CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hopes changes at quarterback and offensive coordinator lead his ninth-ranked Tigers back to the College Football Playoff.
It looked like the program’s run of success — six straight Atlantic Coast Conference titles, two national titles from 2015 to 2020 —- had fizzled out when they missed the league championship game in 2021. But the Tigers rebounded last season for their seventh ACC crown in eight years, although they missed out on college football’s final four for a second straight season.
“Maybe we can get back there this year and be able to say we went seven out of the last nine years,” Swinney said. “That would be a pretty cool accomplishment.”
It took a couple of uncomfortable decisions by Swinney to put the Tigers back in championship position. Swinney pulled two-year starter DJ Uiagalelei out of the ACC title game with Clemson down 7-0 in favor of Klubnik, who sparked the team to a 39-10 victory over North Carolina.
Soon after the 11-3 season ended, Swinney let go of offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter — an ex-Tigers quarterback and longtime assistant who’s considered Clemson family — in favor of Riley, whose offense had TCU in the national championship game last season.
Only one season from 2015-20 did Clemson average fewer than 500 yards and 38 points per game. Those numbers fell to 359 yards and 26.3 points in 2021 and were 410/33.2 last season.
At 33, Riley was the Broyles Award winner as college football’s top assistant. He knows all eyes will be on him and Klubnik this season.
Riley said he generally puts as much pressure on himself to perform as well as possible: “I just think that’s the nature of what we do and that’s kind of those positions you want to be in.”
Riley and Klubnik, both from Texas, have formed a bond in their first few months together. Klubnik is excited about what’s ahead.
“The reason I came to Clemson was for two things. It was for the culture and to win a national championship,” he said. “I believe we’re going to be able to do that while I’m here.”
Despite losing NFL first round picks in Myles Murphy and Bryan Bresee, Clemson got back several defensive line starters who could have gone pro. Most prominent is tackle Tyler Davis, a fifth-year starter who’s a three-time all-ACC selection. That ties him with William “Refrigerator” Perry, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins for most in school history.
Clemson is counting on a healthy Beaux Collins to get the team’s receiving game back in good shape. Collins missed two games due to injury last year and finished with 22 catches for 373 yards, both fewer than his freshman season a year earlier.
The Tigers defense, which finished 27th nationally, certainly has one of the country’s strongest linebacking duos in Barrett Carter and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. Trotter, namesake son of the longtime NFL player, led the Tigers with 92 tackles and Carter was third with 77. The pair combined for 24 stops behind the line of scrimmage last year.
Clemson’s third-year starting tailback Will Shipley has shown an ability to excel as a runner, receiver and special teamer. He was recently voted to the all-ACC preseason team at tailback, all-purpose and specialist spots. Shipley led the Tigers with 1,182 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also was fourth on the team with 38 catches for 242 yards.
Clemson opens the season Sept. 4 at Duke. The Tigers host No. 8 Florida State on Sept. 23 and play most of their important games at home, including vs. No. 13 Notre Dame on Nov. 4 and No. 21 North Carolina on Nov. 18.