The 2018 ACC Football Kickoff begins next week in Charlotte so it is a good time to take a look at some of the teams on Clemson’s schedule we think could have a down season or finish lower than what many expect.
On Wednesday, we gave you three teams on Clemson’s schedule I think are on the rise. Today I reveal the three teams I think are on the decline in 2018.
Louisville: The last two seasons, Bobby Petrino had one of the most dynamic players in the history of college football playing quarterback for him, yet he won just 17 games.
Lamar Jackson is arguably the best player to have ever played in the ACC. The former Heisman Trophy winner set all sorts of Louisville and ACC records. However, life without Lamar Jackson begins for Petrino and the Cardinals, and the program could not be on more of a decline.
Louisville returns just nine starters from last year’s 8-5 team that underachieved all season.
Though the offense loses Jackson and his unbelievable skills, it does return six starters, including leading receiver Jaylen Smith, who led the team with 60 receptions a year ago. Also back are four starters on the offensive line led by Mekhi Becton at right tackle.
Though things are promising on offense, the defense returns just two starters from last year’s team and has a new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder, who was fired at Notre Dame last year after his defense allowed 134 points in its first four games.
The Cardinals lost four of their top five tackles from 2018.
The one bright spot on defense is the return of leading tackle Dorian Etheridge at linebacker. He had 83 tackles last season as a true freshman. The other returning starter is also a sophomore in cornerback Russ Yeast.
NC State: With the exception of 2014, when the Tigers shut out the Wolfpack, 41-0, NC State has been a pain in Clemson’s side. Though they have not figured out a way to beat Clemson, Dave Doeren’s teams have given the Tigers fits, especially the last two years.
Two years ago they missed a field goal as time expired that saved Clemson and led to an overtime victory for the Tigers in Death Valley. Last year, K’Von Wallace had to make two plays at the goal line, including a game-sealing interception in the closing seconds for another seven-point win.
But NC State may run itself out of opportunities to dethrone Clemson from its seat on top of the ACC Mountain. The Wolfpack return just nine starters this year.
Gone is ACC Defensive Player of the Year Bradley Chubb, Mr. Everything Jaylen Samuels and running back Nyheim Hines.
So who is coming back?
Well, quarterback Ryan Finley is back as well as three starters on the offensive line, including left tackle Tyler Jones. In all, the offense has six players back. Wide receiver Kevin Harmon is also back. He is the school’s first 1,000-yard receiver in a season in 14 years.
But like Louisville, defense is where NC State could be in trouble. The ‘Pack returns just three starters, including none on the front seven.
There are high hopes for defensive end Darian Roseboro. The senior will slid into Chubb’s role on the defensive line. The linebacking corps is brand new, while the secondary does have experienced players in Nick McCloud at corner and Jarius Morehead and Tim Kidd-Glass at the safety positions.
Florida State: It is hard to say Florida State is on a decline because it has so much talent. However, the question is can new head coach Willie Taggart and his coaches truly turn the program around?
There are so many question marks with this team.
What we can do is stick to the facts and the facts of the matter is FSU lost a lot of good football players in 2017. The Seminoles return just 11 starters, and eight of them are on offense.
The good news for FSU fans is the offense. The Seminoles return 8 starters and have two quarterbacks who can win for them in Diondre Francois, who missed all of last year with a tear in his knee, and James Blackman, who started 12 games after Francois went down in Game 1 against Alabama.
The Seminoles also return All-ACC center Alec Eberle and two others on the offensive line to go with running back Cam Akers, who broke FSU’s freshman records.
FSU will be more of an up-tempo offense that wants to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers in space.
Just like Louisville and just like NC State the Seminoles bring back just three starters on defense. The good news for FSU is that its depth is much deeper so they should not take as big of a blow as the Wolfpack and Cardinals.
But, defensive end Brian Burns and defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas are back on the defensive front, while only Levonta Taylor returns on the back seven of the defense.
The Seminoles are still a contender in the ACC Atlantic and more than likely will finish second. However, getting to nine wins will be difficult after so much turnover, a new coaching staff and a schedule that has them going to Louisville, to Miami, to NC State and to Notre Dame. Not to mention they also host Clemson, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
Hot off the press. ‘Back with a Vengeance’ is now available for online orders. TCI takes an in-depth look at the upcoming season as the Tigers march towards another national championship. Order your copy today!