As the orange and purple confetti is swept aside to make room for the 2017 season, the Clemson Tigers look to preserve the glory as reigning national champions.
Clemson welcomes back plenty of talent on both offense and defense, most notably Hunter Renfrow, Deon Cain, Dexter Lawrence, and Christian Wilkins. Despite Clemson’s flowing pipeline of talent, it’s impossible to overlook the replacement of No. 4.
Two-time Heisman candidate, check.
Two-time ACC Championship, check.
Player of the Year, check.
Back-to-back National Championship appearances, check.
National title, check.
Needless to say, there are some serious shoes to fill under center. With that said, you can believe the Tigers’ coaching staff foresaw Watson’s farewell long before now. At No. 3 on the 2016 depth chart is junior play-caller Kelly Bryant, followed by graduate Nick Schuessler. Still thinking about those stats? Not convinced? Also coming through the pipeline for Clemson is redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper and incoming freshman Hunter Johnson, who will participate with the team in spring practices. Still not certain? In the midst of their playoff run, No. 1 overall recruit quarterback Trevor Lawrence committed to the Tigers.
For Dabo Swinney and Clemson fans, this is great. Continued success on the football field followed by exceptional recruiting are reasons for Clemson’s rising to the top of college football.
“Like Coach Dabo and all the players before, they passed the torch to us,” said Watson to ESPN. “Tajh [Boyd] passed it down to me and I’m going to pass it down to whoever is next, whoever earns that job. We all know that Clemson is only going to get better, and it’s just going to keep growing and keep growing.”
While Clemson’s offense remains mostly intact, defensive coordinator Brent Venables will be faced with what looked to be a similar scenario to last year’s season: the rebuild. But can you call it a “rebuild” when you not only restore, but improve an entire defense? One of college football’s most talented coordinators with the resume to show, Venables is up for the challenge.
“Five years ago, we were in a different place as far as the understanding of some things defensively,” said Dabo Swinney in talking to TigerNet.com. “He’s just been tremendous; passionate, a very detailed guy, he’s a great recruiter, he loves the players. He’s a great family guy. There’s just really no negatives when it comes to Brent Venables whatsoever.”
Clemson’s ability to reconstruct and recruit top talent won’t be ending anytime soon. The 2017 College Football Playoff title in their trophy case might help.