CLEMSON — Mitch Hyatt better be ready.
Hyatt is ranked fourth-highest on this list, but the argument can be made no player on Clemson’s roster outside of the quarterback will more greatly affect the Tigers’ win total this fall.
It’s not Hyatt’s fault. It’s not his fault Clemson’s been absolutely ravaged at the position of offensive tackle the past few years, both on the top line and down the depth chart.
Because Isaiah Battle’s off-field troubles have taken him out of school early, because Shaq Anthony transferred before last season, because Gifford Timothy and Patrick DeStefano left football due to injury and there were no junior college rentals available to enroll at Clemson, Mitch is the man.
Hyatt is trying to become Clemson’s second true freshman to lock up a starting job at offensive tackle since the 1970s. Barry Richardson, in 2004, is the only other trailblazer.
Of course, that’s just a line in a media guide. What actually resonates in football terms: Deshaun Watson, the thrice-injured quarterback in 2014, will have his blind side protected by a true freshman.
It’s rare for a rookie to start along an offensive line, but not that rare. At least, when guards and centers enter the equation.
Center Dalton Freeman started nine games in 2009. Mason Cloy started a dozen at right guard in 2008, Nathan Bennett had seven starts at right guard in 2003 and left guard Glenn Rountree started 11 in 1993. All three former Clemson players had redshirt years to prepare.
Jeb Flesch (1988) and Eric Harmon (1987) were freshman left guards, but in a different era of physicality.
Conference-wide, only three freshman offensive linemen started more than six games in the ACC in 2014: Pitt center Alex Officer, N.C. State guard Tony Adams and Wake Forest center A’lique Terry.
In 2013, UNC’s and Wake Forest’s lines had two redshirt freshman starters, while Virginia Tech tackle Jon McLaughlin started every game and Pitt’s Alex Bisnowaty, and Virginia’s Eric Smith each started eight games at tackle as well.
So it can be done. But then again, none of those tackles were protecting a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.
Friday: No. 10 DT D.J. Reader
Saturday: No. 9 C Ryan Norton
Sunday: No. 8 WR Mike Williams
Monday: No. 7 S Jayron Kearse
Tuesday: No. 6 LB Ben Boulware
Wednesday: No. 5 CB Mackensie Alexander
Thursday: No. 4 OT Mitch Hyatt
Friday: No. 3