- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Clemson Tigers:
Most important 2014 games: Aug. 30 at Georgia, Sept. 20 at Florida State, Nov. 29 vs. South Carolina
Projected win percentage: 72.5 percent
Over/under Vegas odds: 8½ wins
Instant impact newcomers: QB Deshaun Watson, CB Mackensie Alexander. Coach Dabo Swinney has repeatedly said Watson will play this season behind starter Cole Stoudt. Simply put, Watson’s athleticism makes him too valuable to leave on the bench, and the belief is he will get better as the season goes on. Alexander, a redshirt freshman, is listed among the starters on the depth chart and is expected to have a breakout season.
High point from 2013: Beating Ohio State 40-35 in the Discover Orange Bowl. The season-opening win against Georgia was big too, but the victory over the Buckeyes was one of the best under Swinney. The game was intense, competitive and thrilling and featured one of the best single-game performances of the season from Watkins.
Low point from 2013: Losing to Florida State 51-14. Clemson was the preseason choice to win the ACC but saw its conference championship hopes vanish after an embarrassing loss to the Seminoles. The Tigers were never even in the game, falling behind 27-7 at halftime. Boyd had three turnovers in one of the worst games of his career.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Watson emerges as one of the best freshmen in the nation, answering all questions about an offense supposedly in transition. His emergence, combined with a top-five defense, helps propel Clemson further than everybody predicts. Clemson ends up with a winning record against its toughest triumvirate (Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina) and snags a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: The offense has a tougher time than expected replacing Boyd, Watkins, McDowell and Martavis Bryant, failing to generate much production. The defense is not as good as advertised, thanks to inconsistency at linebacker and in the secondary. Losses to Georgia and Florida State mean a 1-2 start, and things only get worse with additional losses to Louisville and South Carolina. Clemson finishes with fewer than 10 wins for the first time since 2010.
They said it: “I personally believe, when it's all said and done, we're still going to be one of the best offenses in the country because I love the personnel we have. That's what makes college football fun. Everybody looks at what has left, and they make an assessment because they don't really know who these guys are that are coming in. Good players have to lead and new guys emerge, and we've got good personnel and good candidates to fill some of those voids.” -- coach Dabo Swinney