With less than a week to go before the 2022 football season kicks off for the Clemson Tigers, it’s time for me to take a stab at giving my predictions for how I think this season might play out.
Keep in mind these are purely my personal predictions based on moderately informed college football fandom and a little too much confidence in our beloved Tigers. As such, the predictions below are merely slightly educated guesses that should not be taken as anything more than speculation from one writer on the internet.
Ever the optimist around here, I sometimes harbor a more positive outlook on this season than some of my fellow writers on STS, and I’m sure if you dig around the comments you’ll find plenty of naysayers as well. I like to think it’s reasonable to harbor such cheery anticipation, especially given what we know about this program, Dabo, and the current players. Still, only time will tell how foolish or accurate these hopes may prove to be.
I’ve split the season into three phases, each containing four games that I perceive to be of increasing importance/difficulty. Let’s start with the first:
PHASE ONE: The Warm Up
Game 1: Clemson vs Georgia Tech, September 5th (AWAY)
My Hope: DJ shows us 2021 was not his best self.
My Fear: The offense struggles to move the ball effectively.
My Prediction: Clemson wins by 21+ and shows out in style.
This may be the final year of the somewhat miserable Geoff Collins experiment in Atlanta, as he enters his fourth season with the Yellow Jackets holding a 9-25 record, the worst of any GT head coach since 1905 (John McKee, 0-6-2).
Tech is also tied with LSU for fewest returning starters on a Power Five team at a pitiful 6: four on offense and two on defense. Unless you’re a program like Ohio State or Alabama which can simply roll out the next 5-star recruit in line to fill those gaps, losing that many starters usually spells a season of growing pains.
This should the perfect opportunity for a hungry Clemson squad to start their 2022 ACC play with a blowout. I can’t see the Yellow Jackets keeping this one very close, and I have Clemson winning by at least three touchdowns, if not more. Should Georgia Tech manage to hang with the Tigers in a close game, it could be an omen of what is to come, much like last year’s 14-8 victory in Death Valley was.
Regular Season Record: 1-0
Game 2: Clemson vs Furman, September 10th (HOME)
My Hope: We get a good look at the freshman class.
My Fear: Clemson looks lazy against an easy opponent.
My Prediction: The Tigers dominate in their home debut.
The last time Furman came to town and bravely played in Death Valley, it was the season opener for that legendary 2018 National Champion Clemson team. Tiger fans were desperate to catch a glimpse of the highly anticipated Trevor Lawrence, and viewers all around the country were eager to see what his arrival would mean for the rest of college football.
#16 would throw for 137 yards with 3 touchdowns, signaling the start of his dominant tenure in Clemson. While he wouldn’t take over starting duties for another few games, it offered us a preview of what was in store for the Tiger faithful.
I’m hoping the Furman Paladins are gracious enough to provide us with a similar outlet for freshman Cade Klubnik this year. While I expect DJ to hold his starting duties all year, this game will likely be the first extended look at what the freshman from Texas brings to the table. Clemson (barring any disaster) should put up loads of points while also giving plenty of playing time to underclassmen/depth players.
Regular Season Record: 2-0
Game 3: Clemson vs Louisiana Tech, September 17th (HOME)
My Hope: One or more of the running backs have a career day.
My Fear: Injuries strike and claim a starter.
My Prediction: Tigers > Bulldogs.
These two teams last met in 2006, when the “Thunder & Lightning” duo of James Davis and CJ Spiller combined for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Now the RB coach, CJ Spiller has a chance to lead his group of running backs from the sideline and will surely be looking to excite fans with a similarly dominant running performance.
While Nebraska’s 3-9 record in 2021 has become a bit of a meme at this point, LA Tech also had a number of frustratingly close losses last year, including a 27-34 loss at NC State. The Bulldogs have a decent amount of experience returning and won’t exactly lay down and roll over for Clemson, but ultimately it should be a comfortable day in Death Valley for the home team.
I’m looking for a steady and controlled third game with no injuries (please) to send the Tigers into Week 4 feeling confident and ready to roll against their next ACC opponent.
Regular Season Record: 3-0
Game 4: Clemson at Wake Forest, September 24th (AWAY)
My Hope: The offense finds its groove and flexes on Wake Forest.
