By the time you’re reading this article, classes will have started for students all across the country, temperatures will have dropped slightly (ok, probably not but there’s no loss in hoping), and football coaches everywhere will be spending sun up to sun down figuring out what their football team is going to look like this fall — what a beautiful time to be alive.
We are under two weeks away from the Clemson Tigers playing on Labor Day for the first time since 2007 (you’ve seen some days if that sentence sparks images of James Davis’ torn jersey running through your head). College football is here, and that means somewhere as we speak, Dabo Swinney is mustering up his boys for another trip on the ROY bus.
Hopefully, you’ve been reading all of our position previews as we gear up for the season opener against Georgia Tech on Labor Day night (8pm, ESPN). Our team has done a fantastic job breaking down the positions, so if you haven’t already, check out our work on the other positions.
I’ve been tasked with previewing maybe the most watched position group all offseason: the quarterback room. This year, Swinney and first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter have to be thrilled with the depth coming out of the quarterback room. The Tigers have an excellent mix of veteran experience and young talent, which is hardly the case Clemson could argue last season.
This year, all eyes are on whether returning junior DJ Uiagalelei will hold the reigns another season, or will incoming freshman Cade Klubnik put enough pressure on DJU to get himself into the starting job. As of now, Swinney and Streeter have both made it clear DJU is the guy currently, but history tells us Dabo is no stranger to pulling the more experienced veteran for the more talented youngster (it got the Tigers two national championships actually).
Here’s a breakdown of how we think the depth chart will look. Obviously, this is subject to change, but for now, this is what we got.
QB1: DJ Uiagalelei (Jr.)
2021 statline: 208-374, 2,246 yards, 9 TDs, 10 INTs, 105 carries, 308 rush yards, 4 rush TDs
DJU enters his second year at the helm of the Tigers. The junior had a less than stellar sophomore campaign, but still managed to help lead Clemson to a 10-win season and a bowl game victory. In my opinion, DJ caught way too much flack last season as being a mediocre quarterback who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Sure, he looked helpless in many situations, especially against the dominant Georgia defense, but DJ also did not get much help from his receiving corps.
We also seem to forget DJ was replacing the greatest quarterback in school history who raised the bar so high that his successor was almost set up for failure from day one. Although his 2021 statline is among the lowest we’ve seen from a Clemson quarterback in over a decade, Uiagalelei overcame a lot of mental hurdles to right the ship late in the season, along with some help from a stellar running back group and Brent Venables’ final brick wall defense. It feels like a bounce-back season for Uiagalelei, and with the young freshman Klubnik nipping at his heels, the added pressure is make-or-break for the junior.
I predict DJU will be the starter this season unless things go completely south and it’s evident to everyone that he’s not the guy anymore. I think he’ll have more success than former veterans Cole Stoudt and Kelly Bryant competing against the freshmen phenoms, but time will tell.
Here’s some of DJ’s best highlights from last season. If we can get more of this DJ, Clemson will be fine on offense this year.
QB2: Cade Klubnik (Fr.)
2021 statline (HS): 189-265, 3,251 yards, 43 TDs, 3 INT, 70 carries, 465 rush yards, 12 rush TDs
Another top-rated quarterback to join the Tigers, Cade Klubnik joins the line of his predecessors Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence, and his teammate DJ Uiagalelei as top-rated QBs who have come to Clemson under Dabo Swinney. Klubnik is no stranger to the spotlight; the freshman was a two-time USA Today Offensive Player of the Year and Gatorade Player of the Year in Texas during his high school career at Westlake High School in Austin, TX.
Klubnik has a monster of an arm; the former five-star threw for nearly 7,500 yards and 86 touchdowns during his high school career. He led his school to undefeated state title wins his junior and senior seasons, and as a senior, accounted for 55 total touchdowns on the year, despite missing three games with an injury. Swinney and Streeter are extremely high on Klubnik, who will bring a similar element to the program as Trevor Lawrence did. He’s a gunslinger who can also tuck and run if need be.
Klubnik will be the starter at some point: the question is simply, when? The freshman has already added pressure to the starter DJU, which has the potential to pay huge dividends for the Tigers. Having such a talented backup is never a bad thing, especially when you have two five-star guys battling it out.
QB3: Hunter Johnson (Gr.)
2021 statline: 45-75, 424 yards, 4 TDs, 4 INTs
You may not believe it, but Clemson has yet another five-star quarterback in its QB room. Hunter Johnson — ever heard of the guy? Yep, the former Tiger is back in town as a grad transfer, giving the Tigers one more weapon at quarterback to work with.
The former five-star sat behind Kelly Bryant and Zerrick Cooper during the 2017 season before transferring to Northwestern. The Indiana native never got his wheels off the ground as a Wildcat though, and he returns to Clemson looking to put a nice stamp on his up-and-down career. Johnson was once thought of as being the guy to lead the Tigers before the signing of Trevor Lawrence, which ultimately wrote the writing on the wall for Johnson. Johnson initially reached out to Swinney to be a grad assistant, but with one year of eligibility left, Swinney decided to let Johnson strap it up one last time and add some much needed depth to the QB room.
What will Johnson bring to the Tigers? It’s hard to tell. We don’t have much to go off of from his Northwestern days, but if the former five-star can muster any of his past attributes, the Tigers are receiving a decent option in the event DJU or Klubnik goes down. His experience will be most valuable this year.
After Johnson, the Tigers have a few options to choose from if anything serious happens on the depth chart. The first option would be redshirt sophomore Hunter Helms, who has already appeared for the Tigers in limited action during 2020 and 2021. Clemson also has redshirt freshman Billy Wiles and freshman Trent Pearman available, and if disaster strikes, Will Taylor can probably sling the rock if need be.
The quarterback competition will be fierce and highly watched this season. With another loaded backfield and a stingy defense, the quarterback position will most likely determine whether the Tigers are playoff bound or just battling for another 10-win season. Get ready for what is hopefully another fun fall in Clemson, SC.
Other STS Position Previews