2012 College Football Team Previews

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The return of 15 starters from a Clemson team that won the school's first ACC title in 20 years, recorded the first 10-win season in 21, and made the first appearance in a BCS bowl should signal good things for this fall.

With a 3,800-yard passer (Tajh Boyd), 1,100-yard rusher (Andre Ellington) and 1,200-yard receiver (Sammy Watkins) back, the Tigers promise to be one of the top offensive shows in the country.

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But then there's this:

The last time the Tigers took the field they were on the wrong end of a record-setting Orange Bowl debacle with West Virginia shredding the Clemson defense in a 70-33 romp.

It was the fourth loss over the last six games after an 8-0 start for the Tigers.

That late collapse does raise some red flags going into 2012:

 There are issues up front on both sides of the ball with only two returning starters on the interior line on offense (center Dalton Freeman and guard Brandon Thomas) and one on defense (end Malliciah Goodman).

 Despite his overall statistics (3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns passing, 244 and 5 TDs rushing) Boyd struggled late in the season, throwing nine of his dozen interceptions over the last six outings.

 The running game struggled as well down the stretch, and point production fell from 41 points a game through the first eight games to 24 per outing over the last six, the latter figure inflated by 31-28 and 38-10 wins over Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, respectively, and the 33 points in the Orange Bowl debacle.

Nevertheless, coach Dabo Swinney has high expectations for his team.

"I think that we are on the verge of great things," he told the State newspaper of Columbia, S.C. "I'm very confident of where we are and where we're going.

"We've still got hills to climb. It's not easy. It's not an easy job, but I love it."

HEAD COACH: Dabo Swinney, fourth year at Clemson, 29-19 at Clemson and as a head coach.

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: WR Sammy Watkins -- The media's choice for preseason conference Player of the Year, Watkins recorded huge numbers as a freshman last year. He caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. In addition, the Tigers got him the ball 32 times on rushes, and he produced 231 more yards. Little wonder that Boyd is a more confident quarterback when Watkins is on the field.

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BREAKOUT STAR: CB Bashaud Breeland -- Breeland had seven starts as a redshirt freshman last year and was 10th on the team in tackles with 53. He had two interceptions and showed that he knows what to do with the ball once he gets it, returning one 64 yards and the other 29.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DB Travis Blanks -- Blanks, out of Tallahassee, Fla., looks to figure prominently in Clemson's defensive scheme when it goes to a nickel scheme. He could play either safety or corner down the line.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: QB Boyd is the leader of the offense and showed he is a threat to run or pass on any play. Behind him is an outstanding running back in Andre Ellington. Boyd not only has possibly the top receiver to throw to in Watkins but another big-play receiver in DeAndre Hopkins (72 catches). The secondary is an experienced group.

AREAS OF CONCERN: Depth in the line on both sides of the ball is the No. 1 issue facing the Tigers. Seniors Malliciah Goodman and Corey Crawford have experience at defensive end, but nobody nailed down a starting spot inside coming out of spring. The Tigers are looking at redshirt and true freshmen for help, especially in depth, on the offensive interior.

Notes

-- Senior C Dalton Freeman is the veteran anchor of Clemson's offensive front. He has started since midway through the 2009 season and played all but 11 snaps in 2011. He is on watch lists for the Lombardi Award and Outland and Rimington Trophies that recognize offensive linemen.

-- S Rashad Hall has told secondary coach Charlie Harbison he has been "moving fine" during summer workouts, according to a report in the Greenville News. Harbison played with a brace last season because of a knee injury. He had two interceptions and led the Tigers in tackles with 89.

-- Junior RG Tyler Shatley came out of spring No. 1 on the depth chart after moving from nose guard on defense.

 
 
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