My Fear: The Demon Deacons are much better than I think they are.
My Prediction: Clemson wins its first true road game by 14+.
Last season there was more hype leading up to this matchup than perhaps any other regular season game for Clemson besides the UGA opener. Wake, 9-1 and sitting at #13 in the polls, presented a huge opportunity for Clemson to restore some dignity to a team licking its wounds.
They did just that with one of their best performances all year and controlled the game from start to finish. This year’s duel with the Deacons doesn’t hold quite the same potential for a high-powered brawl, as Dave Clawson will be attempting to guide his team without starting quarterback Sam Hartman for at least the first portion of the season.
Wake returns most of their offensive starting talent and should be a great challenge for the 2022 Clemson defense. I don’t foresee Clemson being unable to score points against this group of Deacons, and I believe we’ll see them walk away with a statement road win to improve their division hopes.
Regular Season Record: 4-0
At this point in the season, I have Clemson warmed up and feeling good about where they stand. Those early season jitters should be fully disposed of, replaced by the firm confidence of a year’s worth of training and four straight wins. With the initial phase behind them, the Tigers can now turn their attention to the next sequence of games, one which should present the first real threats to an undefeated regular season:
PHASE TWO: The Litmus Test
Game 5: Clemson vs NC State, October 1st (HOME)
My Hope: The home field advantage tips this one to the Tigers.
My Fear: NC State gets a big lead early.
My Prediction: Clemson gets revenge and puts the Pack down.
Here we encounter the first duel on Clemson’s schedule that I am significantly worried about. NC State is rightfully confident and loaded with talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Devin Leary returns as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and will be the best signal-caller the Clemson defense has faced at this point in the season.
There are plenty of key matchups in this game - will Clemson’s secondary be enough to hold off Leary and their aggressive WR group? Can DJ find success against a loaded Pack defense that is eager to repeat last year’s efforts? Will one of Clemson’s wide receivers have stepped up enough to become a dominant weapon for this game?
This is a showdown that could determine the Atlantic division, and you have to like Dabo and his guys at home in Death Valley. I think this is the closest game of the season yet, but ultimately Clemson wins it by a touchdown or less.
Regular Season Record: 5-0
Game 6: Clemson at Boston College, October 8th (AWAY)
My Hope: Clemson’s defensive line feasts.
My Fear: DJ struggles and throws multiple interceptions.
My Prediction: Someone throws a pick-six.
Boston College is an intriguing team this season — they return one of the best deep-threat receivers in all of college football, Zay Flowers, as well as quarterback Phil Jurkovec. That duo has the potential to be a top-shelf offensive combination and will surely put Clemson’s corners to the test.
Boston College’s secondary, a unit that finished ranked third nationally in pass defense, will be happy to welcome back most of its starters for another run. A week after facing NC State, DJ Uiagalelei will have to find a way to thread the ball against the talented Eagles’ defenders.
Still, I see this as a favorable matchup for what became Clemson’s biggest strength last year: the run game. Boston College ranked near the bottom of FBS teams in run defense, allowing 170.4 yards per game to opponents with its shaky pass rush and line play. I expect Shipley and co. to tear things up on the ground and ensure they reach the midpoint of the season with a sixth straight win.
Regular Season Record: 6-0
Game 7: Clemson at Florida State, October 15th (AWAY)
My Hope: Tallahassee doesn’t curse this team.
My Fear: This could be a very dangerous Florida State team.
My Prediction: Clemson wins on a walk-off field goal.
Florida State has been wandering in the desert for quite a few years now, but Mike Norvell may finally have his team in a place where they can compete for the division title again. The coaching and talent are certainly there, and it’s time to see what is possible under Norvell’s leadership. I could see Florida State going 9-3, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they only manage to clear 6 wins for bowl eligibility.
Tallahassee has given Clemson fans plenty of nightmares, but it’s been a few years since Clemson has suffered a loss there. Nevertheless, the Tigers must bring their A-game to avoid a massive upset against the resurging Seminoles.
