When the 2021 college football preseason polls are released in August, there's a pretty good chance that Clemson will be No. 1 in both even though the Tigers lost one of the best quarterbacks and running backs in ACC history in Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, respectively. A new era begins for Coach Dabo Swinney on Wednesday with the Tigers opening spring practice, and it's now quarterback DJ Uiagalelei's team. He is a +700 third favorite at William Hill Sportsbook to win the 2021 Heisman Trophy.
The last time Clemson took the field, the No. 2 Tigers were 7-point favorites and shockingly dominated by No. 3 Ohio State in the New Year's Day Sugar Bowl playoff semifinal, 49-28. Lawrence was 33-for-48 for 400 yards for two TDs and a pick in his final collegiate game but was outplayed by Buckeyes QB Justin Fields.
Lawrence, a lock to be picked first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft by Jacksonville, finished his career 34-2 (.944) as a starter, the third-best winning percentage by a starting QB with at least 30 career starts since Division I split in 1978. That winning percentage trails only Miami's Ken Dorsey (.950) and USC's Matt Leinart (.949).
Lawrence never won a Heisman, though, with a best finish of second following this past season. No Clemson player has won a Heisman yet, which is shocking. Etienne will be a major loss, too, as he is the ACC career record-holder for rushing yards (4,952), total touchdowns (78), rushing touchdowns (70) and points (468). He was one of only 12 players in FBS history with 4,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 career receiving yards.
The 2021 offense will revolve around Uiagalelei, who was the No. 1 pro-style QB recruit in the Class of 2020 via sister site 247Sports. Uiagalelei made two starts last season when Lawrence was sidelined by COVID and 10 appearances overall, completing 78-of-117 passes for 914 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. His 146.4 pass efficiency rating was fifth-best by an ACC freshman quarterback since 2002 (minimum of 100 passes). The California native also rushed for 60 yards and four TDs on 28 carries.
Swinney's offense projects to have between 5-6 starters back, but the defense at one point was projected to have all 11 starters return – which is almost unheard of. Linebackers Baylon Spector and James Skalski both are back for their sixth seasons. However, the third starting linebacker, Mike Jones Jr., opted to transfer to LSU.
William Hill lists Clemson as a +400 second favorite to Alabama to win next season's national championship. The Tigers should be favored in every regular-season game as they usually are – although the neutral-site opener vs. Georgia (+1000) will be very challenging. The Tigers and Bulldogs have met 64 times (Georgia leads 42-18-4) but not since a 2014 Clemson loss in Athens.
Conference futures odds, team win totals and Week 1 game odds will be released down the line.
Clemson 2021 football schedule
- Sept. 4 vs. Georgia (in Charlotte)
- Sept. 11 vs. South Carolina State
- Sept. 18 vs. Georgia Tech
- Sept. 25 at NC State
- Oct. 2 vs. Boston College
- Oct. 15 at Syracuse
- Oct. 23 at Pittsburgh
- Oct. 30 vs. Florida State
- Nov. 6 at Louisville
- Nov. 13 vs. UConn
- No. 20 vs. Wake Forest
- Nov. 27 at South Carolina
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