CLEMSON – As September wrapped up, Clemson was nearly finished with its football recruiting class of 2014.
Thanks to a small senior class (only 10 scholarship seniors, because of the 12-man recruiting class in 2009), Dabo Swinney’s staff has limited scholarships for 2014. The Tigers already have 16 commitments, led by five-star quarterback recruit Deshaun Watson, who has been committed since February 2012. They’ll likely sign a maximum of 20, depending on how NFL draft departures and attrition shake out.
Watson is considered the nation’s top quarterback recruit, and will certainly be part of the battle next fall to replace Tajh Boyd as the Tigers’ starter. Current backup Cole Stoudt (who recently completed 19 of 20 passes against South Carolina State) will be a senior, and highly touted backup Chad Kelly, who just returned from ACL surgery in less than five months, will also be in the mix as a redshirt sophomore.
While the class is small, it is well regarded: Rivals.com ranks it 10th nationally, 247Sports ranks it 14th and Scout.com ranks in 20th.
With the bulk of the class committed, Swinney and recruiting coordinator Jeff Scott have the luxury of cherry-picking high-profile recruits to finish the class.
A handful of players with interest in Clemson are among that group. They include Durham, N.C., wide receiver Trevion Thompson (regarded as one of the nation’s top-10 wideout prospects), Hinesville, Ga., linebacker Raekwon McMillan (regarded as one of the nation’s top-10 middle linebackers), Latta, S.C., offensive guard Donnell Stanley (regarded as one of the nation’s top-10 guard prospects), Gallatin, Tenn., wideout Josh Malone (among the nation’s top-15 WR prospects), Marietta, Ga., safety D.J. Smith (among the top-15 safety prospects) and McDonough, Ga., defensive end Andre Williams (among the top-25 defensive ends prospects).
McMillan is expected to take an official visit to Clemson in early October.
Is “Clemsoning” Still A Thing?
As Clemson wrapped up a 26-14 win over N.C. State, ESPN’s national broadcast turned to perhaps the least favorite topic inside Clemson’s football offices: “Clemsoning.”
Over the past decade or so, Clemson has turned Clemsoning into one of college football’s most notorious punch lines. For the uninitiated, Clemsoning is the art of losing a game to an opponent you have no business losing to.
From 1999-2008, Clemson lost 10 games as a ranked opponent to an unranked foe under Tommy Bowden; Swinney has accomplished the ignominious feat three times in his four-plus seasons as head coach.
But since a 37-13 loss at N.C. State in November 2011, Clemson has won its last 11 games against unranked foes, a streak second nationally only to Alabama. The Tigers have spent the last 34 weeks in the Top 25, an accomplishment only Alabama, Oregon, LSU, South Carolina and Stanford have also managed.
And quite frankly, Swinney is tired of hearing about Clemsoning. Following the season-opening 38-35 win over then-No. 5 Georgia – Clemson’s second consecutive win over a top-10 SEC foe, a feat no non-SEC team has ever accomplished – he launched into a rant about how Clemson didn’t “take a backseat to anyone” and said reporters needed to “start write something different. Asking different questions. … Write a different storyline.”
So when ESPN color analyst Jesse Palmer – not a favorite in the Clemson football offices – latched onto Clemsoning with the Tigers up big, it wasn’t pleasing to the Tiger program’s collective ear.
ESPN’s Rece Davis defended the Tigers – pointing out Florida State’s inexplicable 2012 defeat at N.C. State – but Palmer obstinately refused to budge.
“If you want to change the perception, you’ve got to keep winning,” Palmer said. “They’ve done a very good job of it. They beat two top-10 SEC teams, but they have a lot of big games left on the schedule.”
Palmer – representing national perception of Clemson – said he’d let go of his argument if the Tigers made it through 2013 without Clemsoning.
As painful as it might be to admit, there is a smidge of reason to his argument.
When Swinney was handed the program’s keys in late 2008, he pledged to change the culture to one where winning was expected and ingrained, not just a pleasant surprise.
He has done an excellent job of that, upgrading the program’s attitude, talent level, facilities and overall direction.
But national perception can be more entrenched and tougher to change than you might hope.
And the N.C. State win is a perfect example. While Clemson is ranked No. 3 nationally – its highest national ranking since September 1988 – the Tigers remain something of a work in progress.
Junior Charone Peake’s season-ending torn ACL robbed Boyd of one of his top targets; through two games, Peake was third in receptions and second in reception yardage behind All-American Sammy Watkins.
Peake’s replacement, steady junior Adam Humphries, won’t scare defenses nearly asmuch. He went catchless against N.C. State without so much as having a ball thrown his way.
Junior Martavis Bryant must show greater consistency. He had a crucial drop on a deep ball in the season-opener against Georgia but flashed promise at N.C. State, making seven catches for 93 yards and two athletic touchdown grabs.
True freshman Mike Williams and redshirt freshman Germone Hopper will also be leaned upon more heavily. Williams made a beautiful back-shoulder grab against N.C. State, and Hopper showed explosiveness and solid hands. Clemson will need more of that.
In addition, the offensive line – expected to be a strength with four starters returning – has displayed cracks in the first three weeks. Junior right tackle Gifford Timothy was pulled after two series in Raleigh after allowing two sacks, replaced first by sophomore Shaq Anthony and then senior Brandon Thomas, flipped from left tackle.
Coaches would love sophomore Isaiah Battle to prove he can be trusted at left tackle – and he was solid against N.C. State. But he showed his immaturity by uppercutting an N.C. State defensive back in frustration, earning himself a certain suspension for Wake Forest.
The Tigers have the most collective offensive talent in the ACC. But polish is necessary over the next few weeks to convince outside observers that Swinney’s bunch is truly ready to emerge as a national power.