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Clemson the Clear Choice for Number One

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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The Tigers have made the College Football Playoff five years running. On paper, this 2020 team may be Clemson's most talented in that span.

As more pre-season polls start to come out for the 2020 college football season, there is absolutely no argument for any team to be ranked number one in the nation except Clemson. The Tigers, now 29-1 in their last 30 contests after their loss to LSU in the national championship game, are clearly college football's best team on paper. Dabo Swinney's dynasty is ready for more, expectations, even after a recent defeat, Clemson has worked hard to maintain.  

In addition to returning superstar quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers, prior to the draft, got somewhat-surprising news that All-American running back Travis Etienne and veteran defensive tackle Nyles Pinckey were both coming back as well. Add in one of the game's top recruiting class, far and away the most heralded group in program history, and Clemson still has major momentum moving forward. Though the start of the next season, if circumstances allow, is nearly six months away, the hype, deservedly, starts now. 

Turning down the opportunity to potentially be the number one running back taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, and a first round pick, Etienne's return gives the Tigers an extra boost heading into the off-season. He, along with Lawrence, is one of college football's true showcase players. Etienne has rushed for 3,272 yards and 43 touchdowns the past two years alone, adding 49 receptions and six more scores as a receiver. Already the ACC's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, he is the league's best running back ever as well.

Clemson's returning skill position talent lists like an all-conference team; Lawrence, Etienne and stars Amari Rodgers and Justyn Ross out wide. Rodgers has over 100 career receptions entering his senior season, while Ross, who reached 1,000 yards as a true freshman in 2018, already has 17 touchdown catches. Heralded rising sophomores Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson, Jr. both scored three times in their respective debuts. The Tigers' offense will be the nation's best. 

On the side of the line of scrimmage, strong defensive line play has anchored coordinator Brent Venables' units during his Clemson career; the entire depth chart, including all four starters, returns almost completely intact. Pickney will team with Tyler Davis, 10 tackles for loss as a freshman, to give the Tigers one of the nation's best interior rotations. As usual, there is plenty of next-level ability at defensive end. Young a year ago, Clemson's front still helped the Tigers rank second nationally in TFLs with 119; this defense has ranked number one in the country in that category five of the last seven seasons.   

A truly historic influx of talent is set to join the national runner-ups as Clemson, as mentioned, is welcoming in, by some accounts, the nation's number one recruiting class, the program's most highly-regarded haul ever. A number of those blue-chip prospects, at positions all over the field, are set to contribute right away. They are part of the Tigers push forward.  

Though veteran co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott was recently named the head coach at South Florida, Dabo Swinney largely continues to retain high-profile assistant coaches and, thus, promote continuity and stability within his program. Even as players change at Clemson, the expectations do not. The consistency of Swinney, and those who reinforce his message in both on and off-field roles, is a defining part of the Tigers' foundation. That status quo remains.      

The Tigers have made the College Football Playoff five years running. On paper, this 2020 team may be Clemson's most talented in that span.

Lawrence and Etienne will lead the Tigers into the future; countless other standouts will follow. While there may be some relative questions for Clemson along the offensive line and in the secondary, the Tigers, well before the start of spring practice, already look like a complete team. Expect a Clemson continuation.    

More than just the benefit of the doubt, the Tigers get the benefit of defeat; the last time they lost, Clemson promptly won 29 in a row, a national championship included. This is team that responds to the moment, good or bad, and one that has proven ready for any challenges and challengers alike. To that point, pundits are already talking about the Tigers' non-conference trip to Notre Dame, who may be pre-season top ten, next November. 

Traditionally, bowl game victories are springboards ahead. Clemson, however, is bigger than that, especially with all of the aforementioned talent and infrastructure returning. The Tigers may not quite be the defending national champions, but they are the favorites to earn that distinction once again.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports