From Favorite to Contender? Recent events lead to concern


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If the Tigers are to make a run at the College Football Playoff, they'll need to stay healthy (Photo by Matthew Emmons)
If the Tigers are to make a run at the College Football Playoff, they'll need to stay healthy (Photo by Matthew Emmons)

The ACC Football Kickoff will be held in just 21 short days at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, and a month ago I would have told you that the Tigers would be the favorite of many to not only win the ACC Atlantic Division but the conference title as well.

A lot has changed in a few short weeks, and now my thinking is that Florida St. will once again be the prohibitive favorite when the media’s preseason ballots are cast on the second day of the Kickoff. In short, the Tigers have likely gone from Favorite to Contender.

Despite the bad news over the last few weeks, Vegas released the 2015 betting odds and Clemson is just one of three teams nationally that are listed as the favorite in each of the season’s 12 games. Vegas is right more than wrong, but depth on the offensive line and the kicking game are now huge concerns.

The news broke last month that defensive end Ebenezer OgundekoEbenezer Ogundeko
RS So. Defensive End
#1 6-3, 250
Brooklyn, NY

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had been dismissed from the team after legal trouble, and while I thought that he would have only been a 15-snap kind of guy his departure leaves the Tigers thin and even more inexperienced at a crucial spot on the field.

Then came the news of kicker Ammon LakipAmmon Lakip
RS Sr. Punter / Kicker
#36 5-11, 200
Alpharetta, GA

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– more legal trouble – and Lakip has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Dabo SwinneyDabo Swinney
Head Coach
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. Whether he returns to the team and serves some sort of suspension or whether he never plays for the Tigers again is purely conjecture at this point, but even if he is suspended you have to figure he will miss a significant amount of time.

Replacing Lakip would likely be freshman Alex SpenceAlex Spence
RS Fr. Kicker
#47 6-2, 190
Florence, SC

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, and while a lot of Clemson fans would have told you they didn’t feel entirely comfortable with Lakip, he was 22-30 (73.3 percent) on field goals and 51-52 on extra points for 117 points in 20 games (13 starts) in his career. Spence has zeroes in all of those categories.

That means Clemson’s special teams could have a new kicker (Spence), a new punter (Andy TeasdallAndy Teasdall
RS Jr. Punter
#95 5-11, 185
Winston-Salem, NC

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), a new long snapper (Jim BrownJim Brown
RS Sr. Long Snapper
#51 6-4, 230
Walterboro, SC

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) and a new holder (Seth RyanSeth Ryan
RS So. Wide Receiver
#85 5-11, 170
Summit, NJ

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). All three critical pieces on field goals, extra points and punts are practically brand new.

That brings us to Isaiah BattleIsaiah Battle
Offensive Tackle (2012 - 2015)
#79 6-7, 290
Brooklyn, NY

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– Clemson’s projected starter at left tackle ran into a spot of legal trouble (yes, that thing again) and declared for next month’s NFL Supplemental Draft. Clemson not only loses its starting left tackle – the spot that protects quarterback Deshaun WatsonDeshaun Watson
So. Quarterback
#4 6-2, 205
Gainesville, GA

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’s blindside – but loses 1,336 snaps of experience. That experience can’t be replaced overnight and it also leaves the offensive line with just one returning starter from last season in center Ryan NortonRyan Norton
RS Sr. Offensive Line
#58 6-3, 285
Simpsonville, SC

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.

Last season Clemson had to break in a couple of new starters on the offensive line but entered the year with a combined 3,789 snaps of experience. This season the Tigers enter the season with 2,842 combined snaps of experience from the projected starters, but 1,855 of those snaps come from center Ryan Norton, the lone starter. The other four – Mitch HyattMitch Hyatt
Fr. Offensive Line
#75 6-6, 270
Sugar Hill, GA

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(0), Eric Mac LainEric Mac Lain
RS Sr. Offensive Tackle
#78 6-4, 305
Hope Mills, NC

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(423), Tyrone CrowderTyrone Crowder
RS So. Offensive Guard
#55 6-2, 330
Marston, NC

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(203) and Joe GoreJoe Gore
RS Sr. Offensive Tackle
#73 6-5, 290
Lake Waccamaw, NC

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(361) have a combined 989 snaps under their belts.

All is not lost, however. Clemson’s main rival in the ACC is Florida St., and the Seminoles are also replacing four starters on the offensive line and standouts at receiver, tight end, quarterback and running back. People won’t worry about the Seminoles simply because they’ve recruited well in recent seasons and are replacing those guys that are headed to the NFL with 5-star prospects. They also have heralded sophomore left tackle Roderick Johnson, who moved into the starting lineup after Cam Erving moved to center for the game against Miami.

The Seminoles added inconsistent but talented quarterback transfer quarterback Everett Golson to the roster recently, and still have All-Everything Kicker Roberto Aguayo.

Will those differences be enough to see the ‘Noles ascend to almost everybody’s top spot. Probably.

But that might be a good thing. Clemson hasn’t fared well when picked to win the ACC, including two years ago when the Tigers were the trendy choice but lost on the field to Florida St. and saw the ‘Noles take the title. Clemson plays better – at times – as the underdog and maybe the recent losses will serve to make this team closer. Maybe it adds chemistry.

You’re going to be the underdog now, Tigers. What you do with that role and how you respond will tell the tale of this season. Will the losses of key players decimate this team’s attitude, or will they come together and make the run at a College Football Playoff Spot like people thought they would a month ago? Can Deshaun Watson and Shaq LawsonShaq Lawson
So. Defensive End
#90 6-3, 269
Central, SC

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and Jayron KearseJayron Kearse
Jr. Safety
#20 6-4, 210
Fort Myers, FL

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and Mackensie AlexanderMackensie Alexander
RS So. Cornerback
#2 5-10, 190
Immokalee, FL

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carry the team to a title? Time will tell. But the events of the last week have to leave the fans – and the coaches – with an uneasy feeling.


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