Two years ago, Clemson started the season ranked No. 2 in the country and eventually ended up No. 1.
This year, the Tigers will again start the season ranked No. 2, following the release of the Amway/USA TODAY Coaches Top 25 Poll earlier this week. Can this year’s team end the season the same way?
“Well, we are going to find out,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Friday as the Tigers’ began fall camp at the practice fields behind the Allen Reeves Football Complex.
Two years ago, the Tigers had a veteran ballclub that new how to win and was hungry to win following a loss to Alabama in the national championship game the previous year. Like the 2016 team, this year’s Clemson team is coming off a loss to Alabama, though be it in the College Football Playoff semifinals, and they are hungry to prove they are the best team in college football in 2018.
Like two years ago, Alabama is again the preseason No. 1-ranked team, receiving an overwhelming 61 of a possible 65 first place votes.
Also like two years ago, the Tigers return key starters from the year before, including all four defensive linemen … Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins. Clemson also brings back quarterback Kelly Bryant, wide receiver Hunter Renfrow and running back Travis Etienne on offense to go with a lot of new and unproven names—Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers—that have the potential to be household names by the end of the season.
In all, the Tigers return 17 starters and a record 61 lettermen off a 12-2 football team that won a third straight ACC Championship.
“We have some similarities to that team,” Swinney said. “I think we are a very talented team. We probably have a little more depth on this team than we did that year at certain critical positions.”
How far this year’s Clemson Tigers go will be determined in the weeks and months to come. Clemson opens the 2018 season on Sept. 1 against Furman at Death Valley. The first real test of the new season will come a week later when they travel to Texas A&M for a primetime game on ESPN.
Two year ago, those Tigers opened the season by winning a tough road game at Auburn.
“That is all to be determined. That team was resilient. That team was committed. That team did something that has not been done here in a long, long time,” Swinney said. “It is hard to compare this team to that team. If this team can go on and have a great year and unbelievable success like that team did, then maybe we can have something to talk about. But right now, we have to go put the work in. That is what today is all about.
“Day 1 is about putting the first day of hundred and twenty-one days of commitment together in a row.”