1. Improve the offensive line
All along the offensive front, the Tigers struggled last season. In retrospect, replacing four starters on the offensive line should have curbed expectations last season. Instead the Tigers were picked to win the conference and earned a preseason No. 9 ranking. This season, entering with their most experienced line in three seasons, expectations are lower. And perhaps more important than who quarterbacks, is how the Tigers block for the team's new front man and C.J. Spiller. Last season, only Wake Forest and Duke rushed for fewer yards per carry in conference play than Clemson, and the Tigers also ranked eighth in sacks allowed. The line has to be better.
2. Receive at least adequate quarterback play
No one is expecting Kyle Parker to step in and post Russell Wilson numbers circa 2008, when the N.C. State quarterback starred as a freshman. What Clemson needs is Parker to not lose games. A good measure would be a positive touchdown to interception ratio, which the team lacked last season under Cullen Harper. Parker has shown a rocket arm and promising poise this spring and summer, and backup Willy Korn has always been praised as a bright quarterback who adds an element of mobility. Swinney and company won't really know what they have until the lights come on.
3. Be dynamic along the front four
It's no secret Clemson is loaded with talent along its front four on defense. Some rated Da`Quan Bowers as the top prospect in the country prior to his arrival at Clemson last season. Brandon Thompson has flashed game-disrupting dominance and Ricky Sapp has vowed to have his best year as a senior. But the Tigers have yet to fulfill their physical potential. The Tigers were last among power-conference teams with 13 sacks last season, and allowed opponents to rush for 3.7 yards per carry. A conference title seems impossible without a great performance from the front four.
4. Be solid in the kicking game
This is the area, not the quarterbacks, not the offensive line, which has given Swinney the most anxiety. After all, his only returning specialist is the long snapper. Kickers Spencer Benton and Richard Jackson have plenty of leg strength, but both have been inconsistent. The punting game is more promising with Dawson Zimmerman and Jackson. But like the quarterbacks, practice is one thing, game day performance is another.
5. Spiller for Heisman goes from theory to reality
To many, the Spiller for Heisman campaign is a publicity stunt. It is a year many are skeptical about Clemson's prospects, a year in which two Heisman winners -- Florida's Tim Tebow and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford -- return to campus. But if Spiller does touch the ball 20 times a game and returns to his seven yards per carry number he logged as a freshman behind a better offensive line, he will roll up plenty of yardage and touchdowns. With a solid defense and young quarterback, Spiller will be counted on for production in 2009.
6. Channel Swinney's enthusiasm
Swinney is one of the real wild cards in the ACC in 2009. He seems like an ideal motivator, a coach who can channel his team's energy in the right fashion. He should have his team make the most of its underdog, us-against-the-world role with expectations down. High on the list of Swinney's objectives has been to change the culture, which had waned under Bowden, who was often hands-off. If the Tigers have indeed been underachieving relative to talent -- recall the school has reeled in four straight top recruiting classes -- Swinney's ability to add value will have as much power as whoever quarterbacks or blocks.