Clemson football endured an uncharacteristically poor season in 2021. Will the rebound for Dabo Swinney be immediate?
Dabo Swinney has built the expectations for Clemson football to be College Football Playoff or bust. That’s a testament to the job he’s done at the helm of the Tigers program but, at the same time, it’s also a near-impossible bar to maintain year after year. So as the team comes off of a year in which they failed to make the playoff or even win the ACC, it’s time for Clemson to prove that they’re back.
With one of the best defenses in the country, that shouldn’t be hard as NFL-caliber talent dominates more often than not. The offense, on the other hand, needs to find its footing once again.
Back up at No. 4 in FanSided’s Preseason Top 50 Rankings and trying to stay there this time around, the Clemson Tigers!
Clemson football 2021 season in review
Losing in a defensive struggle against eventual-national champion Georgia to start the season shouldn’t have been a death knell for Clemson a season ago, but what fans didn’t realize was that game signaled D.J. Uiagalelei and the Tigers offense sinking faster than Howard’s Rock if thrown into nearby Lake Hartwell.
All told, though, the anemic offense overshadowed a defense that, despite numerous injuries, still looked as dominant as ever. Furthermore, the 10-3 final record might not be up to par for the Clemson faithful in name alone, but the Tigers didn’t have a truly bad loss on their record as they fell to Georgia, NC State and Pitt.
After the season, though, changes were brought about on the coaching staff with Tony Elliott leaving for Virginia and Brent Venables heading home for Oklahoma. Now it’ll be on Brandon Streeter and Wes Goodwin at offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively, to step into new roles and either elevate or maintain the level of play from last year.
And it’s not hard to decipher which side of the ball needs to do which.
Previewing Clemson Tigers offense for 2022 season
- Returning starters (8): QB D.J. Uiagalelei, RB Will Shipley, WR Joseph Ngata, WR Beaux Collins, TE Davis Allen, LT Jordan McFadden, RT Walker Parks, OL Will Putnam
- Newcomers: 5-star QB Cade Klubnik, 4-star WR Antonio Williams, 4-star WR Adam Randall, 4-star OT Collin Sadler, 4-star OT Blake Miller
- Impact player: Cade Klubnik
The good news, eight starters from the offense are back. The bad news, it might not be a good thing that eight starters from the offense are back.
DJU struggled immensely last season to live up anywhere close to the hype that surrounded him as he came to Clemson. Swinney has been adamant that he’s the quarterback of this team despite 5-star wunderkind Cade Klubnik’s arrival. But I have Klubnik as the biggest impact player for that very reason.
One of the biggest issues with the quarterback play last season was that the team didn’t have an option beyond Uiagalelei that they felt wholly confident in. Now with Klubnik in the building, if DJU struggles again, there’s an alternative that the coaching staff should be confident in turning to.
There’s a lot to like about the offense with Will Shipley back, Joseph Ngata once again healthy and ready for a breakout season, and three starters returning up front along with a bevy of other options across the board who can make an impact. But if they don’t get improved quarterback play, it’ll all be for naught.
Previewing Clemson Tigers defense for 2022 season
- Returning starters (7): DT Bryan Bresee, DE Myles Murphy, NT Tyler Davis, DE Xavier Thomas, LB Trenton Simpson, S Andrew Mukuba, S Jalyn Phillips
- Newcomers: 5-star CB Jeadyn Lukus, 4-star CB Toriano Pride, 4-star S Sherrod Covil
- Impact player: Myles Murphy
Where there shouldn’t be much concern is on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, the Tigers lose James Skalski after a decade (rough estimate) with the program at linebacker but they have a strong returning leader in Simpson and a ton of talent with reps under their belt stepping into bigger roles.
There is turnover in the secondary as Clemson must replace their starting cornerbacks from a year ago, but a host of stud freshmen along with some more players who are eager to snatch up a big opportunity who will have that chance.
But really, this defensive line is going to be the driving force. Myles Murphy might be the best defensive end in college football outside of Will Anderson Jr., Bryan Bresee is dominant, Tyler Davis is healthy and equally as fearsome, and Xavier Thomas is as experienced as they come. This unit will cover up any flaws by simply overwhelming virtually any opponent put in front of them.
Clemson football players awards watch for 2022 season
Will Shipley, Maxwell/Doak Walker/Hornung/Wuerffel
As mentioned, a healthy Shipley will be a focal point for the offense and his preseason accolades reflect as much. The running back was electric when on the field last season and, with hopefully improved quarterback play, he could be even more so in the 2022 season.
Bryan Bresee, Bednarik/Nagurksi/Outland/Lombardi
Bresee came to Clemson with all of the hype in the world around him and, while he hasn’t totally lived up to it yet, there have been enough moments to think it might be coming. Especially with the elite help around him, this could be a monster year for the defensive tackle.
Myles Murphy, Bednarik/Nagurksi/Lombardi
Aside from the Outland Trophy, Murphy and Bresee might be duking it out for the same awards this season but the defensive end is worthy in his own right. He’s been dominant off the edge but might actually put up better numbers if the defensive scheme affords him that opportunity now that Venables is gone.
