Clemson college football preview 2021: DJ Uiagalelei makes Tigers a massive favorite in ACC

The Clemson Tigers fell short in their College Football Playoff semifinal game in 2020, but they return a loaded roster ready to compete for a spot in the top four once again. Even with Trevor Lawrence moving on to the NFL, Clemson is unlikely to take much of a step back as they go for their seventh consecutive appearance in the Playoff.

Lawrence will go down as one of the top quarterbacks ever in college football, but the position should not be much of an issue as DJ Uiagalelei is the next man up for the Tigers. If his time on the field last season was any indication, the Tigers should be just fine at signal caller.

Clemson is a heavy favorite to win the ACC once again without a clear No. 2 challenger, especially with Notre Dame no longer in the mix. Dabo Swinney has elevated this program to a point where the expectation is a Playoff berth and a shot at a national championship.

2020 Season Review

  • 10-2, 8-1 ACC, Won ACC Championship Game (34-10 vs. Notre Dame), Sugar Bowl loss (49-28 vs. Ohio State)
  • Lost to Notre Dame without Trevor Lawrence in regular season, beat the Irish in the conference title game, reached the Playoff for the sixth straight year

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 5
ESPN Returning Production: 69% overall (65th): 46% offense (118th), 92% defense (3rd)
Returning Talent Index: 1.98, 2nd in ACC
Returning starters: 5/11 offense, 9/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: DJ Uiagalelei (Sophomore)

Clemson is among the contenders for a national title this season, and DJ Uiagalelei is a big reason why. As the No. 2 ranked quarterback in the 2020 recruiting class, he appeared in nine games in 2020, mostly late in blowouts. Uiagalelei started two games last season against Boston College and Notre Dame. In those two games, he combined to complete 69.4% of his passes for 781 yards with four passing touchdowns to go along with two rushing scores. Quarterback will not be an issue for Clemson in 2021.

Offense (non-QB): WR Justyn Ross (Junior)

One of the most interesting storylines heading into the season is the status of Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross. He was expected to be among the best at his position heading into 2020 but was ruled out for the season with a congenital spinal fusion diagnosis. Ross has still not been officially cleared to play, but the Tigers would receive another talented pass catching option for Uiagalelei.

Defense: OLB James Skalski (Senior)

Clemson outside linebacker James Skalski has plenty of college football experience as he returns for his sixth season for the Tigers. He was limited last season with injury but in 2019, he played 15 games with 90 tackles, 6.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Skalski has been ejected in each of his last two College Football Playoff games for targeting and has a decent shot at reaching the top four once again in 2021.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 3rd overall: 5th offense, 8th defense, 10th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 2nd overall: 9th offense, 3rd defense

To win national title: +300
To win ACC: -835
Win total: 11.5 (Over +110, Under -139)

2020 Against The Spread: 5-7-0
2020 Point Total: Over 7-5-0

2021 Clemson Tigers Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 vs. Georgia (B of A Stadium, Charlotte) 7:30 p.m./ABC Clemson -4
Saturday, Sep. 11 vs. SC State 5:00 p.m./ACCN
Saturday, Sep. 18 vs. Georgia Tech 3:30 p.m./ABC or ESPN
Saturday, Sep. 25 at NC State TBA
Saturday, Oct. 2 vs. Boston College TBA
Saturday, Oct. 9 Open TBA
Friday, Oct. 15 at Syracuse 7:00 p.m./ESPN
Saturday, Oct. 23 at Pitt TBA Clemson -18.5
Saturday, Oct. 30 vs. Florida State TBA
Saturday, Nov. 6 at Louisville TBA
Saturday, Nov. 13 vs. UConn TBA
Saturday, Nov. 20 vs. Wake Forest TBA
Saturday. Nov. 27 at South Carolina TBA