Football

5 questions for Clemson entering the 2016 season

Clemson will need defensive end Austin Bryant to step up in 2016.
Clemson will need defensive end Austin Bryant to step up in 2016. gmelendez@thestate.com

Clemson has its eye on a return to the College Football Playoff, and this time hopes to leave with the national championship. Here are five unknowns for the Tigers in 2016.

1. Can the offense stay healthy?

In 2014, quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL at the end of the season, and last year Mike Williams was lost for the year in Week 1. The Tigers have the talent to have an all-time great offense if Watson and the playmakers around him can stay healthy.

2. Who steps up on defense?

Clemson returns only four starters on defense, and for the second year in a row coordinator Brent Venables will have to rebuild the unit. The Tigers recruit well and the talent is there, but the experience isn’t. Defensive end and defensive back are probably the biggest question marks. Austin Bryant is a candidate to have a strong year at defensive end, while senior Jadar Johnson has a chance to be a difference-maker at safety.

3. How much impact will freshmen have?

There are several freshmen who have a chance to receive early playing time, especially on defense. At 6-foot-5, 340 pounds, Dexter Lawrence is a monster at defensive tackle. He was rated the No. 2 overall recruit in the country by the 247Sports Composite rankings, and while the Tigers are deep at defensive tackle, he should be in the rotation. Linebackers Tre Lamar and Shaq Smith are also highly rated players who could play early. On offense, running back Tavien Feaster from Spartanburg is a speedster who could get into the mix for playing time behind Wayne Gallman.

4. Will Deshaun Watson win the Heisman?

He enters the season as the favorite, according to several publications, after finishing third a year ago. Watson led the Tigers to the national title game in 2015, becoming the first player in FBS history to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Watson rushed for more than 100 yards in five of the final seven games last year. He should put up record-breaking numbers again in 2016, and has a talented group of playmakers around him.

5. Can the Tigers return to the national title?

There is no doubt Clemson has the talent to do so. The Tigers are loaded on offense and talented, but young, on defense. If the offense stays healthy and a few guys step up on defense, Clemson should be once again playing for a national championship in January.

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