Can the Clemson Tigers run the table in their 2021 schedule after losing five players to the 2021 NFL Draft? Quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei will have to fill the enormous shoes of Trevor Lawrence (size 14 to be exact) to do so. Still, the former five-star recruit and head coach Dabo Swinney have plenty of talent at their disposal. Clemson and Alabama are currently tied for the most appearances in the College Football Playoff (10). The Tigers hope to return to the postseason in 2021 despite a changing of the guard under center. Let’s break down Clemson’s schedule for 2021 and give our predictions for each game.
Clemson Tigers schedule breakdown and predictions
All days are Saturday unless otherwise noted. All times listed below are Eastern Time.
Week 1 (Sept. 4): vs. Georgia | 7:30 PM | ABC | Prediction: Georgia, 35-24
Clemson has not lost a Week 1 bout since 2014…against Georgia. The Bulldogs sent several defensive starters to the draft this year. Still, they return multiple standouts in DT Jordan Davis, LB Nakobe Dean, SAM Adam Anderson, S Lewis Cine, and West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith. As a result, Clemson’s offense may struggle out of the gate to find a rhythm.
Speaking of offense, the Bulldogs can legitimately hold their own in a shootout against the ACC powerhouse. J.T. Daniels was on fire in the final four games of the season and had the offense humming. WR George Pickens will likely be out due to a torn ACL suffered in spring. But Kearis Jackson, Jermaine Burton, LSU Transfer Arik Gilbert, and 6’7″ behemoth Darnell Washington can carry the receiving load. It also helps to have Zamir White and James Cook in the backfield.
Week 2 (Sept. 11): vs. South Carolina State | 5 PM | ACCN | Prediction: Clemson, 73-7
Following a season-opening loss, the Tigers will get the train back on the track against FCS competition. The last time these two teams met, Clemson crushed South Carolina State 73-7 after falling to Georgia in Week 1 of 2014. Will history repeat itself?
Week 3 (Sept. 18): vs. Georgia Tech | 3:30 PM | FOX | Prediction: Clemson, 48-13
Although you will not find a bigger stan of true sophomore QB Jeff Sims and RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Georgia Tech is still transitioning away from their triple-option scheme. Clemson’s offense continues to right the ship against a poor Yellow Jackets’ defense.
Week 4 (Sept. 25): vs. NC State | TBD | TBD | Prediction: Clemson, 38-20
NC State is an underrated football team that will make this game closer than some fans may expect. Receivers Emeka Emezie, Thayer Thomas, running backs Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr., offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu, and quarterback Devin Leary should keep the Tigers’ defense honest. Still, the defensive side of the ball for the Wolfpack is subpar and may not be much of a challenge for Clemson.
Week 5 (Oct. 2): vs. Boston College | TBD | TBD | Prediction: Clemson, 42-31
Boston College is a darkhorse in the ACC, and if Clemson is still working out kinks on offense up to this point, I would not be surprised to see the Eagles knock off the defending conference champions. Phil Jurkovec to Zay Flowers will be one of the most dominant QB-to-WR duos in the nation. Furthermore, BC returns nearly their entire offensive line.
Nevertheless, I project Clemson to pull out the victory. Uiagalelei earned his second start of the 2020 season against Boston College. Although his defense allowed 28 points, the former five-star recruit drove the offense to 34. He completed 31 of 40 passes for 342 yards and 2 touchdowns. How will he fare with a full offseason under his belt and stability in regards to the global situation?
Week 6: BYE
Coming off another seemingly difficult contest, Clemson regroups on a Week 6 bye to prepare for Syracuse — not that they need to.
Week 7 (Fri, Oct. 15): at Syracuse | 7 PM | ESPN | Prediction: Clemson, 56-9
Clemson has defeated Syracuse in seven of their eight bouts since 2011. I anticipate their dominance to continue in 2021 as the Tigers trot through the middle of the schedule.
Week 8 (Oct. 23): at Pittsburgh | TBD | TBD | Prediction: Clemson, 42-14
Clemson has dropped 40+ points in each of their last three outings against Pittsburgh. Although the Panthers won’t let their ACC opponent walk over them, that will likely persist this season. QB Kenny Pickett should keep the contest somewhat competitive, but I wouldn’t bet on Pitt covering the 18.5 spread.
Week 9 (Oct. 30): vs. Florida State | TBD | TBD | Prediction: Clemson, 45-17
This one shouldn’t be all that close, but the score depends on who is under center for the Seminoles. Will UCF transfer McKenzie Milton win the QB battle with Jordan Travis? If so, how will he perform in his first playing season since his devasting knee injury in 2018?
Week 10 (Nov. 6): at Louisville | TBD | TBD | Prediction: Clemson, 49-21
Malik Cunningham loses his top receiver and running back from 2020, but tight end Marshon Ford is no slouch. Despite Cunningham’s dual-threat ability and the Cardinals’ deadly safety duo of Alcorn State transfer Qwynnterrio Cole (shoutout to HBCUs) and Georgia Southern transfer Kendrick Duncan, Clemson will continue to do their best to erase their Week 1 loss out of the minds of the College Football Playoff committee.
Week 11 (Nov. 13): vs. UConn | TBD | TBD | Prediction: Clemson, 63-0
UConn is better known for its basketball prowess, and for good reason. Their football program has not produced a winning season since 2010. To make matters worse, they didn’t even play last year. Expect a rather large blowout in Death Valley.
