It’s been quite a tumultuous year for college football fans, featuring a seemingly endless roulette of conference alignment, confirmation of an expanded playoff beginning in 2024, and numerous big-name transfers between programs.
For Clemson fans, the excitement around the program really kicked off with the announcement of Garrett Riley’s hiring as the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator mere days after his appearance in the National Championship game. Many fans and critics alike have questioned the recent lack of creativity and innovation in Clemson’s offense, and Riley’s arrival signaled the first significant change in quite some time for Dabo’s offensive crew.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is no longer with the program, nor is OC Brandon Streeter. There is talk of a new swagger with Riley in the building, excitement for a fresh start, and an overall increase in confidence for the offense. To some, 2023 may serve as a barometer for where this Clemson program stands; the glorious run of the last decade is fading in the rearview mirror, and many are eager to proclaim Dabo’s best days to be already behind him as well.
Last year I predicted an 11-1 regular season record, with the only loss coming against Notre Dame in game 9. Through the first eleven weeks, I was correct with my predictions, but I failed to predict the Tigers dropping their home match against the Gamecocks in such a heartbreaking fashion.
Here’s to hoping we get revenge this year:
Game 1: Clemson at Duke, September 4th (AWAY)
My Hope: We get a flashy look at Riley’s new offense.
My Fear: The offense struggles to spread its wings quickly.
My Prediction: Clemson overcomes the quirks to win by two scores.
Make no mistake- this Duke team will be far from a pushover for the Tigers. Led by first-year head coach Mike Elko (formerly DC for Texas A&M) and quarterback Riley Leonard in 2022, the Blue Devils put together a respectable 9-4 record (Duke’s best since 2014), making them one of the ACC’s most improved teams last season.
Elko’s squad returns 17 starters from that 9-4 team, including nine offensive starters. This is a strong test for Clemson right out of the gate - while the talent level won’t be on par with Clemson’s superior recruiting, the opportunity to test out Riley’s new air-raid offense on what should be a bowl-eligible ACC opponent in Week 1 will make for a great matchup.
While I don’t think Duke has much of a shot at the upset, I expect Clemson to endure some first-game jitters before rising to the occasion and putting the Blue Devils away. Even if the passing game struggles, Clemson’s rushing attack should be more than capable of grinding out a victory in Wallace Wade Stadium.
Regular Season Record: 1-0
Game 2: Clemson vs Charleston Southern, September 9th (HOME)
My Hope: The offense gets an easy day to tune up.
My Fear: I don’t get to watch this game because of work.
My Prediction: Clemson bullies Southern out of the stadium.
Originally slated to meet for the first time in 2026, Clemson added Charleston Southern to their 2023 schedule late last year. With just four days to prepare for Southern (the Duke opener will be Monday night), this should be a chance to drill some offensive basics and steamroll an underpowered opponent.
Southern had a horrible year in 2022, going just 2-8 against Big South competition. NC State blasted them 55-3, and their only two wins came against Bryant University (24-23) and Robert Morris (34-21). This is one of those games that really shouldn’t be played on paper but at the end of the day will be beneficial for both programs: Clemson gets an easy opponent coming off a short week and Southern will get a fat check for their troubles.
Regular Season Record: 2-0
Game 3: Clemson vs Florida Atlantic, September 16th (HOME)
My Hope: The offense starts to find its swagger.
My Fear: Injuries weaken the team before Florida State.
My Prediction: Cats eat birds.
The first of two straight home games against Florida schools, FAU visits Death Valley for Week 3’s matchup, making this only the second time these programs have ever played. FAU was a feisty team last season, posting wins against UCF, UAB, and Rice. They nearly upset Purdue on the Boilermakers’ home turf but failed to build any real momentum for the year, finishing just 5-7 overall.
Clemson will be tempted to look ahead to the potentially season-defining showdown with Florida State, and the coaches will have to keep the players focused and present for what should be a relatively easy walk in the park. Ideally, we see further development of Riley’s new offensive scheme and smoother implementation of everything they have been building this offseason.
Regular Season Record: 3-0
Game 4: Clemson vs Florida State, September 23rd (HOME)
My Hope: Everything clicks at the right time for this new Clemson offense.
My Fear: Jordan Travis is too much for the Tigers’ D.
My Prediction: Clemson wins by a field goal in a thriller.
