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2016 Clemson Football Season Preview: Writer Expectations

NCAA Football: ACC Football Kickoff Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It has become a tradition at STS to do an article on expectations for Clemson football. Once again members of the staff have put their expectations below. But before we get to that I want to define expectations for this article.

Expectations are not goals. For Clemson the goals in 2016 could be win the Atlantic Division, win the ACC, and win the National Championship. Goals are something the team is going to try to achieve. Not achieving those goals means the season is a failure. It is possible, but if Clemson accomplishes every goal but winning a national championship in 2016 is the season really a failure? Many would say no.

This is where expectations come in. Expectations are sort of a floor for team performance. If the team doesn’t meet expectations then the season is certainly a failure. Rising above the expectations is always good, and hopefully it means a successful season.

Brian: Expectations this year are interesting. Because of how the divisions break down there has to be an evaluation of FSU before setting expectations. This year FSU should be good, as in good enough to beat us and possibly win a national title. Because of this I think expectations for Clemson drop a bit in my mind. I still expect Clemson to beat South Carolina, and Auburn as well. But I’m not expecting a division or conference title. Instead I’m expecting a 10-2 season or better. Plus a solid bowl game win. This year it is really hard for me to say not winning the ACC is a failure because of how good FSU will be.

Anthony: This season I expect Clemson to start off slow. The talk this entire off-season has been about how prolific this offense will be in 2016, while I do agree it will be prolific, I think the Tigers will come out lazy against Auburn. It's human nature to relax when you are being told how good you are all of the time. By the second half of the game I think Watson and company will have figured things out. I expect Clemson to bring their own guts to Tallahasse and beat FSU en route to an undefeated regular season. Win the ACC, and make it back to the College Football Playoff. Oh, and a lot of post-game dancing from Dabo Swinney!

Ryan Kantor: As is merited, my hopes and expectations for the 2016 Clemson Tigers are quite high. I've been impressed watching Dabo recognize and correct team weaknesses - despite the occasional sugar-coating to the media. We saw him do this with mental toughness, toughness in the trenches, and now I believe we'll see it with focus and execution on special teams.

While more than a couple of key players departed (Goodson, Alexander, Lawson, Dodd, Gore, and Mac Lain to name a few), Clemson still has the talent and coaching to win the ACC... except one major road block: the Seminoles.

Only two Power 5 teams return more starters than the Florida State Seminoles: LSU and Louisville. Clemson will have to face both Louisville and Florida State and I'm not sure they can beat them both, but if they split they could be left out of the playoff, even at 11-1.

I expect Clemson to finish 11-1 with a trip to a major six bowl game. We'll need some things to go our way to get back to the playoff (as does any playoff team). After finishing just a play or two away from a title, this year I want it all. Realistically, I'm expecting a loss and a painful one that could keep us out of the playoff, but I want the trophy this year more than ever. Then, understanding that most of our offense will leave after this season, I can bring my hopes back to a realistic level moving forward. Just for this year, let me be greedy... Put a ring on it!

David: Clemson should run the table in the regular season, win the ACC and make the playoffs once again. Deshaun Watson should win the Heisman. Although the defense is a a bit of a question mark, Clemson’s stacked offense should carry it through its regular season schedule. The only real test is the Seminoles. If Clemson can get past FSU at Tallahassee, Clemson should have to the opportunity to try to win the national title in Deshaun Watson’s last season as a Tiger.

T.J.: Going into the 2015-16 football season, I had very little expectations. Sure, Clemson brought back a quarterback who had shown flashes against Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina, but he was coming off an ACL injury. Then there were the losses on the defensive side of the ball and question marks about the kicking game. After a season of bliss and high blood pressure that ended with the smallest of heartbreaks, it's time to go All In on Deshaun and the Tigers. Yes, there are some tough games on the schedule - you can't overlook going to Auburn when they have a whole off-season to prepare or a trip to Tallahassee for a primetime showdown. Louisville will present some challenges to the young Clemson secondary.

But with all that aside, anything less than an ACC Championship and a return trip to the College Football Playoffs will be a disappointment. In what will most certainly be Deshaun's final season in orange and white, Clemson must capitalize on his brilliance and take the final step they could not last season. While it's not natty or bust, it will be a major letdown to be shut out of the playoffs and have to move into next season and beyond wondering what might've been.

