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Clemson 2013 season preview

Clemson has had at least four players selected in each of the past five drafts (including six who have been selected in the first two rounds), and the Tigers again are blessed with numerous NFL prospects (both seniors and underclassmen) this season. Tajh Boyd is considered the nation's best senior quarterback in most draft circles, and he gets to throw to one of the nation's best wide receivers in junior Sammy Watkins.

Clemson's spread offense, ably directed by coordinator Chad Morris, is the main reason the Tigers are the favorite to win the ACC this season. The defense has some issues, especially in the secondary. However, the schedule sets up nicely, with Florida State and Georgia Tech having to visit Clemson and the Tigers missing Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech in divisional crossover games.

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Clemson has big aspirations this season, but if the Tigers want to be in the national title hunt, they have to win their opener against Georgia in what shapes up as an intriguing quarterback matchup between Boyd and Georgia senior Aaron Murray.

Top senior prospects


QB Tajh Boyd: Is he the nation's top senior quarterback? Most folks think so. Boyd (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) passed for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns last season (67.2 percent completion rate), and also ran for 514 yards and 10 scores. There's little doubt he is a perfect fit for Morris' version of the spread. Boyd, who will be a three-year starter, is athletic, quick, tough and has a strong arm. But Boyd threw 13 interceptions last season and has tossed 28 in his career. He also lacks ideal height. His decisionmaking will be one of the bigger storylines this season. Boyd definitely has Heisman potential, though.

K Chandler Catanzaro: He is a former walk-on who should be one of the nation's best kickers this fall. He is 20-of-27 on field goals of longer than 40 yards in his career. But he has kicked only one 50-yarder in his career, and Spencer Benton handled long field-goal attempts and kickoffs for the Tigers last season.

RB Rod McDowell: He has rushed for 704 yards and seven touchdowns in his career and finally gets a shot to be the Tigers' featured back this season. McDowell (5-9, 195) has good speed but must show he has the durability to be an every-down back. His receiving skills are a question, too. He will play this season as a graduate student; he already has earned a sociology degree.

LB Spencer Shuey: He was known for solid special-teams play in his first two seasons, then emerged midway through last season as the Tigers' most consistent linebacker. He started seven games at middle linebacker and was third on the team with 69 tackles (that's the official number from the NCAA; Clemson listed him with 93 stops). Shuey (6-2, 230) isn't physically gifted, but he is a tough, instinctive player who is especially good against the run. He is expected to start at one of the outside spots this fall.

OT Brandon Thomas: He will be the starter at left tackle for the second consecutive season after earning first-team All-ACC mention last season. Thomas (6-3, 305) also has played guard for the Tigers and it likely would be his position at the next level. He lacks ideal size to play tackle in the NFL and has struggled against speed rushers. Thomas is a physical run blocker and does a better job in confined space. He already has a degree in secondary education.

Top underclassmen


LB Stephone Anthony: He was one of the nation's top 40 prospects out of high school in North Carolina in 2011 but hasn't lived up to the hype. After starting three times as a true freshman, Anthony (6-2 and 235, with excellent speed) started seven times last season and was fifth on the team with 63 tackles. But he had 38 of those in the first four games and eventually lost his starting job because of a lack of consistency. He was on the field for only 20 snaps total in the final three games of the season. He is penciled in to start in the middle this season, and he needs to show the production can match the potential.

DE Vic Beasley: He has seen limited time but was extremely productive last season. Beasley (6-3, 225) is strictly a pass rusher and had a team-high eight sacks last season despite averaging only 22 snaps a game. He is in line to start this season, and his playing time likely depends on how he holds up against the run.

FS Travis Blanks: He started eight games last season as a true freshman and had 48 tackles, one pick and seven pass breakups. Blanks (6-0, 190) is physical and a big hitter. He has good speed. He thrives in run support but has to show he has good range and can cover. He grew up a few minutes from Florida State's campus in Tallahassee, Fla.

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DE Corey Crawford: He was a key backup as a true freshman in 2011 and was elevated to a starting role last fall. Crawford (6-5, 270) hasn't provided much in the way of a pass rush (one career sack), but he has proved sturdy against the run. He has the athleticism to be a more productive pass rusher. Crawford attended prep school in 2010 after graduating from high school to get his academics in order.

DT Grady Jarrett: He played sparingly as a true freshman in 2011 before blossoming last season as a starter. Jarrett (6-1, 290) is one of the strongest players on the team and did a nice job of mucking up things in the middle against the run. He also showed some quickness and finished with 8.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and five quarterback hurries. Coaches will look for more consistency this fall. Jarrett also starred in wrestling and track (Georgia state champ in the shot put) in high school.

WR Charone Peake: He was a national top-100 recruit out of high school in South Carolina, but has yet to fulfill that promise with the Tigers. He has 29 receptions in his first two seasons and is expected to be a full-time starter this fall. Peake (6-3, 200) has excellent speed for his size, and will be expected to take some of the pressure off Sammy Watkins. He has the speed to be a deep threat, but even in high school he was criticized for his hands and lapses in concentration.

CB Garry Peters: He was a part-time starter last fall and led the team with eight pass breakups. He should start this season. Peterson (6-0, 195) is athletic and physical, but still is learning the nuances of the position. He doesn't have elite speed.

WR Sammy Watkins: After a phenomenal true freshman season in 2011 (82 receptions, 1,219 yards, 12 touchdowns), he slumped last season, suffering through an arrest-related suspension and nagging injuries to finish with 57 receptions for 708 yards and three touchdowns. Watkins (6-1, 205) is too talented to have another mediocre season. He has excellent speed, a high football IQ, can stop on a dime and knows how to get off press coverage. He needs to become more physical, and has admitted his focus and intensity waned last season. Watkins plays in a perfect offense for his skill set and has the talent to be an All-American this fall. He also is an explosive return man. His brother, Jaylen, is a safety at Florida.

Three must-see games of 2013


Aug. 31 vs. Georgia: A big game for numerous reasons, including the ACC's image. Boyd can get his Heisman campaign off to a good start against an SEC opponent. Georgia has a rebuilt defense, so can Boyd, Watkins and McDowell take advantage? The flipside: Can Clemson's defense hold down the Bulldogs? Anthony and Shuey will be tested by Bulldogs tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and Beasley, Crawford and Jarrett will be going against an offensive line expected to be one of the best in the nation.

Oct. 19 vs. Florida State: This should determine the ACC's Atlantic Division title, and the winner becomes the frontrunner for the league's automatic BCS berth. Boyd and Watkins will be throwing against the league's best secondary. Can Beasley get any push against FSU star offensive tackle Cameron Erving? Anthony and Shuey will be tested by a tough rushing attack.

Nov. 30 at South Carolina: The Gamecocks have won four in a row in this nasty rivalry and never have won five in a row against the Tigers. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney wreaked havoc against the Tigers last season, recording 4.5 sacks. Can Thomas handle him this season? And Boyd may have had his worst game of the year against South Carolina last season. Can he and Watkins -- who hasn't done much against the Gamecocks in two games -- make some big plays this fall?

Follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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