Discussion

Top 25 playoff teams: Clemson

Some are calling it a transition year; Dabo Swinney isn't buying it

Updated: May 30, 2014, 9:31 AM ET
By Travis Haney | ESPN Insider

From May 27 to July 3, Insider's college football experts will preview the season for the 25 teams with the best chance to make the inaugural college football playoff, based on Brian Fremeau's post-spring projections. This is the entry for the Clemson Tigers.

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Fremeau's projection

Projected finish: 8-4 (6-2)
Chance to make playoff: 2 percent
Chance to win ACC: 7 percent
Toughest games: Aug. 30 at Georgia (30 percent chance of winning), Sept. 20 at Florida State (14 percent), Nov. 29 vs. South Carolina (38 percent)


Why they'll make the playoff

1. The defense will surprise people

For those who haven't followed the Tigers all that closely, the defense is going to catch people by surprise this fall (and might even be the ACC's best). Chad Morris' offense has been ahead of Brent Venables' defense the past couple of seasons, but that could easily flip in 2014. In fact, Morris agreed with that sentiment when I suggested it to him a month ago.

The development by the defensive line this past season is the reason the Tigers went from 69th in yards-per-play against in 2012 (5.7) to 23rd in 2013 (5.0). Clemson led the country with 123 tackles for a loss, averaging a stunning 9.5 tackles for a loss per game.

The majority of that unit is back, including All-America candidates at end (Vic Beasley) and tackle (Grady Jarrett).

Then there are infusions like redshirt freshman corner Mackensie Alexander, RecruitingNation's No. 4 overall prospect in the 2013 class. Alexander was dinged up last season, but Venables said he is ready to make an impact now.

2. The run game can sustain the new-look offense

As for that offense, yes, it will look much different. But Morris isn't exactly crushed that Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and others have moved on. He believes in Cole Stoudt (and potentially Deshaun Watson) at quarterback and in what Clemson has returning and arriving at the skill spots.

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