Trevor Lawrence

Ken Ruinard

Swinney: No. 1 Clemson ready to begin another title run

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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is not sure he has ever been this eager to start a season for the top-ranked Tigers after months of uncertainty due to the global pandemic.

“I’ve seen our culture win the day since March,” Swinney said Tuesday. “This is a very close football team, it’s a well-led team, a very smart team and it’s an exciting team. I can’t wait to see them play and get to do what they love to do.”

The Tigers open the COVID-19-altered season at Wake Forest on Saturday night. The coach believes he has a healthy, confident team that is ready to make a run for a sixth Atlantic Coast Conference crown and sixth trip to the College Football Playoff following the suspension of spring workouts in March and a troubling run of coronavirus cases in mid-to-late June.

“There’s nobody that has to be here,” Swinney said. “But everybody’s here.”

That includes quarterback Trevor Lawrence, a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and two-time ACC player of the year in tailback Travis Etienne.

“It’s time to play,” Lawrence said.

But the quarterback has also found the time to become a team-leader off the field, speaking out for social justice and the rights of players.

Lawrence posted goals on social media put together by several college players across the nation that call for change, including ensuring teammates are registered to vote and have election day (Nov. 3) “free from athletic obligations” to cast ballots, and using messages and statements on uniforms and helmets to raise awareness of social injustice.

Lawrence and Clemson running back Darien Rencher were leaders in a march last June to protest the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

“I know that there’s a lot of eyes on me. Critics, but also younger generations and people looking up to me,” Lawrence said. “I want to use my platform the right way.”

The QB said none of his off-field actions took away from his mission on improving his game: working on his footwork, reading defenses and throwing accuracy heading into his junior year.

“I think we’re in a really good place,” Lawrence said. “There’s been a lot going on and now, I think we’re in a spot where we can focus a little bit more on football.”

Lawrence is 25-1 as a starter, that loss in perhaps his worst showing in college when he was just 18 of 37 without a touchdown in a 42-25 loss to LSU in the national title game last January.

Lawrence won’t have some of the targets that helped him pass for 36 touchdowns last season. Receiver Tee Higgins left for the NFL while Justyn Ross, who would’ve been a junior this season, is out for the year after spinal fusion surgery.

Higgins and Ross combined for 21 touchdown catches and better than 50% of Lawrence’s 3,665 passing yards from a year ago.

Expect Etienne, who returned for his senior season instead of going pro, to pick up some of that load. Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, also running backs coach, said Etienne has steadily improved his pass catching and can play a bigger role out of the backfield.

Sophomore Joseph Ngata, a starting receiver, said the long, strange offseason gave him and teammates more time to work on themselves.

“I think it was a blessing in disguise in some ways,” he said. “We’ll see it.”

Tigers center Cade Stewart, one of four new starters along the offensive line, has grown antsy with the longer than normal fall camp. Clemson was supposed to open its season last Thursday night at Georgia Tech.

Stewart welcomes the routine of game week because it leads to finally getting back on the field.

“I think everyone’s super excited because that feeling of routine and normality,” he said. “That’s the reason we come here because of the structure.”

Parsons, Sewell among AP preseason All-Americans not playing

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Oregon tackle Penei Sewell are among 11 players selected to The Associated Press preseason All-America first team who are not slated to play this fall.

The team was selected by 47 AP poll voters, who were asked to consider all Division I players – even those who had already opted out of the season or whose teams had postponed football.

The results show just how much star power will be missing from this pandemic-altered college football season. Twelve second-team All-Americans will also not play in the fall, including quarterback Justin Fields from defending Big Ten champion and preseason No. 2 Ohio State.

The Big Ten, Pac-12, Mid-American and Mountain West conferences have decided to try to play football in the second semester. As of now, Fields has given no indication that he won’t be with the Buckeyes if they do. Same goes for Sewell, the Outland Trophy winner and potential top-five NFL draft pick, and Oregon teammate Kayvon Thibodeaux, a sophomore defensive end.

Parsons is among a handful of stars who have said they are gone for good, opting out of the season to concentrate on preparing for the draft. Along with Parsons, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, selected as an all-purpose player, Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman were first-team All-America opt outs.

