CLEMSON — As the Clemson Tigers count down to their opener against Middle Tennessee on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, The Post and Courier counts down 10 storylines to watch during Dabo Swinney's first full season:
10. Spiller for Heisman
It's a longshot campaign to be sure. Two Heisman winners are back and C.J. Spiller has never carried a full workload.
After running behind a porous line last year, can he return to the seven-yards-per-carry average he posted as a freshman? Can he hold up for 300 all-purpose touches? Can Clemson beat preseason expectations? If the answers are Yes, Yes and Yes, he could have a chance.
9. X & Z
There are still essentially blank spaces next to the X & Z receiving positions. Are Terrance Ashe and Xavier Dye doing more than just holding down spots? Will Jaron Brown, Brandon Clear or Marquan Jones emerge early this season? Is true freshman Bryce McNeal really out of the picture? Swinney has hinted at a committee approach at receiver. Along with kicker, it is the most unsettled area of the team.
Former offensive coordinator Rob Spence was criticized at times for his play calling and philosophy. With a stable of first-year quarterbacks, and the gameday spotlight, how creative and risk adverse will 30-year-old Billy Napier be as a play caller?
10 Tigers storylines to follow
7. Korn's offensive role
Swinney says backup quarterback Willy Korn will play in every game. What is unclear is how substantial a role Korn will play. What if Kyle Parker completely takes hold of the position? What if Clemson is not afforded a luxury of playing backups often? Korn said he just wants a chance to continue to compete, it will be interesting to see how often he is afforded such an opportunity.
6. Super sophomores?
Clemson's 2008 recruiting class was regarded as one of the best in school history. How Da'Quan Bowers (defensive end), Parker, Jamie Harper (running back) and Brandon Thompson (defensive tackle) perform in their second years could very well determine the fortunes of 2009.
5. Elite 11
The Tigers have labeled Marcus Gilchrist, a natural corner, and Kevin Alexander, a natural defensive end, among their best 11 defenders entering the season. The staff is making room for the pair in the starting lineup at linebacker and safety. Will Alexander and Gilchrist make seamless, productive transitions to new positions? Or will players like Jonathan Meeks (safety) and linebackers Scotty Cooper, Tig Willard and Corico Hawkins gain more playing time?
4. Proper footing
Clemson could be in quite a few close games with a solid defense and inexperienced offense. Will kickers Spencer Benton and Richard Jackson be assets or liabilities?
3. Dearth of depth
The starting offensive line should be better, but what about depth? Players like left tackle Chris Hairston and left guard Thomas Austin seem to be irreplaceable.
2. The learning curve
How steep will it be for the 39-year-old Swinney? Can he lead Clemson to a nine-win season or better with seven games of head coaching experience?
1.What will Parker yield?
We know he has a rocket arm … and that's about it.
Is Parker the present and future quarterback for the Tigers? Can he manage games? Can he be Russell Wilson-like as a freshman? Or will a middling season open up a competition again next spring, under the threat of Parker being drafted in Major League Baseball's June draft. It's Clemson's ongoing soap opera.
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