CLEMSON FOOTBALL

Khalil Barnes is one of the rising sophomores who ESPN's Greg McElroy is excited to see take another step this season.
Khalil Barnes is one of the rising sophomores who ESPN's Greg McElroy is excited to see take another step this season.

ESPN analyst: "Don't sleep on Clemson"


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ESPN college football analyst Greg McElroy believes Clemson is "flying way under the radar."

Preseason outlooks favoring the Tigers to win the conference are few and far between, although Dabo Swinney's group is usually not far behind the likes of Florida State, Miami and NC State somewhere in the teens of Top 25-rankings.

"A lot of talk this offseason about Miami, tons of talk about Florida State, rightfully so, you can make a case that those two rosters are the best in the ACC, but don't sleep on Clemson," McElroy said on his ESPN podcast, "because that defense is built like a championship unit at all three levels. And offensively, if they can get more consistency out of Cade Klubnik. more consistency out of the run game behind Phil Mafah, their new starting running back -- he was situational last year and played a lot, him becoming now the bellcow will be even more effective for this Clemson team becoming more physical and more downhill in the run game.

"I think Clemson is a team that is flying under the radar in a really good way for Dabo Swinney and the Tigers."

McElroy, who called some Clemson games last year as an analyst, liked what he saw from the Tigers down the stretch in 2023.

"Clemson last year (was) really, really shaky in the first two months of the season, right? It wasn't pretty," he said. "They were a .500 football team in the first (eight games) -- it was not good. But down the stretch, starting with the win over Notre Dame, started to look a little bit more like the Clemson that we grew up with. And to those of you in the 30s like me, maybe the Clemson of Clemson of the late 2010s, maybe we didn't grow up with them, but that's the Clemson that I envision when I still think Clemson and Dabo Swinney."

McElroy went more into the personnel he's looking to step up or improve on strong debuts.

"Now, there are question marks around Clemson. No one's denying it," McElroy said. "It really centers around their offense and centers around their quarterback spot. Because they put so much with that style of attack and with Garrett Riley and what he wants to be offensively, so much of that offense is going to center around Cade Klubnik's ability to make good decisions, be accurate pushing the ball down the field and to be solid when the opportunity presents itself to take off and scramble and maybe make some yards up with his legs.

"One thing I know for sure, though, is that Clemson is going to have a super elite defense this year. Now, will they be as good as they were in 2018? When they had three or four difference-making defensive linemen on their team, I'm not sure they'll be quite as good as that, but if you look at the young pieces who were thrust into the starting lineup after about Week 8 or 9 last year, TJ Parker, Khalil Barnes, Avieon Terrell, Peter Woods -- those guys got way more time down the stretch, and the biggest jump you make as a player oftentimes is from Year 1 to Year 2. They were already good in Year 1. I can only imagine what they're going to look like in Wes Goodwin's system this year.

"So I think Clemson is poised to make a big leap defensively. Now, it's about whether or not their offense can follow suit. I think their defense will always keep them in games, but can their offense, in the event that their defense has a little bit of a shaky outing, can their offense score enough to beat some of the most competitive teams on their schedule?"

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