple option to win the game, they just need to slow it down enough for the offense to take the game over. Clemson could have easily won last year’s matchup if they took better care of the football and I expect them to do that in front of the home crowd this year. Brent Venables 1 – Paul Johnson 0.
Favorable Stat: Georgia Tech allowed opponents to score TDs on 66.67% of trips to red zone last season (95th nationally).
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 35, Georgia Tech 24
vs. Virginia Tech (October 22)
Simply put, Clemson’s offense was too quick for Bud Foster’s defense in 2011. The Tigers handedly beat Virginia Tech twice last year and the Hokies will be looking to replace eight starters on the offensive side of the football. Logan Thomas is a very skilled QB who should be even better in 2012, but the lack of weapons at his disposal should allow Clemson’s defense to force turnovers and set up Chad Morris’ troops to really wear down the Hokies.
Favorable Stat: Virginia Tech’s net punting in 2011 was only 33.62 yards per punt which ranked 108th nationally.
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 24, Virginia Tech 13
at Wake Forest (October 25, 7:30pm, ESPN)
To me, this is a trap game for Clemson. Wake Forest proved they were a team on the rise last season by beating Florida State and taking Clemson right down to the wire in Death Valley. After Clemson’s last Thursday night game in Winston-Salem, Tommy Bowden stepped down as head coach. Historically, Clemson hasn’t played well on Thursdays but I think Dabo will have everyone focused and ready to take care of business. This will be a much closer game than it should be, but a big play in the fourth quarter will give the Tigers the lead for good as they escape with a 4-1 ACC record.
Favorable Stat: Wake Forest only converted 35.45% of 3rd downs which ranked last in the ACC and 103rd nationally.
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 28, Wake Forest 24
at Duke (November 3)
After squeaking out a tight win versus Wake Forest, the Tigers will use the extra days of rest to be ready to take it to the Blue Devils in Durham. Despite the impressive All-ACC WR Conner Veron, Duke will be outmatched at every position on the field. Duke fans will already be looking forward to basketball season at this point and Clemson shouldn’t have a problem earning another ACC win.
Favorable Stat: In 2011, Duke had the worst turnover margin in the ACC (-0.75 per game).
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 45, Duke 10
vs. Maryland (November 10)
After cruising to a win in Durham the week before, Clemson hosts ACC Atlantic cellar-dweller Maryland. Maryland is coming off of a dismal 2-10 season in 2011 and by this point in the season I don’t think their confidence is going to be too high. Head Coach Randy Edsall had five starters transfer from the program and lost others to graduation, so it may not be Maryland’s year to improve an offense that ranked 90th in the FBS and a defense that ranked 111th. Even though Maryland gave Clemson all they could handle last season, I don’t see the Tigers being challenged in this one, especially at home.
Favorable Stat: Maryland converted on just 69.57% of red zone trips which ranked last in the ACC and 113th nationally
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 41, Maryland 14
vs. North Carolina State (November 17)
Arguably Clemson’s ugliest loss of 2011 came on the road against North Carolina State at about this same time in the season. It’s hard to predict how the Wolfpack will fare in 2012. They didn’t do very many things well the first half of last season, but picked up steam coming down the stretch. 2011 AP All-American CB David Amerson has the ability to slow Watkins down, but the Tigers simply have too much talent to fall to this NC State team two years in a row. The Textile Bowl Trophy is going to stay in the West End Zone this offseason.
Favorable Stat: NC State only had 36 plays of 20 or more yards in 2011 which ranked 11th in the ACC and 108th nationally
Jon’s Prediction: Clemson 31, NC State 17
vs. South Carolina (November 24)
Clemson’s regular season comes to an end at home versus the much hated South Carolina Gamecocks. Clemson will be looking to avoid losing this game for the fourth year in a row, something that has not happened since the 1950s. As much as I dislike South Carolina, they have a very talented team. RB Marcus Lattimore should be a Heisman Trophy contender if healthy and QB Connor Shaw proved he could lead this offense in 2011.
The Gamecocks had the nation’s third best scoring defense in 2011, and although they will need to replace four starters on that side of the ball, I expect to see a strong defense once again. Much like Dabo, Spurrier’s biggest concern this offseason was filling holes on the offensive line. I don’t except to see a blowout again this season, but I’m not sure how much confidence I have in picking the Tigers to break the three game losing streak.
Favorable Stat: Since 2005, Steve Spurrier has had 44 players arrested.
Jon’s Prediction: South Carolina 24, Clemson 20
If everything plays out as I predict, Clemson will finish the 2012 regular season with a very respectable 10-2 record. The Week Four loss in Tallahassee would likely come back to bite the Tigers and keep them out of the ACC Championship game. I could see Clemson dropping the Thursday night matchup against Wake Forest or the season opener versus Auburn, so 10-2 is optimistic.
There are three main keys to Clemson’s success in 2012:
1) A lot of freshmen and sophomores saw significant minutes in 2011 for the Fightin’ Dabos. Although it wasn’t always pretty last year, Tiger fans should hopefully see these younger players make significant strides forward in 2012 after learning and growing from 2011 this offseason. How these players handle themselves will be a big factor in how Clemson performs this season.
2) Excluding games against Virginia Tech, Clemson’s 2011 defense was not pretty to watch. After the Orange Bowl blowout, Dabo sent Kevin Steele packing and brought in Brent Venables from Oklahoma. Although I still think Steele wasn’t 100% of the problem, a change in defensive culture may prove to be a good thing for the Tigers. The players seem to prefer the simplicity of Venables’ defense so far and I hope this a sign of things to come in 2012. Clemson should have one of the nation’s top offenses again, but the key to a successful 2012 season will be the defense. Will the defense stop opponents enough to give Clemson a chance to return to another ACC Championship game?
3) Clemson started eight different players on the offensive line in 2011. Only two of those players return in 2012. The big key to repeating as one of the nation’s top offenses will be how well this unit plays. All-ACC Center Dalton Freeman should anchor the offensive line and provide the veteran leadership the younger guys need to succeed. With the installation of some packages from the Pistol Offense, Chad Morris and Robbie Caldwell have worked on some new blocking schemes with this group already. If this unit can gel together and give Boyd enough time to get the ball in the hands of Clemson’s playmakers, the Tigers will be able to showcase another exciting offense in 2012.
There are definitely plenty of unanswered questions coming into this season, but that is what makes it so exciting for Clemson fans. Although we will never stop hearing “will Clemson pull another Clemson?” there has been a definite culture change these past three seasons. I have had a chance to witness the culture change at Clemson closer than most people, and trust me, everyone in and near the football program believes in Dabo. This is not the same Clemson team we saw under Tommy Bowden from 1999-2008, and I am very optimistic the 2012 Tigers will be the team we all hope they will be.
Thank you for reading. If you’re interested in writing a guest blog post, please contact me via twitter or in the comments below.
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