The All-Americans who will play this season include Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard and LSU receiver Ja'Marr Chase.

FIRST TEAM

Offense

Quarterback – Trevor Lawrence, junior, Clemson.

Running backs – Chuba Hubbard, junior, Oklahoma State; Travis Etienne, senior, Clemson.

Tackles – x-Penei Sewell, junior, Oregon; Alex Leatherwood, senior, Alabama.

Guards – x-Wyatt Davis, junior, Ohio State; Trey Smith, senior, Tennessee.

Center – Creed Humphrey, junior, Oklahoma.

Tight end – x-Pat Freiermuth, junior, Penn State.

Receivers – Ja’Marr Chase, junior, LSU; DeVonta Smith, senior, Alabama.

All-purpose player – y-Rondale Moore, junior, Purdue.

Kicker – x-Keith Duncan, senior, Iowa.

DEFENSE

Ends – x-Kayvon Thibodeaux, sophomore, Oregon; y-Gregory Rousseau, junior, Miami.

Tackles – Marvin Wilson, senior, Florida State; y-Jaylen Twyman, junior, Pitt.

Linebackers – y-Micah Parsons, junior, Penn State; x-Hamilcar Rashed Jr., senior, Oregon State; Dylan Moses, senior, Alabama.

Cornerbacks – Derek Stingley Jr., sophomore, LSU; x-Shaun Wade, junior, Ohio State.

Safeties – Richard LeCounte, senior, Georgia; Andre Cisco, junior, Syracuse.

Punter – Max Duffy, senior, Kentucky.

SECOND TEAM

Offense

Quarterback – x-Justin Fields, junior, Ohio State.

Running backs – Najee Harris, senior, Alabama; Kenneth Gainwell, sophomore, Memphis.

Tackles – Samuel Cosmi, junior, Texas; x-Cole Van Lanen, senior, Wisconsin.

Guards – x-Nolan Laufenberg, senior, Air Force; x-Alijah Vera-Tucker, junior, Southern California.

Center – x-Tyler Linderbaum, junior, Iowa.

Tight end – Charlie Kolar, junior, Iowa State.

Receivers – Tylan Wallace, senior, Oklahoma State; y-Rashod Bateman, junior, Minnesota.

All-purpose player – Jaylen Waddle, junior, Alabama.

Kicker – Gabe Brkic, sophomore, Oklahoma.

Defense

Ends – Carlos Basham, senior, Wake Forest; Quincy Roche, senior, Miami.

Tackles – y-Jay Tufele, junior, Southern California; x-Levi Onwuzurike, senior, Washington.

Linebackers – Chazz Surratt senior, North Carolina; Nick Bolton, junior, Missouri; x-Paddy Fisher, senior, Northwestern.

Cornerbacks – Patrick Surtain II, junior, Alabama; y-Caleb Farley, junior, Virginia Tech.

Safeties – x-Jevon Holland, junior, Oregon; Trevon Moehrig, junior, TCU.

Punter – x-Adam Korsak, junior, Rutgers.

(x-team not scheduled to play in the fall; y-opted out of season)

AP Top 25: Clemson is preseason No. 1

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Clemson is the preseason No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25, a poll featuring nine Big Ten and Pac-12 teams that gives a glimpse at what has already been taken by the pandemic from an uncertain college football season.

Ohio State (1,504 points) was a close No. 2 behind Trevor Lawrence and Clemson (1,520), which starts atop the rankings for the second straight season. The Tigers beat the Buckeyes in a thrilling College Football Playoff semifinal last season.

Alabama is No. 3, Southeastern Conference rival Georgia is No. 4 and defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma is No. 5. Defending national champion LSU is No. 6.

The 85th edition of the AP rankings will be like none before.

When the season starts – if the season starts – the Buckeyes and 53 other Bowl Subdivision teams will no longer be eligible for inclusion in the Top 25 because they have postponed their seasons to the spring.

The Big Ten, where Ohio State and No. 7 Penn State play, and the Pac-12, home to No. 9 Oregon, canceled their fall sports seasosn because of concerns about the coronavirus. The Mid-American and Mountain West conferences have also said they will try to play spring football.

