Matt's 2009 College Football Preview: Clemson and GT

By: Matt Barnes
By: Matt Barnes

My preview of the season to come for the Clemson Tigers and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

We're now just two days away until the season officially begins. The wait is killing me! but to ease the wait, here's some more reading material for you. Yesterday, I previewed UGA and USC. Today, it's all about the area ACC teams.

CLEMSON TIGERS

2008 Results (7-6, 4-4)

OFFENSE: Last year, this was the big problem for the Tigers. In fact, they ranked 87th in the nation. That's not gonna cut it this year if they want to improve upon last year's 7-6 campaign. QB Cullen Harper is out and redshirt freshman Kyle Parker is in. Parker, who recently moved to Augusta, will need to play well early though, considering backup Willy Korn has more game experience and coach Dabo Swinney will have no problem swapping the two if it means more production at the position.

While RB James Davis has graduated, the Tigers do return one of the best tailbacks in the nation in C.J. Spiller. Last year, he ran for 629 yds and 7 TD but expect bigger numbers this season now that the offense will be built around his talents. The WR corps returns Jacoby Ford, who had 55 receptions for 710 yds and 4 TD and not really anyone else. Look for new names to struggle early but Tiger fans can hope one of them emerge as the season moves on.

The offensive line was mediocre at best last year. At times, they looked great but at others, it was the tailbacks that made them look good. But with a brand new QB under center, the line needs to improve greatly. 4 of the 5 starting linemen return so there should be an improvement.

DEFENSE: 8 starters return on what as a pretty solid defense in 2008. The unit ranked 18th in he nation, giving up just under 300 yards per game and teams averaged just about 17 points per game. The D-Line should be good, despite losing three tackles. Look for Bamberg-Ehrhardt grads Ricky Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers to wreak havoc on every quarterback from the defensive end positions.

The linebacking corps is young, though they return two starters. Last year, they were a weakness and compared to the line and the secondary, that will probably be the case again. Kavell Conner leads the group, coming off a 125 tackle season.

The secondary did lose the likes of NFL draftees Michael Hamlin at strong safety and Chris Clemons at free safety. But both cornerback return, which is good news, considering how good the Tigers were at defending the pass. The other good news is that guys replacing Hamlin and Clemons at the safety position are more than capable of doing so, as both are upperclassman.

SPECIAL TEAMS: There is one certainty about the special teams unit among a couple questions. C.J. Spiller will undoubtedly handle the return duties after doing an amazing job handling those duties last season. The questions surround the kicking and punting. The Tigers must replace both positions. Freshman Spencer Barton seems to have the upper hand on the kicking position over junior Richard Jackson. As far as the punting position, Dawson Zimmerman is expected to handle the punting. It will be interesting to see how well they do, especially with two big ACC games early in the season.

SCHEDULE
9/5 Middle Tennessee State
9/10 @ Georgia Tech
9/19 Boston College
9/26 TCU
10/3 @ Maryland
10/17 Wake Forest
10/24 @ Miami (FL)
10/31 Coastal Carolina
11/7 Florida State
11/14 @ NC State
11/21 Virginia
11/28 @ South Carolina

FINAL ANALYSIS: Dabo Swinney can sure talk the talk, as seen by the newfound excitement among Tiger fans. But now, it's time to see if he can walk the walk. The Tigers have the talent to compete in the ACC. It's just a matter of how well the offense clicks early on, because playing at GT and at home against BC are two big games in the whole scheme of things. There are lots of question marks on this team but if the Tigers find answers for those, they could surprise and win the Atlantic Division.

MY PREDICTION: CLEMSON 8-4

 

GEORGIA TECH

2008 Results (9-4, 5-3)

OFFENSE: If you like watching a fun offense, then this is the team to watch. Paul Johnson's triple-option attack gave just about every opponent fits last season, as the Yellow Jackets surprised many with a 9-4 campaign. This year, GT may no surprise anyone with their attack but they will still be dynamic, especially with 9 starters returning. The man who makes it work on the field is QB Josh Nesbitt. Though he was initially recruited by Chan Gailey, he has turned into the perfect player for Johnson's system, with his quick thinking and great combination of speed and strength. The scary thing too is that he's only a junior, so he'll only improve upon things like confidence and decision-making.

The tailbacks in Johnson's attack are explosive as well. Johnathan Dwyer may be the best tailback in the ACC, after rushing for nearly  1,400 yds and 12 TD last season. He will be complimented by Roddy Jones, who is also a threat. Just look at the 214 yd rushing performance he put on UGA in Athens. Lucas Cox also returns so plenty of experience among the tailbacks, which is not good news for the opposition. The WR corps doesn't get much attention considering the run-heavy scheme GT employs but there are some good players there. Demaryius Thomas headlines the group, coming off a season with 627 yds receiving and 3 TD.

The offensive line had trouble moving from Chan Gailey's system to Johnson's but it was good enough to pave the way for Dwyer's stellar season. They do lose both tackles but up the middle, the starters return. Expect them to improve with time, as learning this system is not easy.

DEFENSE: As much credit that was given to the offense, the GT defense deserved some as well. They were ranked 25th in the nation in total defense and much of that was thanks to a strong defensive line. But 3 of the 4 members of the D-Line have graduated, including All-ACC DE Michael Johnson and DT Vance Walker. DE Derrick Morgan is the only returning starter and has plenty of talent, as seen by his 7 sacks last season. Look for former South Aiken T-Bred Ben Anderson to step in at DT.

The linebacking group brings back two starters, including Sedric Griffin and Kyle Jackson. The best of them all though may be junior Brad Jefferson, who is a big hitter with some speed. This group should be fairly strong.

The secondary also returns some experience. Morgan Burnett headlines the group, thanks to a great 2008 that included 93 tackles and 7 INT. This group will need to improve a bit though, seeing that they gave up nearly 200 yds passing each week, which was good for 41st in the nation.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Scott Blair is back to handle the kicking, punting and kickoffs again. He finished 10th out of 12 in FG accuracy last year (12/19), which is one reason Johnson made special teams a key focus in the offseason. Jerrard Tarrant will take over return duties while Roddy Jones will likely team up with him on kick returns.

SCHEDULE
9/5 Jackson State
9/10 Clemson
9/17 @ Miami
9/26 North Carolina
10/3 @ Miss. State
10/10 @ Florida State
10/17 Virginia Tech
10/24 @ Virginia
10/31 @ Vanderbilt
11/7 Wake Forest
11/14 @ Duke
11/28 Georgia

FINAL ANALYSIS: Last year, no one saw a 9-4 year coming. This year, expect it. This team has all the tools to win not only the ACC Coastal Division, but the ACC Championship. With 16 starters returning, this group will only get more comfortable and more confident in the scheme. The offensive and defensive lines will need to see new leaders emerge but that's about it. With UGA, VT and Clemson all coming to Atlanta, the schedule is favorable as well. This could be a banner year for GT.

MY PREDICTION: GEORGIA TECH 10-2

 

Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or send me a quick e-mail at matt.barnes@wrdw.com. And don't forget to check back here tomorrow for the final preview post as I reveal my final Top 25, Heisman and BCS predictions.

SUNDAY: Conference Predictions

MONDAY: UGA and USC Preview

WEDNESDAY: My Final Top 25, Heisman and BCS predictions

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