Will Clemson football return to the national championship aspirations they once possessed?
The Tigers went 11-3 as they rolled through their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule before falling in a 31-14 loss to Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.
“Disappointing tonight for sure, but hey, we’ve got high — nobody out there has higher expectations than what we have,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said after the loss. “I promise you that. Again, we’ll keep battling. We’ll keep working. There’s a lot of great days ahead. A lot of great days ahead.
“People say what they want to say. Always have, always will. We’re just going to keep doing what we do. I’ve heard all those things before.”
Clemson hired former TCU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Garrett Riley to take up the same role with the Tigers. The younger brother of USC head coach Lincoln Riley helped mold an offense that ranked third in the Big 12 in yards per game, fourth in passing yards per game and first in the conference in points per game. The Horned Frogs made it to the National Championship finals before being taken down by the Georgia Bulldogs in early January.
What will be the three biggest position battles to look out for in an important season for Clemson football?
Wade Woodaz, a sophomore from Tampa, Florida, has the opportunity to start on the strong side of the ball. Woodaz earned 20 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his first season with Clemson. His three pass deflections were good enough to tie with safety Jalyn Phillips, safety Andrew Mukuba and linebacker Trenton Simpson. Woodaz blocked a punt against Georgia Tech in early September. He barreled passed two Yellow Jackets to block an attempt at Georgia Tech’s 16-yard line from punter David Shanahan.
Jamal Anderson, a four-star linebacker commit out of Mill Creek High School in Hoschton, Georgia, may be able to earn meaningful snaps at the strong side in his first year with the program. Anderson passed up offers from Utah, Duke, Florida, Indiana, Michigan State, Miami and Nebraska, among others, when he signed with the Tigers in late 2022. The 6-foot-4-inch linebacker racked up 65 total tackles, five sacks and three tackles for loss during his senior season with the Mill Creek Hawks, according to MaxPreps.
Junior Barrett Carter and freshman Kobe McCloud may be the two players to watch on the weak side.
Blake Miller may have a starting spot locked down. The Strongsville, Ohio native started in all 14 games for Clemson football last season, taking first-team freshman All-American recognition from College Football News, FWAA, On3 and Pro Football Focus, according to the team’s website.
Will sophomore Tristan Leigh be able to make his mark on this Clemson offensive line? A former five-star recruit out of Robinson Secondary in Fairfax, Virginia, Leigh played in 50 snaps from scrimmage in five games last season, according to the team’s website. He played in 13 snaps against Louisiana Tech and 16 vs. then-No. 24 North Carolina.
The 6-foot-6-inch tackle showed his respects to tackle Jordan McFadden, who declared for the NFL draft in early January after committing to the Tigers in the class of 2018.
“I have to give all credit to Jordan McFadden,” Leigh said, via All Clemson staff writer Christian Goeckel. “I came in here and he immediately put me under his wing, and he let me know early on that he was there to help me. Being behind a guy of that talent, and an even better dude, I feel like he helped me put myself in a position to get this job.”
The Tigers will feature a younger core of receivers than in years past. A youthful receiving core will have a mix of under and upper-classmen to take up the spots behind them.
The 15th-ranked Clemson recruiting class featured two wide receivers, including four-star Noble Johnson out of Rockwall, Texas. The 6-foot-2-inch receiver brought in 865 receiving yards and six touchdowns for the Rockwall Yellowjackets during his senior season, according to MaxPreps.
Freshman Antonio Williams, who led the Tigers in receiving yards with 604 last season, seems to be a lock for a starting spot in Clemson’s receiving core. Sophomore Beaux Collins and freshman Adam Randall, who took fourth and ninth place in total receiving yards, may have a fighting chance at starting roles outside.
Freshman Cole Turner, who earned 161 receiving yards on eight receptions, may also find himself in the mix.
Clemson’s Orange and White Spring Game will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 15, at Clemson’s Memorial Stadium.
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