If the 2015 Clemson football schedule were a Batman villain, it would be the Riddler. There’s lots of questions, no easily available answers, and not a lot of clues to go on.
Being nervous about a starting quarterback is something Clemson fans have been accustomed to since Woody Dantzler left the building, so perhaps it’s not surprising that DeShaun Watson makes me a little jumpy. What we’ve got here is an incredible athlete who’s been picked as the prohibitive 2015 ACC Player of the Year favorite and at the same time a player who’s going to send waves of fear through Death Valley every time he takes more than a second or two to get up. Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney is saying all the right things about his sophomore quarterback — phrases like “as advertised” and “football IQ” abound — but with new offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott, and no David Beasley, Kalon Davis, or Reid Webster to shore up the O-line, it might be a lot easier for ACC defenses to get to an already injury-prone QB.
Speaking of defense, we should probably get some. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables is not a man prone to panic or overstatement, so when he said that the team’s linebacker situation was in a “state of emergency” recently, it was sobering. But with the loss of two players (Korrin Wiggins tore his ACL and Korie Rogers gave up football entirely), that leaves a total of nine scholarship linebackers in training camp right now, with little more than a week before the season opener. Having said that, Wofford and Appalachian State, the first two teams on the schedule, probably won’t be too taxing on Clemson’s D, but a problem is a problem, especially when your junior linebacker, Ben Boulware, can’t keep his cool during a scrimmage and gets booted off the field. And for the record, Venables is worried about the secondary, too.
There’s also a major unknown prowling the sidelines on the coaching staff, and he’s going to be filling some near-legendary shoes. There are few things that fill the heart of a football fan with more fear than, “We’re going to try to have two people do this job,” and that’s exactly what Dabo’s doing with co-offensive coordinators Scott and Elliott. Dabo has defied expectations before, and both these guys are longtime coaches who bleed orange just like the man in charge does, but it remains to be seen how well two people can do one job, even with similar philosophies.
What’s especially frustrating about all these question marks is that there won’t be any definitive answers until, at best, the first three games of the season have been played. I can’t imagine that Watson will play any more minutes than absolutely necessary against Wofford or App State, though on the plus side, that does give backup QB Nick Schuessler, who’s got some buzz going after a gutsy performance in training camp, a chance to see some reps.
Perhaps the scariest part of all of this personnel uncertainty is that it hasn’t stopped anyone from picking Clemson as tops on their side of the ACC this year. If there’s anything a true-orange Clemson fan fears more than positive press treatment, I haven’t discovered it.
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