If Clemson is to make it back to the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive season, the offense will have to take the lead.
The biggest question for the Tigers going into spring practice will be figuring out the makeup of their defensive lineup.
But on offense, the question isn’t whether the Tigers will be good, but how good.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson’s starting quarterback, believes his unit “could be one of the best offenses ever in college football.”
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“That’s our motivation, to be the best ever,” Watson said. “We’re going to take it one day at a time and try to get one percent better each and every day and if we do that, and everyone is on the same page, the sky’s the limit.”
Having one of the best offenses ever might be a possibility primarily because of Watson. A consensus All-American this past season, Watson became the first quarterback in FBS history to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.
Watson, surrounded by just about any cast of characters, could make the Clemson offense dangerous. But the combination of Watson and the talent around him is what gives that unit the potential to be historically great.
While the Tigers are set to have eight new starters on defense, they have eight returning starters on offense.
Outside of Watson, the Tigers have three additional returning skill-position starters – running back Wayne Gallman, wide receiver Artavis Scott and tight end Jordan Leggett – who received All-ACC recognition this past season and could rank among the nation’s best players at their respective positions in 2016.
Former walk-on Hunter Renfrow, another returning starter at wide receiver, had three touchdown catches between Clemson’s two College Football Playoff games and proved himself to be more than just a good story.
In addition to their returning starters from this past season, the Tigers also have two potential difference-makers returning from injuries that caused them to miss the 2015 season.
Mike Williams, considered by some to the best wide receiver in college football going into 2015, will be back in 2016 after suffering a season-ending neck injury in Clemson’s season opener against Wofford. Adam Choice, who had 308 yards from scrimmage in six games as a freshman before suffering a torn ACL, will give the Tigers another option at running back after taking a redshirt year to recover.
The Tigers also have other young talent at wide receiver and running back. Ray-Ray McCloud, Trevion Thompson and Deon Cain demonstrated playmaking ability as freshman wide receivers, though Cain’s status with the team remains up in the air after he was suspended for the College Football Playoff for a violation of team rules.
At running back, C.J. Fuller flashed playmaking ability in limited action as a redshirt freshman, while Spartanburg High product Tavien Feaster – the 2015 Mr. Football in South Carolina – has the potential to be an immediate difference-maker as a freshman.
On the offensive line, the Tigers have another talented trio of returning starters. Freshman All-American left tackle Mitch Hyatt might only be scratching the surface of his potential, while center Jay Guillermo and right guard Tyrone Crowder joined Hyatt in receiving All-ACC recognition. And because Clemson regularly rotated its offensive linemen in and out of the lineup this past season, the Tigers have three potential candidates to fill the other two starting spots– Maverick Morris, Jake Fruhmorgen and Taylor Hearn – who saw a significant amount of playing time off the bench in meaningful action.
Clemson’s next football in front of a crowd will be played on April 9, when the Tigers will play their annual spring game in Memorial Stadium. The Tigers will play their first regular-season game of 2016 on the road, at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium, on Sept. 3.