By Will Vandervort
What will 2014 look like?
There is no doubt winning the Orange Bowl over Ohio State will bring the Clemson football program a lot momentum heading into the off-season, but can that be enough to overcome all the defections from the junior class, not to mention the loss of arguably the best quarterback in school history?
Sure everyone knew Sammy Watkins was going to leave early for the NFL. Heck, we knew that the first day he stepped on the field his freshman year. Martavis Bryant’s departure was not a shock, though I think he could have used another year. However, he is not a fan of school and he has a couple of extra mouths to feed so I think those reasons weighed more into his decision than anything else.
Bashaud Breeland was a total surprise. I don’t think anyone saw that coming. Breeland leaving is a big loss for a Clemson defensive backfield that could have used his leadership and experience back there next year.
There is still no word on what defensive end Vic Beasley or linebacker Stephone Anthony plan to do. If they both go, then the defense could being coming back without its best tackler, best pass rusher and best cover corner.
With Boyd and McDowell graduating, plus Watkins and Bryant going pro, the offense will be missing its starting quarterback, its top running back and its two best pass catchers.
Things sure will be different in 2014. If Dabo Swinney can duplicate what he has done the last three years than it will be one heck of a coaching job.
Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and incoming freshman Deshaun Watson will battle in the spring and the summer to see who will replace Boyd at quarterback. Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye will be the leading candidates at running back, while Charone Peake, Mike Williams and T.J. Green have a chance to be explosive playmakers at wide receiver.
How much progress does Jordan Leggett make at tight end? Of all the tight ends on the roster, he has the most upside and the potential to become a super star. But that only happens if he shakes off the lazy bug he has and starts working harder.
The offensive line will have to find a new right tackle because Isaiah Battle will replace Brandon Thomas at left tackle, while right guard Tyler Shatley must all also be replaced.
The good news for the defense is that Clemson is loaded on the defensive front even if Beasley decides to turn pro, but getting him back would solidify the Tigers as one of the best defensive lines in the country coming back next year.
The linebacking corps is already going to be down Spencer Shuey and Quandon Christian so having to replace Anthony, too will cause the defense to take a step back, especially with the front seven.
Clemson will also be without the services of Chandler Catanzaro next season. All he has done in the last four years is break just about every kicking record there is at Clemson. He finished his career making 39 of his last 41 kicks and was probably the most under appreciate guy on the team at times because he is always so automatic.
So what will 2014 look like for Clemson?
Let’s just say the team that travels to Georgia to play the Bulldogs “Between the Hedges” to open the 2014 season will look a whole lot different than the squad that just shot down Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, a whole lot different.