Clemson Football: What to Worry and Not to Worry About for 2022


Goodbye talk time. Hello sweat.

After saying “Clemson’s done!” heard and “Clemson is back!” and everything in between for months, the Tigers crack the real stuff this week. The opening day of their preseason camp is scheduled for Friday afternoon, and their prime-time Labor Day season opener against Georgia Tech is a little over a month away.

Coach Dabo Swinney’s team is the preseason ACC championship favorite for the fifth straight year and eighth time in the last 10 years. But it also faces big questions about whether it still belongs in college football’s exclusive club of national championship contenders.

As Clemson approaches September 5th, the day it can finally start providing some answers in the chick-fil-a-kickoff game, let’s share three reasons for optimism and three reasons for concern about fate of the Tigers in 2022.

Reason for Optimism: Elite Defense

Gone are the days of winning a national championship in grit-and-grind mode…or are they? Georgia in 2021 combined a modest offense with a dizzying NFL first-round defense to climb the hump for its first national title in four decades.

The Bulldogs, unsurprisingly, were the best defense in the nation, limiting opponents to 10.2 points per game. It’s not the worst program for Clemson – who finished second in the country in 2021 with 14.8 points per game allowed – to lose. Oh, and the entire Tigers line of defense is back.

Fights Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis to finish Myles Murphy and Xavier Thomas lead a deep front four while linebacker Trenton Simpson and safety Andrew Mukuba (reigning Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year) continue to build a loaded unit that could stand if needed up for a a lot of due to gross negligence.

Reason for concern: Coordinator change

Clemson was the picture of personnel consistency for years, eventually encountering some turmoil in 2021 when offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables left to become head coaches at Virginia and Oklahoma, respectively.

And no matter how much Swinney sings the praises of new OC Brandon Streeter and new DC Wes Goodwin, anyone in college football can tell you the loss of the two highest-paid assistant coaches in the country — both coveted candidates who had turned down Power Five offers to stay with Clemson in the past few years – could hurt. A lot of.

Streeter and Goodwin, who impressed in their Bowl debuts in December, inherit Clemson units full of top recruits and seasoned producers. However, can they emulate the magic of their Broyles Award-winning predecessors? This season will test Swinney’s internal hiring philosophy.

Reason for optimism: running game

Clemson in his 2021 opener: two rushing yards.

Clemson through four games in 2021: 99th in the country in rushing yards per game.

Clemson in an unbeaten month November: 24th in the country at 213 yards per game, with a 265-yard drop (South Carolina) and another 333 (Wake Forest).

All three field architects of this reversal are back in 2022: starter suspect Will Shipley (739 yards), Kobe Pace (641 yards), and Phil Mafah (292 yards). If Clemson’s offensive line continues on its upward trajectory under first-year coach Thomas Austin, it’ll be a serious strength. Shipley, a preseason first-team All-Conference pick, should be particularly exciting in the sophomore year.

Reason for Concern: Quarterback room

DJ Uiagalelei struggled in 2021 (2,246 yards, nine touchdowns, 10 interceptions) as everyone admits, including his own. Football remains a quarterback game at its defining moments, and no team will be fighting for a title with signal-caller stats like that.

Swinney has had steadfast faith in Uiagalelei since day one, and the towering five-star former recruit heads into 2022 with a new mindset and a new body (he’s lost about 30 pounds). Clemson is also banking on improved offensive health to help Uiagalelei, but the shadow of five-star rookie Cade Klubnik is ever-present. If Uiagalelei has problems, how long will he start?

Reason for optimism: track record

Clemson was 4-3 after a loss in Pittsburgh in October 2021. The Tigers didn’t lose again, turning struggles into late-season success in the form of a 10-3 season in which they had just one feasible tiebreak scenario by one removed another ACC title game. That didn’t happen, of course, but Clemson still comes into 2022 with the longest winning streak in the Power Five (six games).

Despite the chaos, Clemson also posted double-digit wins for an 11th straight year, the second-longest streak in FBS history. In other words, things were slowly but surely leveling out. Raw talent also counts. According to 247Sports Research, 63% of Clemson’s 2022 players are four- or five-star recruits, a “blue-chip ratio” historically indicative of success and title fights. Clemson’s 63% mark is #1 in the ACC and #8 nationally.

Reason for Concern: ACC uptrend

Yes, Clemson was the league media’s choice of the 2022 ACC Championship. But voters have never been less certain during the Tigers’ current run as preseason favorites.

NC State, which defeated Clemson in Raleigh last season, snagged 38 championship votes; Reigning Atlantic Division champion Wake Forest received four. Both also picked up division title votes.

Clemson has been dueling those schools for back-to-back weeks — playing Wake Forest on September 24 and hosting NC State on October 1 — and a slip could jeopardize their division title hopes (and, with them, their ACC title hopes and dashed their college football playoff hopes… well, you get the point). The Tigers are also closing their ACC relay on Nov. 19 with Coastal Division favorite Miami (eight votes for last season’s ACC champion!).

Chapel Fowler has been covering Clemson Football for The State since June 2022. A native of Denver, NC, he is a 2020 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and an avid pickup basketball player with previous stints with the Fayetteville (NC) Observer and Chatham (NC) News + Record. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, the North Carolina Press Association, and the Associated College Press.


About Author

Comments are closed.