Robert: If Deshaun Watson were not at quarterback, I would say a ten win season and a bowl victory would be reasonable expectations. This year is different, though. Expectations are to win every game other than Florida State, which should be a toss-up, and make the final four. If FSU goes undefeated and Clemson wins every game convincingly, but loses to FSU, both teams have a chance to make the playoff.

Alex Craft: I hate to say this year is national title or bust; it isn’t a fair or rational expectation. But to come so close, anything less than winning it all will feel a disappointment if I am honest with myself. When a team wins a title and fails to do so next year, it’s forgivable because 1) it’s tough to repeat and 2) fans can fall back on last year’s championship. Clemson does not have that luxury; quite the opposite since we came so close and came away empty-handed.

I will try and keep the same expectation I had last year: anything less than an ACC championship is disappointing (not unsatisfactory, merely disappointing) and any postseason victories are icing on the cake. But deep down I want it all and I expect this team to finish what last year’s team could not.

Ryan F: I might sound like an orange kool-aid drinker but my expectations for this season are extremely high. I think we can actually go 15-0 and win the national championship. However, I see the FSU game as a potential losable game. I think it’ll be hard fought and close but I think in the end we figure out a way to come out of Tallahassee with Dabo’s first win there. A lot of people are picking FSU to win the ACC as well as both FSU and Clemson making the CFP. I think it’s possible but unlikely. I don’t think its a guarantee that FSU wins in Louisville this year. I think the defense will be a bit of a work on progress as the year goes on but I think our offense is too good to have a letdown this year. My only real worry is the Special Teams but I’m hoping an added emphasis on it this offseason will allow us to finish the job this year.

WelbornTiger: My expectations for the season or very optimistic, but that optimism is based on the quiet confidence I've seen and heard from the coaching staff and players coming out of spring and especially fall camp. I think we'll navigate the regular season schedule unscathed, as only FSU has the talent on both sides of the ball to really compete with us, and all things being equal, I'll take DW4 as the tie-breaker, even in a hostile Doak Campbell environment. Thursday night in the ATL on a short week is scary, or would be for past Tiger teams, but this one is just too far ahead talent-wise to slip up against PJ and the Jackets. Our defense and Louisville's "D" will be similar, but again, I'll take out signal caller over theirs, and we'll take them at home. Everyone else on the schedule in-conference may hang around for a quarter or half, but eventually our talent will pull away handily. We beat the Tigers/War Eagles/Plainsmen on their turf because they are breaking in a new QB and a new DC that historically struggles with mobile QBs, and we've got the best. Even with untested talent on defense giving up some busts, just don't see them hanging with us for four quarters, home or away. And obviously the Shamecocks at home will be a hearty Thanksgiving weekend meal. 12-0 regular season, beat UNC again in the ACC championship, take down an SEC foe this time in the Peach Bowl Playoff (my money's on LSU), then dismantle Urban Meyer's Buckeyes in Tampa to claim our second national title. Rejoice! GO TIGERS

Matt Goldin: My expectation this year is another at least another Championship appearance, with a solid chance of getting the win this time. Deshaun should be making another appearance in New York for the Heisman. I'll be shocked if the award doesn't go to him, Leonard Fournette at LSU, or Colin McAfferty from Stanford. In the regular season, there are games that make me nervous that would have down right terrified me in the past. FSU will be tough. Haven't won there since Will Proctor, James Davis, and CJ Spiller led us to a close win in '06. That'll be a great game to watch, regardless. Ga Tech scares me only because weird things happen on the Flats. We haven't won there since the beat down of Reggie "4th Down Spike" Ball's team in 2003, despite bringing in teams that any many years were superior. Fortunately, Venebles seems to know how to stop the option, so we should be able to keep the game from being decided by Ron Cherry as long as we stay healthy. Louisville will be a tough one as well, but they come to Death Valley. All in all, I think this team is talented enough to earn a trip to Tampa and bring home the Natty.

