Clemson-Auburn preview

Clemson-Auburn preview

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 4:40 p.m. ET

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and No. 2-ranked Tigers will face former Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele Saturday when Clemson plays Auburn in a key early season matchup in Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Swinney fired Steele after Clemson's Orange Bowl debacle of 2011, when the Tigers surrendered a bowl-record 70 points in a 70-33 loss to West Virginia.

"It was very difficult because I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach Steele," Swinney said. "He is a great football coach, a great man with a great family.

"Coach Steele was a huge part of us laying a foundation here in '09, '10 and '11. He helped us win our first ACC Championship in 20 years."


Steele has had stints with Alabama, LSU and Auburn since, but his first time facing Swinney and Clemson's prolific offense comes in the primetime opener (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).

Coming off a 14-1 season, Clemson has the offensive firepower to make a return trip to the College Football Playoff if things fall into place. The Tigers are blessed with the return of eight offensive starters, starting with quarterback Deshaun Watson -- who finished third in Heisman Trophy voting last year -- 1,500-yard rusher Wayne Gallman and a stable full of talented wide receivers led by potential first-round draft pick Mike Williams.

Clemson's offense set myriad school records last season, and 2016 could prove even more productive, but Swinney isn't counting on anything yet.

"There are a lot of unknowns," Swinney said. "They have players we don't know a lot about, and we have players they don't know a lot about. You don't ever really know until you see a team for two or three games."

Speaking of unknowns, there are several surrounding Auburn's situation.

The Tigers, who were 7-6 last year, settled their quarterback situation when coach Gus Malzahn named sophomore Sean White the starter over senior Jeremy Johnson and junior college transfer John Franklin III.

"He's earned it," Malzahn said of the selection of White, who started five games last year before sidelined by injury.

But there are depth issues at wide receiver, and running back took a hit with the dismissal of projected starter Jovon Robinson. Sophomore Kerryon Johnson and newcomers Malik Miller and Kam Martin, a transfer from Baylor who was granted immediate eligibility, and sophomore Kamryn Pettway may solve the issue at running back, but receiver is another matter.

Seniors Marcus Davis (30 catches, 181 yards) and Tony Stevens (14-177) have the most experience. But the falloff from them is huge with junior Jason Smith recording only 13 catches and sophomore Stanton Truitt only one. Behind them are four true freshmen -- Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers, Eli Stove and Marquis McClain.

"We are going to need those older guys," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said.

Auburn leads the series with Clemson 34-13-2 and won the last meeting, 26-19 in 2012.