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Et tu, Clemson? Tigers join trend, break out new QB

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Actually they're pretty much going to need a whole new offense.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Five of the seven teams in the ACC Atlantic Division will be breaking in a new quarterback in 2014, and none of those bygone signal callers was more accomplished than Clemson's Tajh Boyd. The man with the superfluous H threw for over 3,800 yards and 30 touchdowns in each of the last three seasons and finished in the top six nationally in passer rating in his junior and senior years. Boyd added over 1,000 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns on the ground in his tenure, yet four of his teammates heard their names called in the draft before Boyd became a sixth round pick of the Jets. Clemson lost a lot of talent.

The top talent in the eyes of NFL scouts was Boyd's favorite target, Sammy Watkins, who was the fourth overall pick to the Bills. Martavis Bryant, another receiver, went in the fourth round. Watkins was a catch or two shy of 1,500 yards receiving last year and reached the endzone a dozen times. Bryant added 828 yards and seven scores. Though he wasn't drafted, Clemson will also be without 1,000-yard rusher Roderick McDowell, who has exhausted his eligibility. With so many new faces, 2014 will likely show whether the Tigers' recent offensive success owes more to Chad Morris's system or the high-level, experienced talent that has populated it. In all, Clemson will return just five offensive starters, and one of those, free-swinging Isaiah Battle, is switching positions from right to left tackle.

With a couple of ACC defensive player of the year candidates in Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony, things are a lot more stable for the Tigers on the other side of the ball. Beasley made just 44 stops a year ago, but a ridiculous 23 of those tackles came behind the opponent's line of scrimmage. He dragged the quarterback down 13 times. Anthony led the club with 131 tackles, including 13.5 for a loss. He added four sacks and five pass break ups. In all, seven Tiger starters return on defense, including the entire front four. It will be a veteran group with seven senior starters and 11 total on the two-deep.

Obligatory table:

Team

Record

Returning Offensive Starters

Returning Defensive Starters

Kicker and Punter Returning?

Players Lost in Draft

2013 Score

Clemson

11-2, 7-1

5

7

Punter only

5

26

N.C. State

3-9, 0-8

7

8

Yes to both

1

14

Despite being outmanned handily in the talent department a year ago, the Pack were in the game against the third-ranked Tigers and may have won it had a blown call not taken six points off the board. The Pack were feeling pretty good about themselves at the time, entering the game 2-0 under the new regime. Pull that upset and who knows what the rest of the season looks like, but pull it they did not, and the Clemson loss started a death spiral that saw State win just one more game all season. Had the two teams played during the white flag portion of State's season, I have no doubt Clemson hangs 50 points on the board in a blowout. State didn't know it sucked yet, and believing you have a chance makes a helluva difference.

Momentum may make a difference in 2014. Clemson will host the Pack after a brutal schedule that includes games at Georgia and Florida State. A home tilt against perennial sleeping giant UNC is also among its first four contests. State starts with its slate of four embarrassing non-conference games, hosts Florida State, and then travels to Death Valley. If the Tigers limp out of the blocks at 2-2 or 1-3, they may not have the confidence to pull up from the nose dive against the Pack. If State is 4-1 with a respectable showing against Florida State at home, it will come into this game believing it can win (and likely having the added edge of wanting revenge after last year's unfortunate official debacle and lightly disciplined punching incident). But, if the Pack can't dominate their non-conference slate and avoid a total shellacking against the Noles, there's not much reason to think they have a chance on the road, even against a re-tooled Tiger squad that is likely to take a few lumps in the early going.

Beyond the team performances, the individual exploits of two veteran-yet-kind-of-green quarterbacks will be a key barometer for this game. Though not the dual threat that his predecessor was, Clemson senior Cole Stoudt has been fantastic in mop up duty behind Boyd over the years, completing 73% of his passes with an 8-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. Kudos to him for waiting for his chance rather than bailing like so many do at the first sign of adversity. He'll be just the fourth QB in the last 40 years to make his first start as a senior for Clemson.

Of course transfers are only jerks when they leave your program; thusly, no one should blame Jacoby Brissett for seeking greener pastures after failing to win the starting job at Florida. After sitting out a year as a transfer, the junior will be handed the Pack's reins this fall and will need to elevate the play from the position if the Pack are to improve markedly in year two under Dave Doeren. If either Stoudt or Brissett fails to meet expectations, you can downgrade their programs accordingly. And, if either gets hurt for an extended period, they are likely to be replaced by a true freshman. Shudder.

The themes developing in these previews are twofold: Everyone lost a lot more than N.C. State did. Unfortunately, that's due to N.C. State not having much talent to lose. Nonetheless, hopefully the heavy losses programs like Boston College and Clemson endured will help the Pack close the gap. The second theme is the burden that will be placed on Brissett. While Doeren's first full recruiting class was a huge step in the right direction, the program does not yet have the depth and experience all over the field needed to weather poor quarterback play. For State to immediately return to the days of 7-8 wins with a nice upset and a bowl along the way, Brissett is going to need to be the second coming of Phil/Russ/Mike. Even if he is, it's probably not going to be enough to beat Clemson at Clemson.