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2015 Clemson Football Season Preview: Great Expectations

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Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Every year at STS we have provided a list of expectations for the upcoming season. Some of the expectations are constant, others change from season to season depending on the team. Last year we had a variety of opinions, and this year is no different. Everything from beating Notre Dame to national title contender is on the table. Once again we've provided some expectations from the writing staff rather than a single article listing the site's expectations.

Brian: For me the expectations are similar to last year. I expect us to beat South Carolina again. I expect us to win 10 games, and I expect us to finish 2nd in the division. Even with the injuries and losses the team has suffered, there is no reason not to finish 2nd or better in the Atlantic. I'm a little hesitant about expecting a division title. Despite what many are saying, I think FSU is going to be pretty good. Once again I think the title comes down to the Clemson-FSU game in November and I'm not sure how to predict that. If we go 10-2/11-1 and beat South Carolina it is hard to be too upset given our losses. Oh and even though they will be a tough games, losing to Louisville or Georgia Tech will definitely not mean we are surpassing expectations.

Ryan K: Obviously, we went in depth in our Calculating Expected Wins article about how we believe the season will unfold, but here I'll briefly mention the goals that the Tigers will be working towards this season.

Goal #1 is to reclaim the ACC Title. After winning in 2011, FSU has won three straight. The Seminoles play in Death Valley and are expected to be a bit down this year as their offense is extremely young. The Tigers need to take advantage.

The biggest obstacle may be injuries (and suspensions, leaves of absence, etc.) The summer has taken a toll on the Tigers depth. Losing Isaiah Battle to the supplemental draft thrusts true freshman Mitch Hyatt into a starting role at LT. While I feel he will perform admirably, the second team O-line suffers as a result. That makes the roster less able to absorb injuries and move forward.

The same applies to losing Ebo Ogundeko at DE and Korrin Wiggins at nickelback. Temporarily losing Lakip from special teams and DJ Reader (hopefully temporarily as I expect) off the D-line continues to increase the drop off that additional injuries would cause.

If the team can avoid more personnel losses, I believe the talent and coaching is there for a 10+ win season and an ACC championship. For that reason, I set my goal for this team at an Orange or Peach bowl berth and an ACC title. Realistically though, I know this team is just one or two more injuries away from being "just decent.

Alex C: Based on talent, Clemson should only lose to Notre Dame and FSU. Both contests are in the lauded Death Valley, and Clemson is justifiably favored in all 12 games this season. We have a handful of tough road games but (somehow) have a superior roster compared to each road opponent. As you can see in Ryan Kantor’s upcoming "Calculating Expected Wins" article, the lowest chance of victory I apply to Clemson in any game this season is 55%; looking at each game individually, Clemson should win all 12. However, the season is not played in a vacuum, and a summer full of unexpected attrition lowered my expectations.

Clemson has zero or next to no depth at QB, OL, and DL — the most important positions on any football team. Entering the summer, I felt the schedule and roster set up extremely well for an undefeated season. Now I feel the ceiling has lowered to 11-1, with 10-2 the likely outcome. I expect 10-2 is good enough to win the ACC this year unless the losses are to FSU and Louisville. Clemson should win the Atlantic Division and defeat South Carolina, a successful season by any measure.

Jay: I'll be a broken record and note that Deshaun Watson staying on the field is paramount to Clemson having a successful season, but nearly as big an X factor will be the Tigers' play on the offensive and defensive lines. It was already a concern after losses incurred from last season, but unforeseen attrition has taken this team from "We will probably be fine" to "We are an injury or two away from disaster" regarding the line of scrimmage.All things considered, I expect this to be a 9-win team, perhaps 10 with a good break somewhere. With the youth at key positions and concerns about depth, it's not realistic to predict any more than that in my opinion. I think the Tigers will reach the ACC Championship Game, and they may even win it. But projecting anything beyond that would involve relying on nearly perfect health and incredible fortune, and those are two things you can never assume.

chsmithjr:

Someone has forgotten to fill my kool-aid cup recently. Usually, about this time in the summer, I'm researching flights and hotels for the national championship game, thinking that if we get just a couple of breaks, this could be our year. Not this year. My expectations were already lower than usual due to the massive losses we have on defense. Guys like Jarrett, Beasley, Anthony, and Steward can't just be replaced. Now that we've also lost Wiggins, Joseph, Fields, and Reader, I'm actually growing fearful that our defense will be a major liability. I have been slightly more optimistic about our offense. If everyone can stay healthy, we've got the talent to be a serious threat. However, a suspect o-line makes me think running the ball will be difficult and Watson will be under a lot of duress. It seems unrealistic to believe he will stay completely healthy for a full season. Also, I need more than one game's worth of evidence before I'm going to feel confident with ScElliot. And let's not even discuss special teams. With all of those worries, it's hard for me to believe that we'll be as successful as we have been the last few years. The streak of ten win seasons is over. I think we lose to Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Florida State, and another random team. Honestly, it's hard to say who because it wouldn't shock me if we lost to Louisville, Boston College, Miami, NC State, or USCjr. It would be a huge disappointment, but it wouldn't be a big surprise if we lost more than one of those games. I really, really hope I'm wrong. I hope Brent Venables is the greatest defensive coordinator in the country, the new defenders take advantage of their opportunities, and our defense is respectable, even if it's not up to last year's standard. And I hope that ScElliott proves that two heads are better than one, our offensive line gels quickly, and our offense puts up the PlayStation numbers we all know they're capable of. I hope, but I can't say that I really believe. 9-4 with a crappy bowl win is my prediction.

