The defending national champions have everything to lose entering 2019. Unlike last year, the Clemson Tigers enter with arguably the face of college football in quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Dabo Swinney’s squad ended last year with possibly the biggest win of the football program’s history. At Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, the Tigers pounced on juggernaut Alabama, 44-16, to claim the school’s third national title. In fact, it was the second within the last three years. And this coming year, they don’t plan on changing that.
Clemson won their national title last year by playing true freshman Trevor Lawrence all season long. Because of the inexperience, as well as not being a real big name yet, the Tigers weren’t talked about as much as the other giants in college football such as Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State. However, this year is different. Everyone knows Lawrence’s game now, and the expectations have risen.
Lawrence threw for 30 touchdowns and 3,280 passing yards in 2018. He formed great chemistry with then fellow freshman Justyn Ross, who will be returning this year as the team’s number-one weapon. Ross caught for 1,000 yards last season and entered the endzone nine times. To go along with Ross, count on Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins, who led receivers with 12 touchdowns, to make Saturdays painful for opposing defenses. And we can’t forget the team leader in scores, junior running back Travis Etienne, who could possibly compete for the Heisman Trophy this year. Etienne ran for 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2018.
Defense should be no problem, once again, for the Tigers. In both College Football playoff games last year, Clemson gave up a combined 19 points. They annihilated Notre Dame in the semifinal (Cotton Bowl), 30-3, and embarrassed Alabama, 44-16, in the title game. Swinney’s team returns four starters on defense after allowing just 13.1 points per game and 286 yards per game in 2018. In 2019, they should be among the most stout defenses in the country.
The Tigers schedule looks very similar to last season’s. Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Syracuse, Florida State, Louisville, Boston College, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, and South Carolina all return to the Tigers’ slate—all teams they defeated. The only newcomers are Charlotte, a Conference-USA school; North Carolina, who went 2-9 last season; and Wofford, a Division I FCS school. So, it won’t be any surprise if the Tigers coast to a 13-0 record and make the Four-Team-End-Of-Year tournament once again.
However, with expectations come, at times, sloppy play. And sloppy play comes in trap games. There’s possibly two trap games on the Tigers’ schedule: Texas A&M and Syracuse. The Aggies from Texas A&M gave Clemson a battle last year, only falling by two, at 28-26. SEC schools always come ready to play. And Syracuse was so close to upsetting the Tigers last year, losing 27-23. And the Orange are no stranger to knocking off Clemson. Just two years ago, they accomplished that feat at home. So, pay attention to those two games to see how Clemson fares in big-time games.