This is the big one, the premiere matchup that everyone will be looking to as a litmus test for both these programs in 2023. The winner of this game will be in the driver’s seat for the ACC Championship and likely a playoff spot, while the loser may very well end up left out altogether.
The Seminoles have been the talk of the off-season for the ACC, assembling a star-studded cast of transfers through the portal. In fact, a majority of their starting roster should feature players who have come to Florida State through the transfer portal. Whether that all comes together to produce something special down in Tallahassee remains to be seen, but Mike Norvell’s team should be one of the best in the conference and possibly even the country.
The additions of Fentrell Cypress, Keon Coleman, and Jaheim Bell headline a strong class of transfers which should bolster an already strong roster. QB Jordan Travis had many eye-popping plays last season but returns to lead a group of veteran players including RB Trey Benson, OT Robert Scott, and 6’7” Johnny Wilson and 6’4” Keon Coleman at WR.
Defensive end Jared Verse turned down a potential top-10 pick in the NFL Draft to return for another shot at a national championship. He is joined by NFL prospect Fabien Lovett on the line, with Akeem Dent and the Virginia transfer Fentrell Cypress in the backfield.
This Seminoles roster is loaded with talent, but will it be enough to overcome a seven-game losing streak to the Tigers? Death Valley will be as loud as ever, and it’s possible College Gameday will be onsite for the affair as well. I have to think Clemson will prevail in this massive home showdown and take the reins for Another Clemson Championship.
Regular Season Record: 4-0
Facing such a substantial test in the Seminoles early on gives us a clear idea of what this team’s ceiling might be in 2023. If Clemson can clear these first four games (really the Duke and Florida State matchups) and escape undefeated, you have to start feeling good about the chances of running the table for a perfect regular season record.
Game 5: Clemson at Syracuse, September 30th (AWAY)
My Hope: Clemson stays focused on the road.
My Fear: A Florida State hangover slows down the Tigers.
My Prediction: Shipley and Mafah combine for over 200 yards in a win.
Close, but not quite. That has been the story for the Orange when facing Clemson over the last decade, with six of the last nine games played having a 10-point score margin or less.
For Syracuse to have a chance against Clemson they will need quarterback Garrett Shrader to play the game of his life against a formidable defensive front. While mobile, Shrader will be without his star tailback Sean Tucker (who’s #PLEASED to be with the Bucs now), and he may face pressure to do more with his arm than he’d like.
Syracuse should get linebacker Stefon Thompson back from injury, but I don’t think their D will be able to keep Shipley and Mafah from doing what they do best. I expect a big day from both of them in what could be another narrow win at the Carrier Dome.
Regular Season Record: 5-0
Game 6: Clemson vs Wake Forest, October 7th (HOME)
My Hope: Cade Klubnik is playing confidently and smartly by now.
My Fear: The corners have a similar showing to 2022.
My Prediction: Clemson overwhelms Griffis and wins big.
Clemson has dominated this series, especially in recent years, with the last Wake victory coming in 2008. Dave Clawson has done well with his Demon Deacons, elevating the program to its best era in modern football (maybe ever) with seven straight bowl games, but he has yet to defeat the Tigers. Last year’s thrilling double-overtime affair in Winston-Salem was the closest he’s gotten, and unfortunately for Clawson, I don’t see this year being as close.
QB Sam Hartman is gone to Notre Dame (more on him later), while star receiver AT Perry is off to the NFL. They have plenty of WR talent still, but I’m not sure how much we should expect out of first-time starter Mitch Griffis. The defensive line won’t be a showstopper, especially with Rondell Bothroyd transferring to Oklahoma.
This is one team on the schedule whose identity may be more of a mystery until we see them play in 2023. I’m not too high on them as of this writing, and I think Clemson should comfortably put Wake Forest away at home.
Regular Season Record: 6-0
Game 7: Clemson at Miami, October 21st (AWAY)
My Hope: The defense avoids a sleepy performance off the bye week.
My Fear: Tyler Van Dyke plays like we expected him to in 2022.
My Prediction: Miami struggles to keep up with a high-flying Clemson offense.
If you’re looking for a great way to kill some time and satiate your college football hunger before the season begins, I’d recommend checking out u/jimbobbypaul’s series on Reddit in which he ranks the top 131 FBS programs across the last 40 years. He has some fun methodology and it’s been an entertaining trek from the bottom dwellers to the college football behemoths of late (Clemson ranked 10th on his list).
