Let's face it: The outcome of this weekend's season-opening game against Wofford isn't in much doubt. This game is a lot more about shaking off the cobwebs and seeing what the team looks like than it is about a victory. Whether it was luck or good planning or a combination of both, Clemson isn't kicking off their season against a Georgia or an Auburn or an Alabama, and with 40 or so freshmen filling slots on the roster, that's probably a good thing. So, if we're not watching the scoreboard, what will Clemson fans be wondering about leading up to this game?
First of all, what the heck happened with D.J. Reader?
Typically, when a player leaves the team or is suspended from the team, the world knows why pretty quickly. The silence surrounding the decision of senior defensive tackle D.J. Reader to take a "leave of absence" from the team is surprising. The fact that after nearly two weeks, no one's figured out why this has happened is shocking. Dabo and the rest of the coaching staff have been tight-lipped (and to be blunt, visibly irritated) when asked about what happened, and no one seems willing to speculate on his return.
How's the defense, otherwise?
Sure, it'll be hard to get a measurement of what the full-strength defense will be like against Wofford, but the D-line is still a question mark, especially after D.J. Reader's sudden, mysterious departure. Who will we see on the line? Who will the breakout stars be? How well has Brent Venables been able to reconstruct his line? The 2015 Tigers have the fewest returning players on the defensive side since 1979, so there are a lot of new faces to get to know. The good news here is that Dabo seems confident in what he has, especially Albert Huggins (DL), Scott Pagano (DT), Jabril Robinson (DT), Christian Wilkins (DT) and Carlos Watkins (DT).
For a team with such a high-energy, explosive offense, Clemson often lives or dies by its kicking. Even before his suspension for DUI and cocaine-possession charges, kicker Ammon Lakip's inconsistency gave fans fits, especially at the beginning of last season. Red-shirt freshman Greg Huegel will be the one to watch, but it's encouraging to know that during the final pre-season scrimmage, Huegel hit all four of his field-goal attempts, the longest being a 48-yarder.
How's the offense?
This will probably be the most familiar-looking aspect of Clemson's game, even without Chad Morris. The two new offensive coordinators come from inside the program, and it's difficult to imagine anyone wanting to change the high-speed, attack-mode offense that has served the team so well over the past few seasons. The real people to watch are the guys under center. Are there any lingering injury issues for DeShaun Watson? Can he light a fire under the O-line like Tajh Boyd did? How well will Watson handle the read option? And what of Nick Schuessler? We're certain to see some of the backup QB in this game, particularly if Clemson jumps out to a big lead early. Will he live up to the pre-season buzz he generated?
We'll know more on Monday about what Clemson's 2015 football product is going to be, but it's possible we won't know the full scope of what they can do til after the Louisville game on Sept. 17th.