Coach Craft: I'm with Welborn on this. My expectation is winning it all as long as 4 is healthy. I honestly can't fathom how to defend this team and it should protect the ball better this year than last. We might have a bump in the road defensively but nothing the offense can't overcome. Losing Williams last year actually has helped because we would have leaned on him hard last year which probably would have slowed the progress of Cain and Renfrow. Plus he would have gone pro and we would be untested at the vital 9 position. Having him makes dealing with our screen and option packages a nightmare because rolling to that front side means playing single on him. We will check to the fade every time we see that happen. Then you think of slipping Gallman or Feaster out behind Williams vacating and it gets even scarier. We are barely playing our stars in fall scrimmages which means we are really just getting the depth ready at WR, RB, TE, and QB. The defense has less star power but hopefully won't get out of the system the way Mack, Kearse, and Green would from time to time because of how confident they were. Mack busted assignments a lot more than people realize because he didn't turn his guy loose when he did it but he put others in a bind as a result every now and then. Dabo has hinted at this a little. The X factor is special teams and just imagine how this team will be if that becomes a strength. I can't imagine we won't see improvement there with the returning kickers and added return weapons. We are going to handle Auburn like Southern Cal did in 2004 which announced their arrival on the national scene. FSU will be a war but Watson will win the game as long as the support doesn't pull a Norton or Davidson like in 2014. I can't wait to end the Bobby Dodd curse and hopefully send PJ packing like we did Golden. Then we need to send a clear message to Muschamp in the Valley. No moral victories this time.

QuackingTiger: Beat USCjr by a wide margin. Have 11+ wins. Be in contention for a playoff spot and I think this year (with Deshaun Watson) we can expect to make the playoff.

John: When I really and truly think about it, I have 2 expectations for the team. First, is the shining beam of hope that I desperately want to happen, the good ole 15-0 (including a dismantling of the Kevin Steele Auburn D), a Deshaun Heisman, and general happiness. Second, is the sad one, the defense can't recover from double rebuilds and takes a nosedive, the offense doesn't quite live up to the height and we go at best 10-4.

If I had to choose a number, I'd say we go 11-1 (loss to FSU) and (hopefully) 2 ACC teams get into the playoff. Spot the damn ball.

Metal Tiger: 2015 was one hell of an unexpected ride. Sure the ending was a bit of a let down but I'd do it all again. From the monsoon versus Notre Dame, to the annihilation of the U, the thriller in Charlotte, a night in the desert and everywhere in between. Can we repeat or even exceed in 2016? The talent is there but my pessimism still reigns supreme.

The success 2016 season will be dictated by three key items. 1) How do we replace 3 members of the secondary? 2) Can the young and thin defensive end group survive the early parts of the schedule and get seasoned quickly? 3) Special teams. Have we finally fixed them?

I think we certainly have the talent to overcome many issues we will face this year, but reluctantly I think that we will drop 1-2 games this fall. Auburn, GT, Louisville, Pitt, and FSU all create causes for concern in their own ways. Maybe this is a leftover sense of doom I'll never get over due to years of Tommy West and Tommy Bowden scarring. Maybe my cynicism is out of control. Or maybe, just maybe we can go for another ride. Tee it up.

Dirk: I expect the 2016 offense to be one of the elite units in CFB history, if Watson stays healthy. If he is out for any length of time, I expect the offense will still be very good, but not elite. Watson is a once in a generation player, and he is surrounded by several guys who will also being playing on Sundays soon. The depth at the other offensive positions is very good, so that will help with both injuries and allowing starters to avoid wearing down as the season progresses.

The defense is another story. I expect them to be very good, but to have some growing pains. I expect the secondary to be less of a liability than many others do, mainly because they won't be facing big time passing offenses early on. For sure there will be busts, but with an elite offense to lean on, the damage will be minimal. Defensive end concerns me a lot, and for many reasons. How do you stop an elite offense like the Tigers have? You keep Watson and company on the sidelines. How do you do that? You run the ball. And if you run the ball, you'll be targeting the Tiger defensive ends.

Defensive end is a difficult and crucial position for our defensive scheme. It is much more than just a pass rushing or set-the-edge position. It requires athleticism, and the Tigers have that in spades, but it also requires an in-depth understanding of your responsibilities and being able to quickly read keys and execute those responsibilities. It simply takes some time seeing offenses at game pace to get comfortable there. On the other hand, Clemson has excellent depth on the interior of the line and very good depth and athleticism at linebacker.

As a coach myself, that has me thinking about odd fronts (i.e. going to a 3-4). Now, that is not a trivial thing to pull off because players have very different responsibilities in a 3-4. If Bryant comes back fully healthy, and they don't have any major injuries the rest of the year, I expect defensive end to develop into a strength for the defense. However, because of the limited depth at that key and complex position, losing any one of our ends for the season could prove very difficult to overcome, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Coach Venables employ some odd front looks to get his best athletes on the field.