These are strange times. A coronavirus that started in a part of China that few of us in the US had heard of has impacted almost all Americans lives in one way or another. For many, it primarily means working what is normally office job from home. Others are less fortunate and have found their hours cut or jobs lost as companies voluntarily or by government mandate close their doors to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Our country has missed out on March Madness, a hallmark of American culture, sports, and Spring time. With it goes, $375 million that gets distributed out to D1 schools. For Clemson, that means 2-3% of the annual athletic budget (yes, even though wouldn’t have made it). We’ve delayed (hopefully not lost) the NBA and NHL playoffs. MLB’s opening day, such a classic American sports day, is on hold. The Masters and Kentucky Derby have also been delayed. Fortunately, despite media commentary that college football season is in jeopardy, we’re still four months away from the start of Fall camps and five months from Labor day weekend and the start of the regular season.
Among other (more important) things, like a wife and pooch to spend time hunkering down with, looking forward to college football season has helped keep me in good spirits. At a time when when our retirement savings are down, social media is a swamp (it can’t survive without sports), and the news is divisive and disquieting, we need something to look forward to!
Here’s what I’m anxious to see play out when life returns to normal and Fall camp and eventually the regular season can begin:
Who was a disciplined, self-motivator during the time away from the team?
Coach Swinney recently spoke to Clemson fans through a YouTube video and explained that most of the team is back home away from campus. They’ve had to get creative to keep training regimens on pace. While most have access to weights, Coach Swinney noted that some do not and Coach Batson has had to get creative with video workouts, including filling buckets with dirt!
Players that can self-motivate and follow their training without a coach physically there may have an extra leg up when Fall camp rolls around. Teams with high-character kids that are self-disciplined may have a leg up on their competition. Clemson, with its well-known culture, seems to be in as good a position as feasible given the situation.
How will the NCAA handle lost Spring Practice time?
Clemson was one of the two last teams to finish their 2019 season and they were among the first to start 2020 Spring camp. They were fortunate to get nine practices in. Although Coach Swinney noted that some of the early-enrollees “hit a wall,” he also noted that they got “a good amount of installation in.”
Other schools started Spring practice later and got less time together. If players are able to get to school before August, will the NCAA extend Fall camp or try to even out the number of Spring practices by granted some to teams that missed out on more of their Spring camp? It could make for an interesting situation.
How with this year’s offensive line and rushing attack be different?
Jackson Carman, the left tackle who slowed vaunted DE Chase Young to a halt in the Fiesta Bowl, is back. The rest of the offensive line is departing. Replacing Simpson, Pollard, Cervenka, and Anchrum in the same year is a lot to ask, but the Tigers developed solid depth last year. They won’t have much depth this year, but the starting five could be solid.
Coach Swinney said Tackle Jordan McFadden “has a chance to be special.” He and Chandler Reeves seem like the most likely options at RT. In the middle, Cade Stewart, who Swinney said was “stepping up” appears likely to take over at center. Will Putnam, a rising sophomore, and Matt Bockhorst, a rising redshirt junior could start at the guard positions.
Putnam played 192 snaps as a true freshman. What he lacks in experience he has in pedigree. He was the #80 player in the nation (247) coming out of high school. Bockhorst played 421 snaps last season. He earned ACC offensive lineman of the week honors for his performance against FSU. While he wasn’t a starter, he is will be a fourth-year player who has experience (with positive results).
What makes this particularly interesting is seeing if they’ll be more of a run blocking-oriented unit. In year’s past (especially in 2016) the pass blocking has been superb, but the run blocking lagged behind - particularly in short yardage situations. Coach Elliott has already said he wants to lean on Etienne more in those short-yardage situations. The Tigers could run all over Wake Forest with ease, but when they faced a truly elite defense in the Buckeyes, they had to get creative to find other ways for Travis Etienne to make his mark. Will that still be the case, or will this O-line and incredibly deep stable of running backs force teams to succumb to their will.
It’s worth noting that the depth chart at RB is as deep as ever. Travis Etienne and Lyn-J Dixon are at the top. Rising sophomores Chez Mellusi and Michel Dukes provide good depth. Incoming freshmen Demarkcus Bowman and Kobe Pryor, as well as redshirt senior Darien Rencher give the Tigers arguably the best stable of RBs in the country. Will they re-orient their offense to lean on them the way Ohio State leaned on JK Dobbins and Master Teague last season, or will the offense continue to be pass-first?
On that note, will we see Travis Etienne break the all-time rushing TD record for a RB?
Folks, we really need to pause and count our blessings. I mean that in a couple of respects. Those of us who are healthy and employed amidst our current national emergency should give thanks. Once this pandemic passes, God willing, we will get to see the best QB/RB in school history together for one more year. This may be one of the all-time great QB/RB combos in college football history. Lawrence is the projected #1 pick of the 2021 draft. Travis Etienne, with a strong 1,600+ yard, 20 TD season, would lay a legitimate claim to being the greatest Clemson athlete of all-time. Sound crazy? Hear me out.
He already holds Clemson’s career rushing yards record. With another year it won’t be close. He broke James Davis’s rushing TD (47) last year too. Already at 56 rushing TDs. He could would reach 76 with a 20-TD season. If he matched his sophomore season total of 24, he’d be at 80 career rushing TDs!
On a national level, he could top Montee Ball’s record for rushing TDs by a RB, which currently stands at 76 (Navy QB Keenan Reynolds holds the rushing TD record at 88 if you include QBs).
In terms of yardage, Etienne is at 4,038. A 1,600 yard season would put him at 5,638 rushing yards, which is good for 8th all time. That’s right being 1979 Heisman Winner Charles White (USC) and Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin). It’s just ahead of DeAngelo Williams (Memphis), Royce Freeman (Oregon), Travis Prentic (Miami-OH) and two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin (Ohio State).
Yes, Etienne benefits from the 12-game regular season as well as the conference championship game and four-team playoff, but he is also limited in his carries per game. Regardless, he at least would have a case as the greatest Clemson athletes of all-time.