His series also shows which programs are currently coasting more on status and reputation garnered from long-gone glory years rather than recent on-field success. Miami (6th on his list) is one such example. Their worst year since 1983 according to his model was actually 2022, and they have only reached 10 wins once since 2003. Clemson has definitely taken advantage of these hard times for Miami, with the combined scores of their last four meetings reaching a whopping 178-30.
Mario Cristobal has no shortage of talent on his 2023 roster, including two five-star offensive tackles who may help remedy what was a large weakness for Miami last year. There’s star power on the offense but also inexperience and youth; it will be up to quarterback Tyler Van Dyke to lead his supporting cast to a better year than his injury-plagued 2022 campaign.
Defensively Miami is much more steady, boasting arguably the best safety tandem in the conference with Kamren Kinchens and James Williams. Lineman Leonard Taylor will help anchor the interior alongside both Miami’s leading pass rushers who are returning from a unit that notched 37 sacks last year.
Clemson has handled its business with Miami in such a convincing fashion over the last decade that I really don’t have any qualms about picking Clemson to win after a bye. Barring a superstar performance from Van Dyke, I don’t see Miami keeping it close.
Regular Season Record: 7-0
Game 8: Clemson at NC State, October 28th (AWAY)
My Hope: Clemson exorcises its Carter-Finley demons from 2021.
My Fear: The offense sputters against a quality defense.
My Prediction: The Tigers take a close win by seven points.
Aside from the Florida State matchup, this is the game I’m most nervous about on the 2023 schedule. That seems to usually be the case with the Wolfpack, as they have given Clemson plenty of scares over the last few years, including their overtime victory at home in 2021. The Tigers got revenge for that loss at home last season, but playing in Carter-Finley Stadium is another matter.
Out with Devin Leary (off to Kentucky), in with Brennan Armstrong. Goodbye Tim Beck, hello Robert Anae. Much like Clemson, the new duo at quarterback and offensive coordinator has given State fans a lot of hope for more explosive offensive showings in 2023. When the pair was together at Virginia in 2021 they put together a record-setting performance that they would love to recreate for the Wolfpack.
Clemson should match up decently with Doeren’s new offense, but the defense will be a strong test for Cade and Co. State’s corners are tremendous players, and while they bid farewell to linebacker Drake Thomas and safety Tanner Ingle, their unit might still be the best Clemson faces in the regular season.
I believe the Tigers can get it done on the road and secure a berth to the ACC championship, but look for this to be another nail-biter that goes back and forth late into the fourth quarter.
Regular Season Record: 8-0
An 8-0 record at this point in the season would place Clemson squarely in the mix for a playoff appearance, but securing that berth would require continued perfection in the regular season. Dropping a game this late in the season is always costly, especially with Florida State potentially waiting for their chance to jump Clemson in the rankings.
Game 9: Clemson vs Notre Dame, November 4th (HOME)
My Hope: The Tiger corners play up to their potential.
My Fear: Hartman picks the Clemson defense apart again.
My Prediction: Notre Dame can’t handle an explosive Riley offense.
After breaking multiple records at Wake Forest, including most passing touchdowns in conference history, Sam Hartman decided to depart for the Fighting Irish for one last NFL audition. Hartman worked well with Dave Clawson’s slow mesh RPO - how will he look in a new system with Notre Dame?
Michael Mayer is gone and won’t be able to terrorize Clemson fans anymore, and the receivers are young and somewhat unproven. Audric Estime is back after rushing for over 900 yards, and Clemson must do a better job keeping him contained than they did the last time they faced him.
Despite losing Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame’s defensive line will be a very strong follow-up to NC State’s. If the talk surrounding this year’s Clemson OL is to be believed, they should be able to protect Cade long enough to give him time to work the field. No doubt, #2 will be hoping for a better faring against the Irish than his unfortunate brief substitution last year.
The last home matchup with Notre Dame in Death Valley was an all-time classic - I’m not sure we’ll get such an epic showdown this year, but 2023’s battle with the Irish promises to be a heavyweight challenge nonetheless. I believe Clemson has what it takes to avenge last year’s untimely loss and will send the Irish home in defeat.
Regular Season Record: 9-0
Game 10: Clemson vs Georgia Tech, November 11th (HOME)
My Hope: Clemson gets a relatively easy matchup as a break.
My Fear: A key offensive player is injured late in the season.
