The weeks leading up to the Fiesta Bowl not only give Clemson an extended period of time to prepare for Ohio State, but also allow young backups an opportunity to build momentum heading into next spring.
As Clemson’s two-deep gets ready to play for a national title, others on the roster are working to make sure the Tigers’ program stays near the top of the college football world next season and beyond.
“We’ve got a bunch of young talent on this team, a lot of guys that haven’t really been coached a whole lot since fall camp,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We take this young group and try to shorten the learning curve and build a foundation for a lot of these young guys that we’re going to be counting on this spring, and guys we’ll need to step up going into next fall. This is a critical time for a lot of areas.”
Swinney said several reserves took advantage of their time during last year’s bowl prep before playing big roles in 2016. He mentioned starting safety Van Smith and backup running back C.J. Fuller as players who made big jumps last December and January.
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“These guys make a ton of progress, I mean a ton,” Swinney said. “I think it just gives them a little bit more confidence going into the spring. It’s really good.”
Clemson will likely lose at least 10 starters, six on offense and four on defense, off this year’s team. The Tigers have been exceptional at replacing starters without a drop-off in recent years, particularly on defense.
Clemson lost seven starters off last year’s unit, but enters the College Football Playoff No. 9 in the country in total defense.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables said getting young guys work in bowl prep is a big reason why.
“It’s critical to their development,” Venables said. “You get seven, eight, nine opportunities, plus the additional time that we set aside at the end of practice, to really give them a bunch of reps. Football is a developmental game. The more reps the better. There’s nothing like experience and actually getting out there and playing.”
The Tigers are expected to have to replace Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, Jay Guillermo and Jordan Leggett off this year’s offense, and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is taking time now to observe who can fill their roles.
Running back Tavien Feaster, receivers Cornell Powell and Diondre Overton, offensive lineman John Simpson and several young tight ends are guys Elliott believes will benefit greatly from bowl prep.
Who: Clemson (12-1) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
When: 7 p.m., Dec. 31
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Line: OSU by 3