This Clemson team might not be Dabo Swinney’s best — not as good as last year, or next year. But the Tigers are riding on the City of New Orleans (site of the next college football national championship game), even if the train must roll through Atlanta or Glendale instead of Kankakee and Memphis.
Unfortunately, picking Clemson to go 16-0 isn’t possible. Not until the NFL agrees to my proposal for a mid-January clash pitting the college football champion against the Arizona Cardinals in Las Vegas.
By the way, South Carolina isn’t the only team that has to play Clemson, Alabama and Georgia this season.
So does Texas A&M.
But the Gamecocks play the Aggies in College Station with Texas A&M coming off a bye week. Which means South Carolina can be top 25-caliber while disguised as a team struggling to get bowl eligible.
Predictions for all nine (soon to be eight) NCAA Division I teams in the Palmetto State:
The defending national champs have Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins, Frank Ladson … They can simply outscore everyone on their Big Easy regular-season schedule.
Or use a vise-grip secondary to allow a young front seven to come along while skilled backup quarterback Chase Brice mops up.
Or all of that.
Sure wins: Georgia Tech (Aug. 29), at Syracuse (Sept. 14), Charlotte (Sept. 21), at North Carolina (Sept. 28), at Louisville (Oct. 19), Boston College (Oct. 26), Wofford (Nov. 2), Wake Forest (Nov. 16)
Alabama coach Nick Saban wants major college teams to schedule 10 games per season versus Power 5 opponents, an ahead-of-the-curve idea that calls for Clemson and South Carolina to adjust
Sure losses: None
Probable wins: Texas A&M (Sept. 7), Florida State (Oct. 12), at N.C. State (Nov. 9), at South Carolina (Nov. 23)
Probable losses: None
Helmet scratchers: None
Trap game alert: A stretch, but Boston College, usually good for a tough first half.
Barometer game: Texas A&M
Record: 15-0, back-to-back
Jake Bentley, as a senior quarterback, should be a little better than he was while being a little better as a junior.
It’s the most depth Will Muschamp has had on the defensive line since he’s been at South Carolina.
The starting corners, Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, might have All-SEC stuff.
And when last seen in public, the Gamecocks got beat 28-0 by an above-average Virginia team.
Sure wins: Charleston Southern (Sept. 7), Vanderbilt (Nov. 2)
Sure losses: None
Probable wins: North Carolina (Aug. 31), Kentucky (Sept. 28), at Tennessee (Oct. 26), Appalachian State (Nov. 9)
Probable losses: Alabama (Sept. 14), at Georgia (Oct. 12), at Texas A&M (Nov. 16), Clemson (Nov. 23)
Helmet scratchers: at Missouri (Sept. 21), Florida (Oct. 19)
Trap game alert: Appalachian State
Barometer game: at Missouri
Record: 8-5 including a bowl game
Former Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell takes over the program that Joe Moglia built. It’s still tough-sledding for the Chanticleers in the Sun Belt Conference but the program went from 3-9 to 5-7 last year. Look out, Les Miles and Kansas on Sept. 7.
It’s great that Citadel head coach Brent Thompson thinks it’s a “flat out joke” that his team was picked to finish seventh in the Southern Conference in preseason polls of league coaches and media. Angry Bulldogs are so fun to watch, particularly when 19 starters are back from a 2018 season in which The Citadel went 5-6 (4-4 in the SoCon).
Faith and football are the twin threads that have intertwined throughout Autry Denson’s life, from his upbringing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to the announcement of his hiring at Charleston Southern.
The new-look Bucs gained offseason credibility with the hiring of Autry Denson, Notre Dame’s career rushing leader, as head coach. Now comes the hard part, catching up with new Big South Conference heavyweights Kennesaw State and Monmouth, the two programs picked to finish ahead of CSU in the league’s official poll of coaches. A brutal non-conference schedule includes Furman, South Carolina and MEAC favorite North Carolina A&T.
It helps to have first-team All-MEAC preseason pick Alex Taylor, a 6-9, 310-pound senior offensive tackle who transferred from Appalachian State after graduating from Berkeley High School. He’s a cousin of former Georgia Tech (and Macedonia High School) quarterback Joe Hamilton, the 1999 Heisman Trophy runner-up. Pierson Prioleau, an uncle and Macedonia High grad, played at Virginia Tech and for 11 seasons in the NFL.
The Terriers are a popular pick to win the SoCon title. The muscle starts up front with an offensive line led by seniors Justus Basinger and Michael Ralph.
Record: 9-2 and on to the FCS playoffs
The Paladins won their final four games last season to snag a share of the SoCon title (6-4, 6-2 overall). The defense is built around linebackers Adrian Hope, Donavan Perryman and Elijah McKoy.
Record: 9-3 and on to the FCS playoffs
Zola Davis (Wando High School) leads the way at running back for a Blue Hose offense that has seven starters back. Presbyterian’s move out of the Big South Conference to become a non-scholarship program next year means a significant lack of depth.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.