If my previous predictions are correct to this point in the season, I don’t see Clemson stumbling here, regardless of how talented Florida State may prove to be this year. Dabo will have his guys locked in against their division rival, and I could see a BT Potter field goal snatching this win from the home team in a thriller.
Regular Season Record: 7-0
Game 8: Clemson vs Syracuse, October 22nd (HOME)
My Hope: Dino Babers doesn’t get fired this year.
My Fear: Sean Tucker is a bad man.
My Prediction: Syracuse can’t keep this one close in Death Valley.
Sean Tucker. I could really end this preview for Syracuse here and it would be sufficient, at least on offense. That’s not to say there aren’t other talented playmakers on this Orange offense - Sean Tucker is just that good. Last year he was the best back in the ACC, running for nearly 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns; he’s just getting started.
The lovable running back could be a dark horse Heisman contender on a team that will likely struggle to otherwise find success against Clemson’s vaunted defense. Garrett Shrader will have a chance at redemption after coming up just short in the Carrier Dome last season, but I don’t think he will be able to dismantle this Tiger defense without some serious improvement from his receivers and offensive line.
I like Dino Babers very much, and I would love to see him get some more time to right the ship at an inconsistent Syracuse program. Unfortunately, I can’t allow him winning against Clemson this year to be part of that process, no matter how nice a guy he is. Tigers win by ten.
Regular Season Record: 8-0
So here we are, arriving at the open date with a perfect 8-0 record, shining and gleaming like the Oculus in Death Valley on a cool October evening.
By now, I am certain that this team will be bristling with confidence, a trail of bruised opponents left in its wake. The running backs should be relatively fresh with a healthy amount of rotation, the top receivers might have separated themselves by now, and perhaps even DJ has re-established himself as the gunslinger we all saw in 2020.
This open date couldn’t come at a better point in the season, as the Tigers will have to lock in, set their sights on the finish line, and prepare for the final, most difficult four games of the season:
PHASE THREE: The Gauntlet
Game 9: Clemson at Notre Dame, November 5th (AWAY)
My Hope: DJ channels his record-breaking 2020 performance.
My Fear: Marcus Freeman makes the most of a big game.
My Prediction: Clemson takes its first loss of the season.
Here’s the thing. I really want to pick Clemson to win this game. I have gone back and forth in my mind about it too many times while writing this, and honestly, I’ll probably have a different opinion by the time this game eventually rolls around.
But this is a season prediction article, not a season reaction; I have to pick something before these games ever kick-off, and if there’s one game the Tigers have the most chance of dropping this year, it’s Notre Dame.
First-time head coach Marcus Freeman will have big shoes to fill in the absence of Brian Kelly, but his roster has loads of talent, as well as a favorable amount of experience. Tyler Buchner is a mobile threat at QB, and he’ll have the luxury of throwing to the best tight end in the country, Michael Mayer. Chris Tyree should have a huge year as the primary back, and the Irish’s defense will be formidable, particularly in the back seven.
I could see this one going either way, but the first eight games of the year will allow us a much clearer picture of where the Clemson offense stands before this game. As of this writing, I fear that the offense might not be potent enough to warrant a victory.
This is a really tough game for Clemson any day, even more so when played at South Bend. In my heart, I’ll bet on the Tigers to win every game they play, but on paper, I have to give this one to the Irish by a narrow margin at home.
Regular Season Record: 8-1
Game 10: Clemson vs Louisville, November 12th (HOME)
My Hope: The Tigers rebound with a crucial victory.
My Fear: Malik Cunningham gets his revenge.
My Prediction: Clemson remains undefeated against Louisville.
This might be my most anticipated game of the regular season for Clemson. The Cardinals are desperate to get that elusive win against Clemson, and Malik Cunningham is the best shot they’re going to have since Lamar Jackson was playing in red.
Although the series got away from Louisville a little after the aforementioned Jackson left for the NFL, last year’s game marked the fourth time this matchup has been determined by a possession or less. There have been some awesome finishes in this series, and 2022 promises to be just as much of a nail-biter for both sides.
