1. Improve the run defense
In four of Clemson's five losses last year, the Tigers allowed at least 162 rushing yards. Clemson ranked 67th nationally against the run. Clemson has the potential for an elite defense with another year to digest defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's scheme with DeAndre McDaniel back in the secondary, and a deep and talented defensive line. But for the Tigers' defense to be dominant, it will need better play against the run. The linebacker group could have the most turnover from a year ago, where young players such as Tig Willard, Quandon Christian, Corico Hawkins and true freshman Justin Parker push for significant playing time.
2. Parker reaches another level
The program received a major lift when Kyle Parker elected to return after throwing for 20 touchdowns and leading Clemson to nine wins as a freshman. But Parker is not the only top ACC quarterback returning. Christian Ponder and Russell Wilson are back in the Atlantic Division, while Tyrod Taylor, Jacory Harris and Josh Nesbitt return in the Coastal. It means more points could be scored this season in the conference. Moreover, Clemson's departed offensive stars C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford and Michael Palmer accounted for 34 of the team's 54 touchdowns last season. It means more production will be required from Parker to keep Clemson at the same offensive level. The good news is improvement is likely with Parker having started 14 games.
3. Continue the physical run game
After Clemson's bye week following a 2-3 start last year, the Tigers transformed into a more physical, run-heavy offense. The result? Over the last nine games, the Tigers rushed for 1,709 yards, 5.6 yards per carry and 22 touchdowns. During the season's first five games, Clemson rushed for 3.5 yards per carry and two touchdowns. Thomas Austin is gone along with Spiller, but Clemson returns four offensive linemen and fullback Chad Diehl. The power running game also helped the passing game, as Swinney noted some of Clemson's biggest passing gains came via playaction.
4. Defensive backs wanted
Gone are a pair of four-year starting corners, Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor. They helped lead Clemson to the No. 7 pass defense in the country last season. While Marcus Gilchrist figures to be a valuable starting corner, in today's college football five defensive backs are often on the field. Clemson needs to find two starter-level corners from a group that includes Xavier Brewer, Coty Sensabaugh, Spencer Adams and Byron Maxwell.
5. Win on the road
Winning on the road will be critical this fall, as the Tigers travel to preseason Atlantic Division favorite Florida State and division rival Boston College. The Tigers were 2-3 on the road last year. They also have a difficult ACC road contest at North Carolina. Clemson can fall back on an excellent learning experience from last year in its overtime road win at Miami, and will get an early test at Auburn on Sept. 18.
6. Pick up some of Spiller's production
The Tigers might not miss Spiller too much in the running game, as running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper combined to rush for more yards per carry than Spiller last fall. Where the Tigers will miss Spiller is in the return and passing games. Spiller returned five kicks for scores and accounted for four touchdowns and eight gains of 20 yards or more in the passing game. That's 54 points Spiller produced, nearly single-handedly via returns and wheel routes. While Clemson won't expect equal production, Ellington and Harper must emerge as viable threats out of the backfield, and Gilchrist or another player must become a reliable return man.