Matt Connolly

How do you follow a national title? Predicting Clemson’s 2017 season, game by game

A game-by-game prediction of how the Clemson Tigers football team will do against Auburn, Florida State and the rest of the 2017 schedule.

Clemson vs. Kent State

Sept. 2, Memorial Stadium, Clemson

The opener against Kent State will be a good opportunity for Clemson’s new starters on offense to gain some confidence before facing Auburn the following week. Kent State finished 3-9 last season and didn’t score against Alabama. The Tigers should roll in the opener.

Prediction: Clemson 42, Kent State 7

Clemson vs. Auburn

Sept. 9, Memorial Stadium, Clemson

We will find out a lot about starting quarterback Kelly Bryant and the Clemson offense in this game. Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, a former Clemson assistant, did a great job against the Tigers last year and that was with Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, etc. This should be a close game that won’t be decided until the final minutes, just as last year’s game was. I think Clemson’s defense, playing at home, is the difference.

Prediction: Clemson 27, Auburn 23

Clemson at Louisville

Sept. 16, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.

These teams gave us one of the best games in college football last season, and even with both having several new faces, the 2017 game should be a classic. Louisville’s weakness is its offensive line and Clemson’s defensive line is its strength. But I have a feeling Lamar Jackson will make enough plays at home to allow the Cardinals to finally top Clemson after losing by less than a touchdown each of the previous three years.

Prediction: Louisville 34, Clemson 30

Clemson vs. Boston College

Sept. 23, Memorial Stadium, Clemson

The Boston College offense against this Clemson defense is about as lopsided as it gets in Power 5 football. The Eagles are making progress under coach Steve Addazio and won a bowl game last season but don’t have the athletes to compete with Clemson. The Tigers bounce back from a tough game at Louisville and win easily.

Prediction: Clemson 38, Boston College 3

Clemson at Virginia Tech

Sept. 30, Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.

This will be a rematch of last year’s ACC Championship game and should be another fun contest. The Hokies nearly upset Clemson in that game and almost spoiled the Tigers’ run to the national title. Blacksburg is a tough place to play, especially for a first-year starting quarterback. But I think Virginia Tech lost too much from last season to knock off Clemson.

Prediction: Clemson 24, Virginia Tech 20

Clemson vs. Wake Forest

October 7, Memorial Stadium, Clemson

Wake Forest is heading in the right direction under coach Dave Clawson, but is still a long way from being able to compete with Clemson. The Tigers should roll as they begin an easier stretch of their schedule after a tough first month.

Prediction: Clemson 41, Wake Forest 10

Clemson at Syracuse

Oct. 13, Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

You would probably be more entertained going to a high school game than staying home and watching this contest on a Friday night. Syracuse showed promise at times last season but crumbled down the stretch, dropping its final four games. The Tigers will get an opportunity to impress the College Football Playoff committee in prime time as the game is slated for 7 p.m. on ESPN.

Prediction: Clemson 45, Syracuse 19

Clemson vs. Georgia Tech

Oct. 28, Memorial Stadium, Clemson

Most teams dread facing Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense, but the Tigers are probably looking forward to another opportunity to show that they have what it takes to shut Georgia Tech down. Brent Venables’ unit has had no problem slowing down the Yellow Jackets the past two seasons. With Clemson’s stout front seven, this year should be no different.

Prediction: Clemson 32, Georgia Tech 14

Clemson at N.C. State

Nov. 4, Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh

Some people are picking N.C. State to be the surprise of the ACC and possibly compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff in 2017. I am not one of those people. I do believe the Wolfpack can finish 8-4, and I also think this game will be tough for the Tigers. N.C. State returns 16 starters and has one of the best defensive fronts in the country. The Wolfpack were a chip-shot field goal away from knocking off Clemson last season.

Prediction: Clemson 27, N.C. State 21

Clemson vs. Florida State

Nov. 11, Memorial Stadium, Clemson

I have gone back-and-forth on this game. Clemson’s offense should get better as the year goes along and Bryant and the young playmakers get more experience. Last year I thought FSU was the more talented team, but I picked Clemson because it had the advantage at quarterback with Deshaun Watson. This year I believe the Tigers might be better overall, but I trust Deondre Francois more than Bryant or Clemson’s freshmen in a big game.

Prediction: FSU 28, Clemson 27

Clemson vs. The Citadel

Nov. 18, Memorial Stadium, Clemson

The Citadel should be one of the best teams in the FCS, but there is a big difference between that and being one of the best teams in the FBS. The Tigers win in a rout before facing their in-state rival.

Prediction: Clemson 52, The Citadel 6

Clemson at South Carolina

Nov. 25, Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia

South Carolina should be improved under second-year coach Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks have a lot of talent on offense, led by sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley. Columbia is also a tough place to play. The Tigers had dropped three games in a row at USC before winning 37-32 two years ago when Clemson was ranked No. 1 and South Carolina was 3-8. This game should be much closer than last year’s beatdown by the Tigers.

Prediction: Clemson 31, South Carolina 21

Clemson season prediction: 10-2 overall; 6-2 ACC; Orange Bowl berth