The 2009 Atlantic Division champs couldn’t make a comeback like they did a year ago, and that can be attributed to the lack of offensive progress. Quarterback Kyle Parker, who turned down a baseball-only contract as a first-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies, didn’t deliver in his final season as expected, but he also didn’t have the help he needed on the receiving end for the first half of the year. Eventually, DeAndre Hopkins emerged as Parker’s favorite target, but the Tigers were also hurt by the toe injury to leading rusher Andre Ellington.
Clemson lost three of its final five games, including the season finale to rival South Carolina -- again. The Tigers were held scoreless for the final 58 minutes of that game and had three turnovers, a microcosm of the struggles all season. The defense took an important step forward in the second year under coordinator Kevin Steele, though, and finished No. 9 in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 17.75 points per game. Clemson salvaged the season by becoming bowl-eligible against Wake Forest, but more will be expected of the staff in 2011.
Offensive MVP: Left tackle Chris Hairston. He was the Tigers’ top offensive lineman and helped pave the way for Ellington and Jamie Harper, who combined for over 1,400 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns this year.
Defensive MVP: Defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. The finalist for the Bednarik Award, Hendricks Award, Lombardi Award, and Nagurski Trophy leads the nation in sacks (15.5) and is second in tackles for loss (24). He is also second on the team in tackles (67).
Turning point: The 16-10 loss to Boston College put the Tigers’ bowl hopes in serious jeopardy and ended the possibility of making a run at a second straight Atlantic Division title. It snapped a two-game winning streak in conference play and dropped the Tigers to 2-3 in the ACC.
What’s next: Clemson will make its first appearance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, where it will face South Florida for the first time. The Tigers should have their way with an offense that ranks 103rd in the country, but both teams have struggled with turnovers this year. It should be a low-scoring game.