2016 record: 14-1, 7-1 in the ACC (1st in Atlantic Division)

Head coach: Dabo Swinney (9th season)

After losing to Alabama by five points two years ago in the national championship, Clemson completed its road to redemption last year, defeating the Crimson Tide 35-31 in a thrilling title game that saw three touchdowns in the final five minutes. Despite the recent success, the Tigers may see a drop-off in play, having sent critical pieces of their offense off to the NFL.

Despite boasting the most first-team all-conference selections with five, the Tigers will sorely miss quarterback Deshaun Watson, who accounted for 50 touchdowns last season and 4,593 passing yards and wide receiver Mike Williams who led the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. The duo, which led a unit ranked 14th in scoring offense, were both drafted in the first round in the NFL draft. With tight end Jordan Leggett, running back Wayne Gallman, and receiver Artavis Scott also gone, Clemson will lose 240 catches, 2,863 yards, and 23 touchdowns from last year.

The Tigers now turn to junior Kelly Bryant to run the offense. Although Bryant’s ability to throw the ball is a relative unknown, he poses a threat as a runner and will be well-protected by an offensive line boasting returning six players, including two All-ACC preseason selections – junior tackle Mitch Hyatt and senior Tyrone Crowder. Sophomore Tavien Feaster, who averaged six yards per carry backing up Gallman, will also hope to find some running room behind the stout offensive line. In the aerial attack, junior wideouts Deon Cain, Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow, who caught the game-winning pass in the national championship game, will look to fill the void left by Williams.

On the defensive end, Clemson returns a strong unit that finished tenth in points allowed per game last season. The Tigers have an imposing defensive line led by Christian Wilkins, who received 11 votes for ACC preseason player of the year, and the sophomore duo of Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell, who combined for 21.5 tackles-for-loss and 12.5 sacks last season. In the middle of the field, Clemson returns its entire starting linebacker unit, save for national championship game hero Ben Boulware.