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July 14, 2010
Clemson already faces the challenge of replacing arguably the most dynamic player in school history. Now the Tigers are waiting to learn if they also have to break in a new starting quarterback.
After quarterbacking Clemson to an ACC Atlantic Division title last fall, Kyle Parker performed even better on the baseball field and became the first Division I athlete to throw 20 touchdown passes and hit 20 homers in the same academic year. Parker was drafted in the first round by the Colorado Rockies last month, so he now must decide whether to give up his football pursuits to launch a pro baseball career.
Even if Parker stays in school, Clemson's offense could endure growing pains as the Tigers try to replace C.J. Spiller, who is the ACC's career leader in all-purpose yards.
Clemson won't be nearly as fun to watch without Spiller, but the Tigers still could contend for the ACC title. A veteran offensive line and an excellent defense give Clemson reason to believe it can win a second consecutive Atlantic Division championship.
THE SCHEME: Clemson uses multiple formations but typically operates in a one-back set.
STAR POWER: There isn't nearly as much star power now that C.J. Spiller has moved on to the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Spiller will be replaced by Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper, who have plenty of upside. But the closest thing Clemson has to a star on offense is senior LT Chris Hairston, who earned second-team All-ACC honors last season, his second as a starter.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: If Kyle Parker leaves Clemson to begin his pro baseball career, Clemson likely will hand the starting quarterback job to Tajh Boyd, a redshirt freshman who was the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the 2009 recruiting class. Clemson's uncertainty in the receiving corps also could create an immediate opportunity for DeAndre Hopkins, a 6-foot-2 true freshman.
STRONGEST AREA: Clemson has four returning starters on the line. Hairston and Landon Walker give the Tigers a pair of tackles with two years of starting experience. Sophomore C Dalton Freeman is a rising star whose addition to the starting lineup sparked Clemson's late-season surge. That line should allow Clemson to run the ball effectively even without Spiller. Ellington averaged 7.2 yards per carry last season and Harper gained 5.2 yards per rush.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: We all know what's been the biggest question at Clemson since Parker got drafted -- Who's going to throw the ball? That has overshadowed an equally troubling question -- Who's going to catch it? Clemson's top three receivers from last season graduated. The Tigers don't return any wide receivers who caught more than 14 passes a year ago. Clemson also has a serious lack of depth at tight end.
THE SCHEME: Clemson runs a 4-3 defense.
STAR POWER: SS DeAndre McDaniel decided to return for his senior season after picking off eight passes and making 102 tackles last season. He was the only player in the nation to compile at least eight interceptions and 100 tackles. He isn't the only star on this defense. CB Marcus Gilchrist also has star potential. E Da'Quan Bowers hasn't quite lived up to his recruiting ranking as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2008 class, but he remains a potential first-round pick.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: True freshman LB Justin Parker is a former four-star prospect who has set a goal of emerging as the ACC defensive freshman of the year. That might seem a tad ambitious, but Clemson's lack of depth at linebacker could allow Parker to make an instant impact.
STRONGEST AREA: Clemson has plenty of depth at tackle. Ts Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson have started together each of the past two seasons. The potential emergence of Bowers and the return of Malliciah Goodman and Andre Branch should give Clemson enough pass-rushing ends to make up for the departure of Ricky Sapp.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Linebacker was a major issue for Clemson last season, and it figures to stay that way this year. Brandon Maye recorded 103 tackles a year ago, but he's the only returning starter at linebacker. If Maye doesn't get more help this year, the middle of Clemson's defense could become vulnerable.
Spiller's graduation could hurt the Tigers on special teams almost as much as it cripples them on offense. Spiller was one of the best return men in recent college football history. Clemson also must replace the departed Jacoby Ford, another outstanding returner. Richard Jackson is back as Clemson's kicker after going 20-of-31 on field-goal attempts last season. Jackson went 3-of-5 from at least 50 yards out, but he struggled with consistency. Clemson also returns Dawson Zimmerman, who averaged 39.1 yards per punt a year ago. Clemson must upgrade its coverage after ranking 88th in the nation in punt coverage last season.
Clemson opens the season with two likely cakewalks against North Texas and Presbyterian, but the schedule gets much tougher from there. After those two walkovers, Clemson travels to Auburn, plays host to Miami and visits North Carolina in successive weeks. Florida State and Boston College are Clemson's two main competitors for the Atlantic Division title, and the Tigers face both on the road. Clemson plays host to Georgia Tech on Oct. 23 in a rematch of last season's ACC championship game. The good news: The Tigers avoid likely preseason ACC favorite Virginia Tech.
Clemson has plenty of question marks at the skill positions on offense, but the offensive line and defense are good enough to keep the Tigers in ACC title contention. Of course, it also helps that Clemson is playing in the Atlantic Division, which again looks much weaker than the Coastal. If Parker plays football this season, Clemson has a realistic shot at winning a second consecutive Atlantic Division title, though we'd still make Florida State the favorite. But if Clemson must break in a new starting quarterback, Clemson likely finishes below Florida State and Boston College in the Atlantic.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.