About 130 miles north of South Carolina’s capital, lies a town of 14,000. Clemson University was built on the Fort Hill Plantation in 1889 where it’s now home to historic traditions like Riggs Field, Howard’s Rock, and Death Valley. There’s an old saying around the town of Clemson, “There is something in these hills”. Until last year, it had been over 35 years since those hills “yawned its greatness”, as the story tells. Riding an undefeated record, the best in college football, Clemson Football collected an ACC title, the Orange Bowl, and advanced to the College Football National Championship where they fell short to Alabama 45-40.
The Tigers aim for the playoffs yet again
“I think we’re good enough again this year,” Dabo Swinney said. “But every year is a grind. There are no free passes.”
The driving force behind that pursuit is Clemson’s offense. Led by top Heisman Trophy hopeful and 2015’s Player of the Year Deshaun Watson. Last season, the 20-year-old threw for over 4,000 yards in the air and rushed for another thousand as a true sophomore. Watson was the, and currently only, player to record those numbers in the history of college football. He also had a historic performance setting the record for most total yards in a national championship game with 478 yards against the nation’s best defense, Alabama.
“It’s my time to go get it,” said Watson, hungry to accomplish both the Heisman and return to the National Championship.
Since January, he’s has added 16 pounds, which Watson says makes him better and more durable at the quarterback position.
During camp, Dabo Swinney praised his group of running backs for their growth, maturity and confidence.
“No matter who we roll out there, those backs are doing what we ask them to do,” Swinney said. “Tony’s done a great job with that group. From top to bottom, it’s a different dynamic right now in that backfield, and I love that. They’re all competing.”
Getting ready for a comeback
Watson will have his choice of weapons, aside from his arm, with Wayne Gallman at running back, tight end Jordan Leggett, as well as receiver Mike Williams who returns this season after a neck injury sidelined him for most of the 2015 season.
In preseason talks, Deshaun Watson spoke to the talent of his defense as well as the unspoken disparity between the ACC and SEC.
“We had the No. 1 defense in the nation last year. I practiced against the No. 1 defense every week. When we played Alabama, there was no difference to me,” said Watson. “I truly believe there’s no difference between the two leagues. It’s not overwhelming or shocking to play against the SEC, like most fans think.”
Last year’s number one defense will be without two starting defensive ends, two starting safeties, and a starting cornerback, all of which went to the NFL Draft. Despite the concern of replacement, the Tigers sophomore class is readied to fill those defensive openings, and who better to head that distribution than defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who restructured Clemson’s defense after its 2014 loss of all four linemen.
“We have more competition in the secondary than we had last year,” Swinney said recently. “We’ve got good talent and way more competition than we had last year. I think we’re going to be in a much better position from a coaching standpoint when you’ve got that type of competitive depth.”
The Tigers will be tested right away when they open their 2016 campaign at Auburn this Saturday.