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Comparing Clemson’s Season to Our Preseason Expectations

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Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Clemson’s football season has come to its conclusion. Now, we look back at our preseason expectations and predictions and see how we fared.

The Tigers started the season at No. 4 in the polls. They were promptly leapfrogged by Michigan and stayed at No. 5 for the first half of the season. After reaching 8-0, the season bumbled and stumbled to a disappointing finish as Clemson went 3-3 in their final six games to finish 11-3.

Clemson achieved three of the team’s five stated goals. They won the opener (vs. Georgia Tech) and won the division with a perfect 8-0 regular season conference record. They failed to reach their third stated goal by blowing a 9-point halftime lead and losing the state championship. They rebounded to win the conference with a thrilling 39-10 win over North Carolina. Although that win seemed like a launching pad for the Klubnik era, they failed to win the closer, losing the Orange Bowl to Tennessee.

In his season preview article, STS writer D’Arve Robinson asked our readers what their expectations were for Clemson’s season and here’s what they said:

78% of STS readers predicted Clemson to make the playoff with 36% predicting them to reach the National Championship Game. Compared to those expectations, the Tigers did not accomplish what fans thought they would.

In a season preview roundtable, STS writers dug deeper and provided quite a few predictions that turned out to be quite clairvoyant.

I really like Clemson’s duo at tight end with the veteran Davis Allen and high-upside youngster Jake Briningstool. It should be Clemson’s best TE group since Leggett departed. Tight end isn’t a sexy position so it didn’t get talked about much, but TE Braden Galloway had an almost unthinkably bad season with really ugly PFF metrics last year. I think Allen and Briningstool will make a mark this season. — Ryan Kantor

Clemson tight ends were a bright spot for an otherwise very average offense. Davis Allen was third on the team in receptions (39) and receiving yards (443) and tied for first in receiving TDs (5). Jake Briningstool also had a good season with 25 receptions for 285 yards and 4 TDs.

Health is always a major variable, but I expect the Tigers to be significantly better between the tackles this year with Pennington healthy and guys like Tate and Howard a year older and stronger. As long as Will Putnam can solidify the center spot, I expect the Tigers to force teams to load up on the run and provide more chances for explosive plays behind that. — C_Craft

This one was partially right. Clemson’s interior line still wasn’t great, but Marcus Tate made big strides. Walker Parks was better at right tackle in 2021 than at right guard in 2022, but he helped upgrade the interior line from the revolving door of last year.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t foresee the wide receivers having a massive improvement. I think there are some deeper-rooted issues with this unit at the moment, from blocking and route-running, to just lacking top-end talent. — Will Harper

Unfortunately, Will was spot on with this prediction. Beaux Collins was limited by drops and a nagging shoulder injury. EJ Williams struggled all season and entered the transfer portal. Dacari Collins quit the team early on and entered the portal. Joe Ngata finally had a healthy season and had 526 receiving yards. It was a good year, but he still wasn’t the dynamic star Coach Swinney had promised for years. True freshman Antonio Williams was the team’s best wide receiver finishing with 56 receptions for 604 yards.

This could be one of the best defenses we’ve seen over the last ten seasons and it should be a blast to watch them play this year. — Will Harper

Clemson’s defense was adequate, but below their usual standards as they struggled with pass defense. After being a freshman All-American last season, safety Andrew Mukuba injured his elbow early in the year. When he returned and played with a brace, he did not play well. It was a big sophomore slump season for Mukuba.

Cornerback was another issue. Sheridan Jones missed five games with injury. Fred Davis II was ineffective and eventually lost playing time and entered the transfer portal. Nate Wiggins emerged as a lockdown corner in the second half of the season, but had his struggles in the first half. Likewise, true freshman Toriano Pride wasn’t ready early in the year but showed a lot of promise as the year went on. Clemson’s defense wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it was one of Clemson’s weaker defenses of the past decade.

Final Thoughts

Clemson’s season can best be described as a partial success. 11-3 is only a hair below what most were expecting, but the way it unfolded made it seem a lot worse. Clemson was 8-0 and in the thick of the playoff hunt, but fell apart down the stretch.

Clemson’s schedule wasn’t as tough as expected. Florida State was tougher than anticipated and gave Clemson their best win of the year, but NC State, Notre Dame, Miami, Louisville were all weaker than expected. The Tigers were a perfect 9-0 against ACC teams but went 0-3 other Power 5/Independent teams.

Any season that ends with a loss to the Gamecocks and a bowl loss will leave a sour taste in fans’ mouths. Clemson seems to be falling far behind the top programs in the SEC and Big Ten. Fans will anxiously hope for some sort of positive change or good news over the offseason to provide reason to believe the trend will reverse and Clemson will return to the playoff in 2023.