A to Z, a look at the 2017 Clemson football season
Clelin Ferrell and the Clemson defense get Auburn in early September

A to Z, a look at the 2017 Clemson football season

by - Correspondent -

The Clemson Tigers are coming off a national title in 2016, and the 2017 season opens Sept. 2 against Kent State with story lines galore for the upcoming season.

The program has double-digit wins for the past six seasons, and the Tigers have finished 14-1 the past two years.

Here’s an A-to-Z breakdown of what to expect in 2017:

A, ACC: Clemson is chasing its third straight ACC championship, something the Tigers haven’t accomplished since 1986-88.

B, Back to back to back: The Tigers also are looking for their third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff.

C, Cain: Deon Cain had a bounce-back season in 2016 after his off-the-field troubles at the end of 2015, and with Mike Williams in the NFL, Cain will need to become the Tigers’ No. 1 threat on the outside.

D, Dabo: It all starts with Dabo Swinney, the Tigers’ head coach who has turned the program from an underachiever into a national champion.

E, Early schedule: It’s difficult, for sure, with a home game against Auburn (Sept. 9) and road games against Louisville (Sept. 16) and Virginia Tech (Sept. 30) in the first month.

F, Ferrell: Clelin Ferrell had a dominant performance in the College Football Playoff, and he will be part of one of the best Clemson defensive lines ever.

G, Greg: Greg Huegel has been solid in his place-kicking role for the Tigers and made some big-time kicks last season.

H, Hyatt: Mitch Hyatt has started from day one at tackle, and he enters his junior season with strong NFL prospects coming his way soon.

I, Israel: Tucker Israel probably wouldn’t be the popular pick to be the starting quarterback, but don’t count him out.

J, Joseph: Kendall Joseph enters his junior season at linebacker coming off a terrific sophomore season. He will become even more of a leader this season.

K, Kelly: Kelly Bryant was the leader in the quarterback race coming out of the spring, and that probably won’t change entering preseason practice.

L, Lawrence: Dexter Lawrence was almost unblockable as a true freshman, and he is expected to only get better.

M, McCloud: Ray-Ray McCloud is another one of the talented wide receivers who will get more chances with Williams and Artavis Scott in the NFL.

N, New coaches: Swinney’s staff has two new coaches this season: defensive line coach Todd Bates and safeties coach Mickey Conn.

O, O’Daniel: It might be hard to believe, but Dorian O’Daniel is going to be a senior at linebacker this season.

P, Pollard: Sean Pollard stepped into the starting lineup at tackle during the 2016 season, and he should be improved this season after that experience.

Q, Quarterback race: It’s the story of the preseason and this entire season. It’s hard to replace Deshaun Watson, but if the Tigers can figure that out, they can be right back in the championship hunt.

R, Renfrow: Hunter Renfrow made the championship-winning catch in January against Alabama, and he will have an even bigger role this season.

S, Smith: Van Smith had some big moments at safety last season, but he also needs to avoid the missteps he made at times trying to make even bigger plays.

T, Tavien: With Wayne Gallman in the NFL, look for Tavien Feaster to get more opportunities in his sophomore season to show off his dynamic talents.

U, Underdogs: The Tigers haven’t faced that role much lately, but without Watson, Williams, Gallman, Scott and Ben Boulware, there are likely to be some doubters this season.

V, Virginia Tech: The Virginia Tech Hokies lost to the Tigers in the ACC title game last season. The two teams face off again Sept. 30 in Blacksburg.

W, Wilkins: Christian Wilkins is one of the best players in the country, not just one of the best defensive linemen in the country. After two strong seasons, could Wilkins be even more dominant this season?

X, Xaxier: The Tigers have plenty of weapons on their defensive line, but they are going to need Xavier Kelly to step in and be productive after his redshirt season.

Y, Yeargin: Richard Yeargin had a solid season last year at defensive end, but the Tigers will be without him this season because of a neck injury suffered in a car accident.

Z, Zerrick: Zerrick Cooper is right in the hunt for the Tigers’ starting quarterback spot after he redshirted last year.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Midday Sports Zone on Middle Georgia’s ESPN, 93.1 FM and 99.5 FM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at

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