After assessing 10 reasons why Clemson can win the national title, here’s a look at why the Tigers might not win the 2016 national championship:
1. Special teams
This was a huge cause for concern in 2015, and it’s part of the reason the Tigers lost the national championship. Alabama exposed the kick return team with an onside kick. Nationally, Clemson ranked 83rd in kickoffs, 123rd in punt returns and 116th in yards allowed per kickoff. Coach Dabo Swinney vowed to fix the issues in the offseason, but those kinds of deficiencies in the crucial third facet of the game could easily derail the Tigers’ title hopes.
2. Trip to Tallahassee
Simply put, the Tigers are 1-11 at Doak Campbell Stadium since Florida State joined the ACC in 1992. While many of those years the Seminoles had a more talented team, that could be argued heading into 2016. But getting Clemson at home gives FSU, which has one of the most talented running backs in the country and a stout defense, a big advantage.
3. New secondary
This is the position with the most question marks heading into the season. Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley is the anchor of this unit, but the losses of Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green could be more than the Tigers can handle. Jadar Johnson, Van Smith, Marcus Edmond, Ryan Carter and Mark Fields are talented, but inexperienced.
4. O-line’s injury luck
In 2014, Clemson had terrible luck keeping its offensive line healthy, and it led to an anemic running game and an offense that struggled with consistency. In 2015, most of the starters remained healthy, and the line was the catalyst for success. At such a physical, punishing position, injury luck typically moves in cycles. Is Clemson’s depth prepared for it?
Clemson ranked 83rd nationally in turnover margin (minus-2) last season. It looked like that was eventually going to doom the Tigers during the regular season, but they survived. If a defense with fresh faces can’t force enough takeaways, and Deshaun Watson doesn’t clean up some footwork issues that caused some errant throws, Clemson might not be so lucky in 2016.
6. House of horrors at GT
Clemson hasn’t beaten Georgia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium since 2003. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a miserable 3-9 season, but they have an offense that’s tough to prepare for. If Clemson doesn’t execute and handle a road Thursday night game well, Paul Johnson could keep that home streak alive.
7. Louisville inching closer
The Cardinals fell just a few yards short of beating Clemson at Death Valley in 2014. They had the ball down by three in the final seconds last year at Louisville before the pass rush and an interception thwarted any last-second heroics. This year’s squad is more dangerous and itching to derail the defending ACC champs’ season.
8. Pass rush uncertainty
This is no knock on the talent of Clemson’s D-line, but don’t confuse it with production. What Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson did rushing the QB from the ends last year had a direct correlation on several victories. Can Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and others play with the consistency of last year’s group? They don’t have to be perfect, but they do have to make game-changing plays in crucial situations.
9. Is the schedule too light?
Clemson might very well have to go undefeated to make the playoff. Auburn, which plays in the tough SEC West, might not look so good on the resume by season’s end. South Carolina is rebuilding. Outside of FSU, Clemson doesn’t play as many marquee games as 2015, so a bad year for the league could really hurt the Tigers.
10. Everybody else
Here’s something the Tigers can’t control. If Clemson drops a game, and it doesn’t cost it a trip to the ACC title contest, maybe there are just four other teams having better seasons. If Oklahoma runs the table, the lack of a conference title game won’t keep it out of the playoff. The SEC winner very likely gets a spot. The Pac-12 and Big Ten champs could too, leaving Clemson on the outside looking in.