ACC schedule review: Clemson Tigers

This week, we’re examining each ACC team’s schedule, identifying the biggest games, looming upsets and most grueling stretches for each.

Next up: Clemson Tigers

The defending national champions lose Deshaun Watson and a host of other talented players, but the Tigers don’t rebuild. They reload, and from Deon Cain to Tavien Feaster, Christian Wilkins to Dexter Lawrence, this is a team thinking about a third straight trip to the national title game, regardless of who’s missing from the locker room.

Toughest three-game stretch: Oct. 28 through Nov. 11 (vs. Georgia Tech, at NC State, vs. Florida State)

The upside for Clemson is, by this point in the year, the Tigers should have a firm grasp on their offensive identity. If the early part of the season includes some QB shuffling and running back-by-committee, that’s fine. But by the time this three-game stretch, culminating with the annual showdown against FSU, arrives, Dabo Swinney needs to have his crew firing on all cylinders.

Potential trap game: Nov. 4 at NC State

No doubt last year’s miracle win in overtime against the Wolfpack will be a popular topic of conversation as Clemson prepares for NC State again in 2017. The question is: Will it be enough to grab the attention of the team with Florida State looming?

Swing game: Sept. 9 vs. Auburn

It’s hard to say exactly what to expect from Clemson until we see the Tigers on the field with a new QB. This early-season showdown against Auburn should be exactly the litmus test we need to find out what the Tigers are made of without Watson. Clemson will surely have questions to answer throughout the offseason, but a Week 2 win over Auburn would officially announce to the world that the Tigers are for real once again.

Projected W-L: Clemson is 28-2 in the past two seasons, and it has won 10 games in each of the last six. It’s tough to keep up that pace, but Swinney has the horses to get it done. The question, of course, is whether Florida State has taken a big enough step forward to pass the renovated Tigers to take command of the division. Either way, we’re still pegging Clemson for double-digit wins.