The SEC, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, American Athletic, Conference USA and Sun Belt are forging ahead with fall sports, with changes: The three remaining Power Five conferences, the SEC, ACC, and Big 12, have eliminated all or most nonconference games and delayed the start of their seasons from one to three weeks.

Erased from the college football schedule this year were a host of tantalizing nonconference matchups: Ohio State at No. 9 Oregon; No. 10 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 Wisconsin at Lambeau field in Green Bay; No. 14 Texas at LSU; No. 17 Southern California vs Alabama in Arlington, Texas; No. 11 Auburn vs. No. 18 North Carolina in Atlanta.

For now, big conference games such as Ohio State-Michigan and Washington-Washington State could still be made up in the spring.

All Division I teams were eligible for the preseason AP Top 25, but after the season starts, only teams scheduled to play in the fall are eligible. That leaves 76 FBS teams from which to choose.

If a spring season is played, the AP will consider doing rankings for those teams, too.

BACK-TO-BACK

Clemson had never been preseason No. 1 until last season, and now starts there again. It’s the eighth time since the preseason poll started in 1950 that a team has been preseason No. 1 two straight seasons. Alabama had been preseason No. 1 from 2016-18, a three-year run.

The Tigers finished last season No. 2 after losing the championship game to LSU, snapping a remarkable run of nine seasons in which Clemson has finished with the same or better ranking than it started. That included the last five seasons in which Clemson outperformed its preseason ranking, twice finishing No. 1 after starting No. 2.

The ACC’s Tigers, who also welcome back star running back Travis Etienne, standout offensive tackle Jackson Carman and sturdy defensive tackle Tyler Davis, will try to become the 12th preseason No. 1 to finish No. 1. Only two teams have gone wire-to-wire as No. 1: Florida State in 1999 and USC in 2004.

DEFENDING CHAMPS

LSU is the first defending national champion to start the following season outisde the top five since Auburn in 2011 (post-Cam Newton, the Tigers were ranked No. 23 in the preseason poll). LSU lost a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, too, in Joe Burrow.

Myles Brennan is the new QB for the Tigers, who had 14 players selected in the last draft, including five in the first round. There is plenty of talent coming back with All-America receiver Ja'Marr Chase, cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., and nose tackle Tyler Shelvin.

The Tigers will try to become the first back-to-back national champions since Alabama in 2011 and ’12.

FANCY SEEING YOU HERE

– No. 18 North Carolina is ranked in the preseason for the first time since 2016.

– No. 19 Cincinnati makes its first appearance in the AP preseason poll. The Bearcats have finished ranked each of the last two seasons.

– No. 20 Minnesota is making its first preseason poll appearance since 2004. The Gophers were one of the surprise teams of last season, starting unranked and ending up No. 10, their best finish since 1962.

STREAKING

Ohio State extended the longest active streak of preseason Top 25 appearances with 32, followed by Oklahoma with 21, LSU with 20, Georgia with 19, Alabama with 13 and Clemson with nine.

STRONG SECOND

The Buckeyes’ 21 first-place votes in the preseason Top 25 were the most by a non-No. 1 team since Ohio State in 2008, when it also had 21 and was one behind top-ranked Georgia. Florida, which was No. 5 in the 2008 preseason poll with five first-place votes, won the national title that year.

CONFERENCE CALL

The Southeastern Conference, as usual, leads the way with seven teams in the Top 25, including six of the first 13 teams.

The Big Ten is next with six, but when the regular season starts No. 6 Penn State, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 16 Michigan, No. 19 Minnesota and No. 24 Iowa will no longer be eligible for votes. Same goes for No. 9 Oregon, No. 17 USC and No. 22 Utah of the Pac-12.

SEC – 7 (Nos. 3, 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 25).

Big Ten – 6 (Nos. 2, 7, 12, 16, 19, 24).

Big 12 – 4 (Nos. 5, 14, 15, 23).

ACC – 3 (Nos. 1, 10, 18).

Pac-12 – 3 (Nos. 9, 17, 22).

American – 2 (Nos. 20, 21).