Built for 2013: Clemson

Last season had a “now or never” feel to it for Florida State.

The Noles had a veteran quarterback in EJ Manuel. They had defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, one of the best assistants in the country, leading what was an NFL-bound defensive line. All of the pieces seemed to be in place for FSU to make a run at the national title. Just one year later, the pieces look more like a giant puzzle.

This year, Clemson is the ACC’s team built to succeed now -- and once again, it’s a small window of opportunity.

This is the last season for quarterback Tajh Boyd, whose decision to return to school instead of leaving early for the NFL draft can’t be understated. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris is a hot commodity these days when it comes to coaching searches. And should receiver Sammy Watkins decide to leave early for the NFL draft, the three stars on Clemson’s offense will no longer be aligned. This year, though, the Tigers have four starters returning on the offensive line to pave the way to another record-setting season.

Coach Dabo Swinney has had his eye on the 2013 season for more than a year now, well aware of the potential that was brewing in Death Valley. This is the final layer of his construction project. He's entering his fifth season -- he's had plenty of time to recruit his players, install his system and make his hires. It's completely his program now, and this year should reflect its ceiling. With a win over Georgia in the season opener, the Tigers should be a top-5 team. There is no doubting the strength of schedule this season, or the possibility of Boyd as a Heisman hopeful. The defense should also be better in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables.

The Tigers have momentum from their Chick-fil-A Bowl win against LSU, which capped an 11-2 season. They have the coaching staff. They have the talent. What they don’t have is a lot of time.