If there are people out there thinking Clemson is going to drop off in 2017 just because it lost Deshaun Watson, then they are going to be sadly mistaken. That’s at least the way ESPN College Football analyst Kirk Herbstreit sees it.
Herbstreit does not necessarily think this will be a transition year for the defending national champions because the program is now built to sustain success for years to come.
He has a point.
Since 2011, only Alabama has won more games in college football than Clemson, and the two programs are the only ones to win at least 10 games in each of the last six years. It is no coincidence they both have played for the national championship the last two years.
The Tigers have also won at least 11 games in four of the last five years and they currently own the longest streak ranked in the top 5, which is now at 25 straight weeks. Earlier this week, the Tigers debuted at No. 5 in the Associated Press’ Preseason Top 25 Poll.
However, Herbstreit does have some concerns. Clemson is replacing 78 percent of its offensive production this year as wide receivers Artavis Scott and Mike Williams, tight end Jordan Leggett and running back Wayne Gallman, like Watson, have all moved on to the NFL.
“I just think when you lose a player of that magnitude, and you take out Wayne Gallman, you take out Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, that’s a lot of production to take away from an offense and expect the next group not to miss a beat,” Herbstreit said.
He is also concerned about the lack of experience the Tigers have at quarterback with Kelly Bryant. Bryant has played in just 12 games and thrown 18 passes in his first two years at Clemson.
“I’m not going to say you’re never going to have another Deshaun Watson,” he said. “But the year after Deshaun Watson leaves, and you’re looking around to see who might be the next guy, and it sounds like it’s going to be Kelly Bryant.
“You look at the game experience that Kelly has, and I think he attempted maybe nine passes last year. When you watch him throw, yeah, he’s got a good arm, he can run around, but until you see him play, you just don’t know what he can do. Can he be a Tajh Boyd? Can he be able to do some things that Deshaun did?”
But Herbstreit is not counting the Tigers out. He still thinks the Tigers are going to be productive this year because he likes the way Dabo Swinney has built the program and how the offense can easily adjust to the strengths of its players.
Also, Clemson returns seven starters on a defense that led the ACC in total and scoring defense in 2016. He also likes the Tigers’ front four on defense, saying it’s one of the best in college football.
“I think if you look around him, they’ve got athletes everywhere,” the ESPN analyst said. “Clemson’s recruiting now the last probably five years at a level that very few teams are in the whole country. It’s only going to get stronger with Dabo, the new facility. The brand right now has never been hotter. They’re capitalizing on it.”
Even though the Tigers will be a marked team in 2017 as the defending national champions, Herbstreit still believes Clemson will be in the mix for a possible third straight trip to the College Football Playoff.
“I think you’re dealing with being that team that won (the championship) last year with the big target that everybody wants a piece of. The schedule I think is tougher with Auburn, they’re at Louisville, they’re at Virginia Tech this year,” he said. “Even a game like at N.C. State, I just think I would not want to be quoted as saying it’s a transition year.
“I just think it’s going to be more of a challenge, obviously, for them this year. But I still think they’re a team that could still go out there and win 11 or 12 games this year.”
—Photo Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
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