Spring lookahead: Clemson Tigers

After an 11-win season, can Clemson take the next step and contend for a national title?

2012 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 ACC
Practice opens: March 6
Spring game date: April 13

2012 in review: The Tigers took another step toward becoming a nationally relevant program by knocking off LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and winning 11 games for the first time since capturing the national title in 1981.

One reality facing Dabo Swinney’s program is that it must be more physical, which we saw in the bowl game. The losses to Florida State and South Carolina were because Clemson wasn’t physical enough, especially on defense.

There were few concerns on the offensive side, where quarterback Tajh Boys and Co. set school records and often scored at will.

Biggest hole to fill: Andre Ellington ran for 1,081 yards last season and gave Clemson excellent balance to its high-octane, no-huddle offense.

In order for the Tigers to again set records in the fall and contend for a national title, they must get similar production at tailback.

Roderick McDowell, who carried the ball 83 times for 450 yards and five touchdowns last season, should get the early nod over Zac Brooks, who ran 26 times for 125 yards. 

Watch out for: Defensive end Corey Crawford started every game for the Tigers last fall, and he was in on 47 tackles. But he had just six tackles for loss of yardage and registered only one sack.

With Mallicah Goodman gone, Crawford — a 6-foot-5, 270-pound junior — needs to step up and become a dominant pass rusher.

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