Why Clemson will win the Atlantic Division

Last week, when Miami started spring practices, I gave you three reasons the Canes would win the Coastal Division this season.

Newsflash: They’ll be playing Clemson in the ACC championship game in Charlotte.

Clemson starts spring practices today, and the Tigers do so with arguably the most challenging nonconference schedule in the ACC, but also the most realistic chance at representing the conference as a national title contender. A win over Georgia in the season opener, and they're legit. Coach Dabo Swinney has found a way to bring some consistency to the program, as Clemson has won or tied for the ACC’s Atlantic Division championship in three of the past four seasons. They can do it again.

Here are three good reasons why the Tigers will win the Atlantic Division in 2013:

1. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris: Talk about a dynamic duo. The Clemson fan base had to have been ecstatic to learn that both Boyd and Morris would be returning in 2013. Boyd contemplated leaving early for the NFL, and Morris’ name was circulated for several coaching vacancies. Together they make Clemson one of the country’s most productive offenses, as last season the Tigers averaged a school-record 41.0 points and 512.7 yards per game. They’ve got plenty to work with, as seven starters return from an offense that set 101 school records (33 team and 68 individual) in 2012. Is there a school record for how many school records have been set in a season?

2. Year 2 under Brent Venables: One of the biggest criticisms of Clemson in recent years has been its defense, and it is the missing link to Clemson getting over the hump and contending for more than conference titles. Now that Tigers have some experience under Venables, though, the group should be more seasoned and familiar with his expectations and philosophies. Don’t forget this defense held LSU to just 219 yards and nine first downs, and forced eight three-and-outs in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win. When it comes to comparing Clemson to Florida State, the Noles’ defense has undoubtedly been better, but Clemson now has a slight advantage in that the Noles will be going through a learning curve with a new defensive coordinator.

3. Florida State AT Clemson: Maybe this should be No. 1 on the list. In each of the past four seasons, the winner of this game has won the Atlantic Division, and the home team has won all four. FSU has not won at Clemson since 2001. Once again, this game should determine the division winner, as FSU and Clemson should again be league favorites. Home field advantage couldn’t be bigger on Oct. 19 in Death Valley.