Louisville’s success this year will ride very heavily on Malik’s health and his ability to stay mobile when passing plays break down. His electric scrambling talents elicit obvious comparisons to the 2016 Heisman winner, but Malik must be careful to avoid injuring himself and handicapping the Louisville offense. He will have one of the best offensive lines in the ACC to protect him, as well as a deep running back room with three potential starters in Jalen Mitchell, Trevion Cooley, and former UT transfer Tiyon Evans.
The prize is there for the taking, but will the Cardinals be able to score enough on Clemson’s stout defense? Malik may be a dark-horse Heisman candidate, but I can’t see him stealing a victory here from Clemson in Death Valley. Maybe next year, Cards.
Regular Season Record: 9-1
Game 11: Clemson vs Miami, November 19th (HOME)
My Hope: Mario Cristobal needs more time to stabilize Miami.
My Fear: Tyler Van Dyke is a very good QB.
My Prediction: Clemson hits ten wins on the season.
Clemson has won the last three meetings with Miami by a combined score of 138-20, but the all-time series is only tied at 6-6. This may be a much closer affair than recent history has shown, and there is plenty of intrigue tied to this year’s edition of the orange clash.
To start, former Clemson DC Kevin Steele is now leading Miami’s defense. Steele has a huge task ahead of him to build a coherent starting lineup that will feature more than a few transfers. There is talent in the building for sure, but it may take a while to sort out everything on that side of the ball.
Then there’s the addition of Frank Ladson, the former five-star Miami native who transferred from Clemson to his hometown team during the offseason. Ladson was a big-time recruit out of high school who never really put it together during his time at Clemson. A familiar change of scenery and a lethal quarterback in Van Dyke may be what Ladson needs to have a flashy season, and he will no doubt be hungry to prove himself against his former teammates.
Miami could very well be the favorite to win the Coastal, which would mean Clemson might get the chance to shake down the Hurricanes twice in one season. Provided DJ is having the season I expect him to have, I feel comfortable picking Clemson to hold off Miami in their first 2022 meeting. The Clemson defense will be too much for Van Dyke to surmount, and I think Cristobal will have to wait until next season to truly challenge Clemson for the ACC title.
Regular Season Record: 10-1
Game 12: Clemson vs South Carolina, November 26th (HOME)
My Hope: Clemson scores 40+.
My Fear: Spencer Rattler is a great fit for U of SC.
My Prediction: Clemson is still the older brother.
This is the big one, the game which every Clemson fan circles on their calendar no matter what year it is. The Palmetto Bowl never fails to excite me, regardless of how the season has gone. It is each team’s Super Bowl, the final chance to claim bragging rights for another year.
Much like the Miami series, this is a rivalry that hasn’t been particularly close for most of the last decade. While Clemson’s recent dominance is glorious to bask in, the Gamecocks appear to be on the upswing with Shane Beamer, and we may see a competitive battle for the state title this year.
Spencer Rattler is the headliner for this Gamecocks’ offense and could be among the best quarterbacks Clemson has to face all season. There is more than enough talent behind Rattler though, with fellow OU transfer Austin Stogner at tight end and former James Madison wide receiver Antwane Wells primed to have big performances with South Carolina.
Believe it or not, the Gamecocks actually had one of the best pass defenses last year in the SEC, at least statistically. Some would argue that was because teams were too busy running on their abhorrent run defense to bother throwing the ball, but it is impressive nonetheless. They should be a stout unit in 2022 as well, and DJ will need to play well to keep Clemson on top.
I don’t see a way in which South Carolina wins this one without some major chaos and/or injuries to Clemson. It’s time for the Tigers to set a series record for longest streak of wins.
Regular Season Record 11-1
So there you have it - my 2022 season predictions. I could just as easily see Clemson drop another game somewhere along the way, whether it be to the Pack or Louisville, as I could see them go undefeated and finish at 12-0. However, even I can recognize how bold it would be to call a perfect regular season after the issues we identified in last year’s team.
This is a new year with a blank sheet. Will Clemson fix some of the nagging issues of last year’s injury-ridden team? Will this defense be as great as we all are expecting it to be? Will the Tigers return to the ACC championship after watching from home in 2021? What do you think?
Sound off in the comments below and let me know what you think of these predictions - I look forward to discussing all season long with you at STS!