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This should be the year Clemson rises to top of ACC — or even beyond

This should be the year Clemson rises to top of ACC — or even beyond
Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney talks to his team during a game against Syracuse on Oct. 14. (Richard Shiro / Associated Press)

The Times' annual college football countdown continues its march toward No. 1 with our pick for No. 7.

Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney doesn't tweeter or twit or whatever the kids are calling it these days. He tried social media in 2009 but chalked it up as a bitter #defeat\#bringbackrotarydial.

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"I'm what they call a 'Twitter quitter,'" he explained at the Atlantic Coast Conference's football media day.

Swinney prefers conversation that doesn't include hashtags or emojis. He probably thinks "Meme" plays tight end for Wake Forest.

"I'm kind of old school with modern ways," he says.

Clemson fans wouldn't mind a throwback to 1981, when the Danny Ford-led Tigers won the national title after a win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

Of course, "This is Clemson's year" could be a joke bumper sticker for all the times greatness has been predicted.

Well, here we go. No, seriously, this really could be the year.

The Tigers were even picked by the media to win the ACC this season ahead of Florida State, which lost quarterback Jameis Winston and several other point producers.

"Hopefully," Swinney said of the prognosticators, "we can make them look really smart."

Hope at the home of Howard's Rock centers on quarterback Deshaun Watson, a wise-beyond-his-years sophomore who supplants Winston as the conference's best quarterback.

Watson showed glimpses of brilliance last season in between injuries that cut his playing time short. The pass-run threat threw for 1,466 yards and 14 touchdowns in only eight games. He missed nearly five full games with a broken finger before an anterior cruciate ligament tear ended his season for good.

Swinney swoons about Watson's leadership and football acumen.

"He's one of the smartest people I've ever been around," Swinney says. "I mean, this is a special person."

Does "special person" translate to "special season"?

That depends on a defense that lost eight starters. And it wasn't just any ordinary unit. The Tigers led the nation in total defense, allowing 261 yards per game, led by Vic Beasley, the school's career sack leader.

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Clemson also led the nation with 131 tackles for losses.

Beasley is among several key components missing, but Brent Venables is one of the nation's best defensive coordinators. His job didn't get easier Monday when it was announced that one penciled-in starter on the line, D.J. Reader, is stepping away from the team to deal with personal problems.

Clemson's offense might have to outscore a few teams this season, which might not be a problem with Watson dealing to big-threat receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott.

The schedule is formidable after warmup games against Wofford and Appalachian State. The serious stuff starts Sept. 17 at Louisville. After a week off, Clemson then hosts Notre Dame and Georgia Tech in consecutive weeks. There are also tricky trips to Miami and South Carolina. But the key date is the Nov. 7 showdown against Florida State.

Clemson blew a huge chance last year when it lost in overtime at Florida State, which was playing without Winston, who was serving a one-game suspension.

This should be the year Clemson gets over Florida State and rises to the top of the ACC and perhaps beyond, to the four-team College Football Playoff.

"We have the potential," Watson told TigerNet.com. "We just have to prove it, you know?"

Everyone knows.

Top 25 so far: 25. Michigan; 24. Nebraska; 23. Utah; 22. Missouri; 21. Arkansas; 20. Tennessee. 19. Boise State; 18. Oklahoma; 17. Notre Dame; 16. Wisconsin; 15. Georgia Tech; 14. UCLA; 13. Arizona; 12. Florida State; 11. Arizona State; 10. Georgia; 9. USC; 8. Auburn.

Follow Chris Dufresne on Twitter @DufresneLATimes

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