Six compelling storylines for Clemson football in 2022

Six compelling storylines for Clemson football in 2022

Football

Six compelling storylines for Clemson football in 2022

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Clemson put a bow on the 2021 season with its Cheez-It Bowl win over Iowa State on Wednesday, which means the Tigers’ offseason is already a few days old.

Players will take a couple of weeks off before starting winter workouts in mid-January, but the work for next season has already started for Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff. There’s plenty to do before and after spring practice starts in a couple of months.

Here are six compelling storylines for Clemson’s football program entering the new year:

How will the Tigers finish their 2022 recruiting class?

Clemson officially started working on its incoming crop of recruits last month when it signed 12 players during college football’s early signing period, but the Tigers aren’t done.

There are still some positional needs the Tigers have to address during the traditional signing period in February, including running back (they’ve yet to sign any), linebacker (they’ve signed one, but would like to add another ), defensive back (a position that needs depth) and perhaps even quarterback, where there just isn’t a whole lot of game experience behind D.J. Uiagalelei now that Taisun Phommachanh has decided to transfer.

Of course, Clemson could also choose to dip into the transfer portal. Speaking of…

Will Clemson sign any transfers?

Swinney’s preference to recruit high school players and develop them over signing transfers has been well-documented, but might this be the year Clemson finally supplements its roster with players that began their careers at other schools?

With most high school prospects already off the market, it’s certainly possible. And if the Tigers were to miss on some of their top remaining prep targets – someone like, say, Jennings (Louisiana) four-star running back Trevor Etienne – they might not have a choice. Clemson has been active with its interest in the portal, reaching out to a couple of interior offensive linemen already. It’s also the prime location for Clemson to find a more seasoned quarterback if it wants, though the Tigers already have four scholarship quarterbacks in their plans for next season.

How many transfers will Clemson end up losing?

The Tigers have already had nine players elect to transfer since the start of the season, and, so far, that number has stood firm. Clemson hasn’t had any players enter the portal since the bowl game ended.

All but one of those players (receiver Frank Ladson) were backups or reserves. Still, the departures have delivered hits to the Tigers’ depth at running back, quarterback, linebacker, safety and along the offensive line, which is part of the reason why Clemson is still searching for more players at those positions.

One thing to remember: The NCAA is allowing teams to sign up to seven players beyond the usual 25-man signing limit during this recruiting cycle to replace outgoing transfers, though it’s highly unlikely Clemson will use 32 scholarships in this recruiting class.

Who will replace the veterans?

As hard as it is to believe, guys like James Skalski, Nolan Turner, Matt Bockhorst and Baylon Spector have played their last games in a Clemson uniform. The Tigers finally have to plan for life without some of the most accomplished players on their roster.

Skalski and Turner were both six-year seniors on this year’s defense. Skalski was not only a leader but widely considered the heart and soul of the defense from his middle linebacker spot, playing a whopping 69 games in his Clemson career and leading the Tigers in tackles the last two seasons.

Turner played in more than 60 at safety while Bockhorst and Spector, both fifth-year players, combined for 100 career appearances. That’s a ton of experience on the way out the door, and that doesn’t include starting corners Andrew Booth Jr. and Mario Goodrich, who are both headed to the NFL.

Clemson isn’t completely green behind all of them. LaVonta Bentley is the favorite to take over for Spector at weak-side ‘backer after filling in for him twice this season, though there are fewer known commodities at middle linebacker. Jalyn Phillips, R.J. Mickens and Tyler Venables rotated in at safety and even got some starts there this season while Mason Trotter, Hunter Rayburn, Marcus Tate and Bryn Tucker got reps on the interior of the offensive line.

But there could be some outside competition that joins the fold by the time spring practice rolls around.

Will D.J. Uiagalelei remain the starting quarterback?

Of course, the position under the biggest microscope this offseason will be quarterback, where D.J. Uiagalelei was serviceable but not much more than that in his first season as a full-time starter.

To be fair, the step back taken by the offense wasn’t all on Uiagalelei, who didn’t have as much quality help around him with attrition along the offensive line and at receiver taking its toll on the Tigers throughout the season. But the big-armed quarterback struggled with his touch and accuracy from the start, finishing with the second-lowest completion rate among starting ACC signal callers with as many interceptions as touchdown passes (9) for an offense that scored 17 fewer points on average than it did a season ago.

Uiagalelei was benched early in the second half of Clemson’s loss at Pittsburgh in late October after throwing a pair of interceptions in that game, though he sat for less than a quarter before coming back in. He finished the season as the starter, fighting through knee and finger injuries to do so.

But the Tigers need more from the position if they’re serious about becoming a playoff contender again. A true sophomore, Uiagalelei still has just 15 career starts to his name and time to develop, but Clemson is bringing in the nation’s top prep signal caller, Cade Klubnik, as his primary competition this spring.

Can Clemson get back to the College Football Playoff?

The Tigers’ most disappointing season in nearly a decade still ended with them notching double-digit wins, but Clemson is used to playing for championships. That didn’t happen this season.

Not only were the Tigers not part of the CFP, but they didn’t play for an ACC championship either after finishing runner-up in the Atlantic Division. Of course, winning the conference was a prerequisite for Clemson to advance to the playoff each of the previous six seasons. The Tigers were the conference’s champion during all of those.

As previously mentioned, there are plenty of questions that Swinney and his reshuffled staff have to get answered between now and next season. But Clemson has recruited at a high enough level that there’s still plenty of talent on the roster.

Whether or not the Tigers can put all of the pieces, new and old, together enough to retake their spot among the sport’s elite remains to be seen.

Christmas is right around the corner.  Once again Clemson Variety & Frame is ready to make it a special holiday for your favorite Tiger.

Order today to make sure your gift arrives in time for Christmas.

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