WelbornTiger: The talent is there on both sides of the ball for an ACC title run, no question. Whether that talent is enough to also make a run at the CFB Playoff and a national title is more questionable. With in-season injury luck (namely managing to avoid injuries at QB, on the OL, at LB & DE), the first teams will see very little drop off. The offense should be considerably better than last year, with the deep pool of talent at the skill positions, a more talented though less experienced OL, and of course, Watson captaining the ship. The 'D' won't be as dominant as last year, but they will be very good if relatively healthy (top-15-20 overall). If the first teams survive the season relatively unscathed, especially early on while younger backups are gaining invaluable snaps, this team could develop the depth in-season to be the last team standing when the last whistle of the last game sounds. But that's a lot of ifs, and history says all of these stars won't align for a perfect season. My guess is Watson misses time against either Louisville or ND early, and we lose to one of them in a close slugfest. I also fear we'll drop one of two against either GA Tech or FSU, despite their being in the Valley, due to attrition at some key spots (probably on 'D' at LB or DE). My gut tells me that Tech is better poised to exploit our lack of depth up front, and will squeak out another close win in the Valley, but I could also see us beating Tech but sustaining some injuries at LB and/or DE that cost us on Nov. 7 against Dalvin Cook and FSU. We beat an over-matched Gamecock squad in Billy Brice as long as Watson plays, and still have a 60-70% shot at that point in the year no matter who runs the 'O."

So I've got us 10-2 regular season. The losses will come @ Louisville and vs. GA Tech, but FSU drops two ACC games and we still make the ACC Title Game, where we exact revenge on PJ and the Jackets to claim the ACC crown. We're left out of the Playoff at 11-2, but defeat #5 TCU with a healthy roster in a New Year's Day bowl to finish in the top 5 at 12-2.

QuackingTiger:
If Deshaun Watson can stay healthy I expect that Clemson will obliterate South Carolina. I expect that Clemson will stay in contention all season for an ACC Championship and playoff spot. I expect that we will win at least 9 games this season with a reasonable chance of winning ten and an outside chance of winning 11. The season hinges on LB play, Defensive line depth, the kicking game, and the Offensive line progressing as the season continues. I expect that we will struggle on kickoffs, kickoff coverage, and field goals in a few key spots.

I don't think you can realistically expect to go to the playoff this year with the string of injuries and losses in the offseason. You don't lose a Grady Jarrett in the middle and a Vic Beasley on the edge and an Anthony and Steward at LB--and not expect dropoff. Its unfortunate because the home schedule is so nice this year and next year the schedule is much tougher (especially with an improving Auburn team at the beginning of the season). We need freshman to step up big to make it to a playoff or ACC Championship and that is never something you can bank on (although I do expect Hyatt, Fruhmorgan, Wilkins, G. Wiliams, Cain, and RayRay to all make significant contributions as the season progresses).

Coach Craft:
My expectations last year really boiled down to beating the coots and ending the streak. I really felt it was a transition year as we bridged from Tajh Boyd to DeShaun Watson.  Now, despite the losses on defense, my expectations are higher for this year's team.  When you are elite at quarterback as Clemson is then you should compete for the ACC title. As Dabo has said, the team is due to play in Charlotte and 2011 is feeling like a long time ago now. FSU has not made it easy by not losing a league game for two years and only one in the last three, so it goes without saying that Clemson must vanquish the Noles in the Valley and at least gain the tiebreaker edge should the team drop one to Louisville or GT.   I don't see this team going unbeaten because of the depth issues at linebacker and defensive end, not to mention the drop off behind Watson should he miss any real time. I am encouraged by the infusion of talent on the offensive line and feel we will feel pretty good about that position group by October, though the trip to Louisville will be a true test of that growth.
With Watson at the helm, I don't see any defense on the schedule that can truly hold this offense down. The Tigers boast NFL skill talent and the expected upgrade at tight end is a factor that cannot be underestimated. Garrett Williams just might be the answer, if only pushing Leggett to finally be the guy we have been waiting on.
I have found it comical listening to ESPN talking heads underestimating the defensive talent on the Tiger roster. I am concerned about linebacker behind the first group, but overall the team has studs up front and in the back four that get tested by a future first round QB and next level wideouts every day. Wayne Gallman is no slouch at running back either.
Besides health, the true X factor will again be special teams. We all know the questions at place kicker that won't be answered until the lights come on, but I want to see if the extra work put in on the return game will pay off. This team is better overall than the 2009 team who had some real limitations in places but made up for a lot of that with excellent return teams. It helped having all time greats at returner in CJ Spiller and Jacoby Ford, but this squad has some pretty elite athletes to choose from also. It could be the difference in 10 wins or 12.  I'm calling for 11-1 with Watson staying healthy and a trip to Charlotte. I won't call past that not knowing who the opponents would be.