Clemson football biggest game on 2022 schedule
Going on the road to Wake Forest wouldn’t be a picnic if not for the Sam Hartman situation, which feels unlikely to be resolved by Sept. 24. Meanwhile, the Tigers will have to be at their best at Notre Dame on Nov. 5 and against Miami on Nov. 19 in Death Valley.
However, it’s NC State’s trip to Death Valley on Oct. 1 that is the biggest one on the schedule.
The Wolfpack are the biggest threat to Clemson in the ACC Atlantic and have legitimate aspirations of being College Football Playoff spoilers this season with an offense that could be among the best in the conference, an experienced defense, and some bodies that might be able to combat Clemson up front. If the Tigers want to prove their back, this is the spot to do so.
Clemson football best-case scenario
There’s not a whole lot to unpack here. If Clemson gets the quarterback position figured out — whether thats Uiagalelei or Klubnik doesn’t matter — then this team is having a perfect season and getting to the College Football Playoff.
Even with challengers like NC State, Notre Dame and Miami on the schedule and other potential spoilers in the ACC as well (and let’s not forget a potentially frisky Sotuh Carolina team, either), there are landmines throughout the schedule. But Clemson has the talent to overtake all of them and go into the conference title game with a 12-0 record.
Clemson football worst-case scenario
The worst-case scenario would really only come about for two reasons. The first has been mentioned numerous times already, the quarterback play. But beyond that, if Clemson has trouble staying healthy again, that could be highly detrimental.
If there’s shoddy play under center and we see injuries pile up on defense, this is a Tigers team that could very well end up with losses at home to NC State and Miami along with a loss at Notre Dame. Heck, you could even talk me into potential upset losses at Boston College or Syracuse. Even worse, that makes the rivalry matchup with the Gamecocks a question mark too.
They aren’t going to lose all of those games no matter what, but I’d put the worst-case scenario for this team at a touch worse than last year, going 8-4 as the ACC figures to be much more formidable than it was last season.
Clemson football 2022 season prediction
It’s time to “buy low” on Clemson, if that’s even possible. Even with being ranked as a Top 5 team in college football, the fact of the matter is that the Tigers are slipping a bit under the radar because of last season. But I have faith in Swinney to make the right quarterback decision now that he has a pair of quality options and should make that work to his advantage.
NC State will be the biggest challenge because, frankly, I am as confident as ever that Notre Dame is going to be a letdown with their preseason Top 5 ranking. And Miami might be tricky, but I don’t think they can handle the Tigers in the thick of it up front.
All told, I don’t see a loss on the schedule for Clemson and think this team secures a massive rebound season by going 12-0 and winning the ACC.
Clemson football 2022 bowl game prediction
Despite the high hopes for Clemson — and even if I don’t necessarily agree with this assessment — Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has the Tigers playing in the Orange Bowl against Notre Dame and missing out on the College Football Playoff in his preseason projections.
My own projections, however, say that Dabo Swinney gets this team back to the proverbial final four.
Up next: No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs
Other articles in this series:
- No. 50: Nebraska Cornhuskers
- No. 49: Iowa State Cyclones
- No. 48: Maryland Terrapins
- No. 47: UCF Knights
- No. 46: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
- No. 45: Appalachian State Mountaineers
- No. 44: Auburn Tigers
- No. 43: Louisville Cardinals
- No. 42: Boston College Eagles
- No. 41: South Carolina Gamecocks
- No. 40: Kansas State Wildcats
- No. 39: Fresno State Bulldogs
- No. 38: Minnesota Golden Gophers
- No. 37: UCLA Bruins
- No. 36: Florida State Seminoles
- No. 35: Boise State Broncos
- No. 34: Florida Gators
- No. 33: Mississippi State Bulldogs
- No. 32: Purdue Boilermakers
- No. 31: Iowa Hawkeyes
- No. 30: Air Force Falcons
- No. 29: Ole Miss Rebels
- No. 28: LSU Tigers
- No. 27: Houston Cougars
- No. 26: BYU Cougars
- No. 25: Texas Longhorns
- No. 24: Pittsburgh Panthers
- No. 23: Penn State Nittany Lions
- No. 22: Kentucky Wildcats
- No. 21: Arkansas Razorbacks
- No. 20: Oklahoma State Cowboys
- No. 19: Wisconsin Badgers
- No. 18: Michigan State Spartans
- No. 17: Tennessee Volunteers
- No. 16: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
- No. 15: Cincinnati Bearcats
- No. 14: Miami Hurricanes
- No. 13: Baylor Bears
- No. 12: Oklahoma Sooners
- No. 11: Oregon Ducks
- No. 10: North Carolina State Wolfpack
- No. 9: USC Trojans
- No. 8: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- No. 7: Utah Utes
- No. 6: Michigan Wolverines
- No. 5: Texas A&M Aggies