My Prediction: The Tigers stomp the Yellow Jackets.
It’s been a rough time for Georgia Tech fans, especially as far as Clemson is concerned. The Yellow Jackets haven’t taken a game against the Tigers since that horrendous 2014 meeting; the last four games’ average score margin is remarkably similar to the margin between Miami and Clemson: 180-39.
While I expect brighter days ahead for Brent Key’s squad, 2023 likely won’t be the turnaround season they need just yet. Multiple question marks abound for the Yellow Jackets on both sides of the ball, and starting QB Haynes King is far from proven as a playmaker.
Escaping with no injuries will be the goal for this game - Clemson should handle business with ease at home and reach 10 wins for the twelfth consecutive season.
Regular Season Record: 10-0
Game 11: Clemson vs North Carolina, November 18th (HOME)
My Hope: Clemson’s DL is too much for UNC’s OL.
My Fear: The secondary has an off day against Maye.
My Prediction: Clemson clinches their ACC championship berth.
UNC’s 2023 season will likely live and die in much the same way it did in 2022: through Drake Maye. Throwing for over 4,000 yards as a sophomore, Maye dragged a lackluster defense to the ACC championship game, where they ran into a rejuvenated Clemson squad. He threw for 268 yards and 2 interceptions against a secondary eager to prove itself, and the much-anticipated showdown turned out to be a blowout.
Maye is back with the Tar Heels despite some off-season scuttlebutt that he might dart for a more illustrious program, but he loses two key weapons in Josh Downs and Antoine Green. As good as a quarterback as Maye is, the pieces surrounding him are not nearly as talented, and I don’t foresee them repeating a trip to the championship game this year.
Cade Klubnik exploded onto the scene with his exciting performance, throwing 20-24 for 279 yards and a touchdown and rushing for another on the ground. I’m confident that by this time in the season, we will be watching a highly improved Clemson offense, one that should be more than capable of hanging with the high-flying Drake Maye.
A Tar Heel defense that finished dead last in the ACC in 2022 doesn’t exactly invoke confidence for dramatic improvement this year, and I predict Clemson will impose their will on UNC as necessary. Maye is a great quarterback, but without some legendary heroics, I don’t see how he pulls this one out in Death Valley.
Regular Season Record: 11-0
Game 12: Clemson at South Carolina, November 25th (AWAY)
My Hope: Clemson is playing their best football at the right time.
My Fear: Rattler has another big game against the Tigers.
My Prediction: Clemson avenges their loss and finishes undefeated.
As always, the Palmetto Bowl can often define an entire season for both these teams. USC’s crowning achievement last year was knocking two potential playoff-bound teams out of the CFP race, giving them loads of momentum and all the confidence for this year’s rematch.
Certainly, it looks good on paper for the Gamecocks: home-field advantage, Spencer Rattler in his final year of playing, and the confident Shane Beamer. A closer look, however, reveals some concerning blights on this South Carolina team, including a severe lack of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
Cade Klubnik unfortunately never got a chance to prove his mettle against USC, despite an abhorrent showing from DJ Uiagalelei. He will be looking to do his part to win the state with the new Riley offense hopefully firing on all cylinders.
A focused performance from the offense should be more than enough to put down the chickens, although Clemson’s defense cannot afford to let Rattler work his magic for a second year in a row. If they can avoid that, the Tigers should punctuate a 12-0 season.
Regular Season Record: 12-0
OK OK, I know, calling a 12-0 regular season record is bold no matter what team you root for. It’s only been done six times by Clemson, and the schedule is far from a breeze this year. There are lots of questions surrounding this new offense, many of them centering around the young Cade Klubnik.
When putting this article together, I kept telling myself it was too bold to call a 12-0 year for the Tigers, and that may still be true. But I just couldn’t find where the loss would come in a schedule that sets up well for Clemson. The pivotal home matchup with Florida State is everything - win that game and I have full confidence in the rest of these picks. Drop that one at home and suddenly we’re in dangerous waters.
The truth is, we just don’t know how far this team can go until we see them in action on September 4th. I’ll let my colleague Drew Schneider summarize it:
Cade Klubnik is the most important player in the ACC and by extension the nation. If Cade truly is “the man” then Clemson is back in their rightfully ordained spot in the elite of college football. If he’s elite, and he has that potential, there is no reason why Clemson can’t play for, and win, a National Championship.
I’m betting on Cade being the man. Bring on the new season!