Clemson football: What to worry about and what not to worry about in 2022


Goodbye talk season. Hello sweat.

Hearing “Clemson’s done!” and “Clemson is back!” and everything in between for months, the Tigers get a crack at the real thing this week. Opening day of their preseason camp is set for Friday afternoon, and the season opener on Labor Day against Georgia Tech is just over a month away.

Coach Dabo Swinney’s team is a team the preseason favorite for the ACC Championship for the fifth straight year and eighth time in the last 10 years. But he also faces big questions about whether he still belongs in college football’s exclusive club of national championship contenders.

As Clemson approaches Sept. 5, the day it can finally begin to provide some answers in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, let’s take a look at three reasons to be optimistic and three reasons to worry about the Tigers’ 2022 fate.

Reason for optimism: elite defense

Gone are the days of grinding and grinding to win a national championship…right? Georgia in 2021 combined a modest offense with a dizzying, An NFL first-round defense loaded with picks get over the hump for their first national title in four decades.

Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs were the top scoring defense in the nation, limiting opponents to 10.2 points per game. It’s not the worst schedule for Clemson — which ranked second in the nation with 14.8 points per game allowed in 2021 — lose. Well, the entire Tigers defensive line is back.

Tackles Brian Bresee and Tyler Davis and ends Myles Murphy and Xavier Thomas lead a deep front four, while linebacker Trenton Simpson and safety Andrew Mukuba (the reigning Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year) further round out a loaded unit that can make for a a lot offensive official crime.

Reason for concern: coordinator changes

A picture of personnel consistency over the years, Clemson finally faced turbulence in 2021 as offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables left, became the head coach of Virginia and Oklahoma, respectively.

And no matter how much Sweeney praises new OC Brandon Streeter and new DC Wes Goodwin, anyone involved in college football can tell you that losing two of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the country — both coveted candidates who turned down Power Five offers to stay with Clemson in previous years – can hurt. A lot.

Streeter and Goodwin, who impressed in their bowl game debuts in December, inherit Clemson units filled with top recruits and proven producers. But can they replicate the magic of their Broyles Award-winning predecessors? It will be delivered this season Swinney’s internal hiring philosophy to the test.

Reason for optimism: Start the game

Clemson in 2021 opener: Two yards rushing.

Clemson has four games in 2021: 99th in the nation in rushing yards per game.

Clemson’s undefeated month of November: 24th in the nation in rushing at 213 yards per game, 265 yards in one instance (South Carolina) and 333 in the other (Wake Forest).

All three architects of that turnaround on the field are back in 2022: presumptive starter Will Shipley (739 yards), Coby Pace (641 yards) and Phil Maffa (292 yards). If Clemson’s offensive line continues its upward trajectory under first year coach Thomas Austin, this is a major advantage. Shipley, a preseason first-team all-conference pick, should be especially exciting as a sophomore.

Reason for concern: quarterback room

By everyone’s own admission, including himself, DJ Uiagalelei struggled in 2021 (2,246 yards, nine touchdowns, 10 interceptions). Football remains a game of defenders at the most important moments, and no team is going to fight for the title with such alarm bell statistics.

Sweeney has been a firm believer in Uyagalelei since day one, and the former five-star recruit enters 2022 with a new mindset and a new body (he’s lost about 30 pounds). Clemson is also betting on improved offensive health to help Uyagalelei, but the shadow of five-star freshman Cade Strawberry is ever-present. If Uyagalelei is going to fight, how long will he start?

Reason for optimism: track record

Clemson was 4-3 after losing to Pittsburgh in October 2021. The Tigers went undefeated again, turning struggles into late-season success in the form of a 10-3 season in which they for one possible tie-break scenario from another ACC title game appearance. That didn’t happen, of course, but Clemson still enters 2022 with the Power Five’s longest winning streak (six games).

Despite the chaos, Clemson also reached double-digit wins for the 11th straight year, second longest streak in FBS history. In other words, things were slowly but surely adjusting. Also, talent is important. According to 247Sports research, 63% of Clemson’s 2022 players are four- or five-star recruits, the “blue chip ratio” that historically indicates success and title contention. Clemson’s 63% mark is #1 in the ACC and #8 in the nation.

A cause for concern: the rise of ACC

Yes, Clemson was the media league’s 2022 ACC Championship pick. But the selectors have never been less confident during the Tigers’ current run as pre-season favourites.

NC State, which defeated Clemson in Raleigh last season, had 38 championship votes; defending Atlantic Division champion Wake Forest got four. Both also received division title votes.

Clemson has battled those schools in back-to-back weeks — playing at Wake Forest on Sept. 24, hosting NC State on Oct. 1 — and a miscue could derail their division title hopes (and therefore their ACC title hopes and college football playoffs and … well, you get the idea). The Tigers also close out their ACC slate with Coastal Division favorite Miami (eight preseason ACC champ votes!) on Nov. 19. And no one forgets them Nov. 5 prime-time date with Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Chappell Fowler has covered Clemson football, among other topics, for The State since June 2022. He is a native of Denver, North Carolina, a 2020 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, and a basketball enthusiast who previously attended the Fayetteville (NC) Observer and the Chatham (NC) News + Record. His work has been recognized by the sports editors of the Associated Press, the North Carolina Press Association and the Associated College Press.

Clemson football: What to worry about and what not to worry about in 2022

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