Week 12 (Nov. 20): vs. Wake Forest | TBD | TBD | Prediction: Clemson, 52-10
The Tigers are currently on a 12-game win streak against the Demon Deacons, and I don’t see it ending any time soon. Receiver Taylor Morin had a field day against Clemson last season, taking 9 receptions for 93 yards and a score. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables won’t forget that and will have his team prepared to shut down the opposition. Sam Hartman and Co. are worthy of a couple of scores, but I’m not even sure they get that.
Week 13 (Nov. 27): at South Carolina | TBD | TBD | Prediction: Clemson, 35-7
There are only two Gamecocks Dabo Swinney needs to gameplan against: RB Kevin Harris and edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare. The plan is simple. Stack the box against Harris, and run/throw the ball to the opposite side of Enagbare. If those two players are held in check, South Carolina stands no chance, even as an SEC team.
Projected 2021 record: 11-1
Uiagalelei and the offense will receive most of the attention, but Clemson’s defense will be what leads them to the postseason. After sputtering against Georgia to open the year, the Tigers go undefeated over their next 11 contests. Although I have Clemson strolling into the playoffs, I do not believe they have enough offensively to vie for a national championship in 2021.
Clemson’s roster and prospects to watch
Trevor Lawrence made Clemson history by being the first No. 1 overall pick hailing from the program. Four Tigers followed Lawrence’s footsteps in the 2021 NFL Draft. Travis Etienne, Jackson Carman, Amari Rodgers, and Cornell Powell all heard their names called by the end of Round 5. With so much offensive talent gone, who will step up next season?
We all know who is starting under center, but who will be supporting Uiagalelei next season? The backfield is Lyn-J Dixon’s for the taking. Before Etienne dominated touches last year, Dixon generated over 700 yards and 6 touchdowns off 118 touches in 2019. Even if Dixon is named the starter, Clemson will likely employ a committee approach. Additionally, I anticipate the Tigers running the ball a bit more with a heavier emphasis on play-actions passes and RPOs in 2021.
At receiver, Justyn Ross is returning from a neck and spine injury that had many believing he may not see the field again. Even if he is fully healthy, can he return to his dominant form? Frank Ladson is the other favorite to receive the majority of looks from Big Cinco. However, injuries and drops led to a rather lackluster outing from Ladson last year. E.J. Williams, Joseph Ngata, and Brannon Spector will battle for the No. 3 and 4 receiver roles while a pair of freshmen (Beaux Collins and Dacari Collins) round out the group.
Will Braden Galloway breakout at tight end?
Galloway will be key for Uiagalelei’s development and thus the success of Clemson’s offense. He fits the mold of the modern-day tight end as an athletic receiver. He also played basketball in high school which seems to be where most great tight ends begin their athletic careers.
RT Jordan McFadden, RG Will Putnam, and LG Matt Bockhorst return from the 2020 starting offensive line. McFadden is kicking over to the left side of the line to protect Uiagalelei’s blindside next year. Hunter Rayburn is the projected starter at center, with Walker Parks taking over at right tackle. That is the second-best front five in the ACC, behind only Boston College.
2022 NFL Draft prospects to watch: RB Lyn-J Dixon, WR Justyn Ross, WR Frank Ladson, TE Braden Galloway, OL Jordan McFadden, OG Matt Bockhorst, OG Will Putnam
The Tigers’ defensive line is one of the scariest units in the nation. Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy excelled as true freshmen last season and should only improve. Tyler Davis — when healthy — is a beast in the middle, and Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry are solid off the edge.
Losing Mike Jones to the transfer portal is a more significant loss than some believe. Nevertheless, James Skalski is the defensive leader, and Baylon Spector, Trenton Simpson, and Jake Venables are experienced linebackers.
The secondary is the biggest boom-or-bust unit on Clemson’s roster. CB Andrew Booth is the most talented of the bunch and is one of the most physically gifted athletes in the country. He has flashed potential, but he will need to improve his technique and show consistency in 2021.
With Derion Kendrick off to Georgia, DC Brent Venables will likely thrust Sheridan Jones into the starting lineup. Jones is a raw athlete, but he and Booth could become one of the best cornerback duos in college football with proper coaching.
Finally, in the backend of the secondary, we have Nolan Turner and Lannden Zanders. Turner is entering his sixth season in Death Valley and is coming off a USA Today second-team All-American campaign in 2020.
2022 NFL Draft prospects to watch: DT Tyler Davis, DE Xavier Thomas, LB James Skalski, CB Andrew Booth Jr., CB Sheridan Jones, S Nolan Turner
Clemson returns both their starting kicker (B.T. Potter) and punter (Will Spiers) this season. Potter nailed 61 of 62 extra points in 2020 (147-of-149 for his career) while connecting on 18 of 23 field goals. His 78.3% field goal percentage was drastically higher than his 61.9% from 2019. Can he crack the 80% mark in 2021?
Spiers is entering his fifth year with the Tigers, having been the starting punter since his redshirt freshman campaign. In each of the last three seasons, Spiers has increased his average punt yards while decreasing his number of punts.
2022 NFL Draft prospects to watch: K B.T. Potter
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