Dabo Swinney is downplaying his team’s status as defending national champions, but fifth-ranked Clemson’s reign will continue until someone proves otherwise. Kent State will get the first crack at the Tigers when the teams open the season Saturday in Death Valley.
As Swinney is quick to point out, this is not the Clemson team that won the title, especially not on offense, where the Tigers have to replace 78 percent of their production. “We aren’t defending anything,” Swinney told reporters. “If we were like an NFL team and had Tom Brady back for his 15th year, that would be one thing. But in college football it is a new team, new coaches.” As if the Golden Flashes didn’t face a big enough challenge with the defending national champions, they’re also dealing with the news that head coach Paul Haynes will be away from the team for the next two to three weeks for a medical leave of absence. Clemson has won 22 of its last 23 home games.
TV: Noon ET, ESPN. LINE: Clemson -40.
ABOUT KENT STATE (2016: 3-9): Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Don Treadwell will serve as the interim coach during Haynes’ absence. Treadwell has some tools to work with on offense, in particular quarterback Nick Holley, who rushed for 920 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and passed for 868 yards with four TDs and three interceptions. The Golden Flashes have an experienced secondary returning, but they have some holes to fill along the defensive front after giving up 189.8 rushing yards per game a year ago.
ABOUT CLEMSON (2016: 14-1): While they have to replace plenty at the skill positions, the Tigers should be tough in the trenches with experience returning along the offensive and defensive lines. They also have a couple of dangerous receivers back in Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow to serve as safety nets for quarterback Kelly Bryant, who takes over for star Deshaun Watson under center. The ground game faces even bigger questions with the departure of the Tigers’ top two rushers in Wayne Gallman and Watson.
1. Clemson is 4-0 against teams from the Mid American Conference and has outscored the opposition 176-58 in those contests.
2. Kent State cornerbacks Jerrell Foster and Jamal Parker each tallied three interceptions last season.
3. The Tigers have won 45 straight games when holding teams under 23 points and 31 straight when allowing fewer than 40 points.
PREDICTION: Clemson 47, Kent State 13