Football

Clemson has a D-line filled with NFL talent. Does that mean another playoff berth?

Kelly Bryant (left) and Trevor Lawrence battled for Clemson’s starting quarterback job throughout preseason camp.
Kelly Bryant (left) and Trevor Lawrence battled for Clemson’s starting quarterback job throughout preseason camp. tdominick@thestate.com

College football is right around the corner and the Star-Telegram is bringing you its Top 25 teams going into the season.

Today we look at No. 2 – Clemson.

Top 25 to date

LSU (25); Texas (24); Central Florida (23); Oregon (22); Florida State (21); Boise State (20); USC (19); Mississippi State (18); Michigan (17); Virginia Tech (16); TCU (15); Notre Dame (14); West Virginia (13); Stanford (12); Michigan State (11); Miami (10); Auburn (9); Penn State (8); Oklahoma (7); Washington (6); Ohio State (5); Wisconsin (4); Georgia (3).

Nuts and bolts

Location: Clemson, South Carolina

Coach: Dabo Swinney (101-30, 10 seasons at Clemson)

2017: 12-2, 7-1 in ACC (lost to Alabama 24-6 in Sugar Bowl)

Last league title: 2017

Three things to know

1. High expectations. Some believe Clemson is the most talented team in the country with seven returning starters on each side of the ball, arguably better than the 2016 national championship team. It’d be a major disappointment if this team doesn’t reach the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight season.

Swinney has developed a program the reloads, not rebuilds, as the Tigers bring in highly-regarded recruiting classes yearly. It’s no surprise Clemson has won 40 games the past three seasons.

2. NFL-caliber D-line? Clemson has a defensive line that a few NFL teams could be envious of. Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are forces inside, and Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are elite ends on the outside. All are on NFL radars with Wilkins, Lawrence and Ferrell being projected by some as first-round talents.

Wilkins is the most highly-touted with 22 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks the past two seasons. Lawrence, meanwhile, has 11 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks the past two seasons.

Ferrell is coming off a 9.5-sack season and Bryant had 8.5 sacks. To say the least, opposing teams will have their work cut out to move the ball against this stout line.

3. Playmakers on O. Senior Kelly Bryant has been named the starting quarterback to start the season. Freshman Trevor Lawrence could assume the position at some point this season, though.

Whoever is quarterback, they’ll have plenty of weapons. Wide receivers Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers are budding stars, and the backfield features Travis Etienne who led the team in rushing yards (766) and touchdowns (13).

Three games to watch

1. Sept. 8 at Texas A&M. Jimbo Fisher has lost three straight to Clemson. Will that change at his new school?

2. Sept. 29 vs. Syracuse. The Orange pulled off the upset at home last season. They’ll try and do it on the road now.

3. Nov. 24 vs. South Carolina. Rivalry game never disappoints, but South Carolina and Will Muschamp have to do its part to make it relevant.

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