AUBURN | Auburn’s 2017 football schedule includes two tough road games in September, three more in October and two big November rivalry games at home.
Today, we continue an early look at each opponent with a key early non-conference battle against the defending national champion.
WHO: Clemson (14-1 last season, 7-1 ACC, National Champion)
WHEN: Sept. 9, 6 p.m. CT, ESPN
WHERE: Memorial Stadium
WHAT’S NEW: Clemson must find replacements for quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman, who combined for 72 career starts over the last three seasons. The favorite to begin the season as the starting signal caller is junior Kelly Bryant but true freshman Hunter Johnson, a January enrollee, could move into that position at anytime. C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster are all in the mix at running back.
WHO TO WATCH, OFFENSE: Left tackle Mitch Wyatt has started all but one game (injury) in his two years at Clemson and enters his junior season as one of the nation's best offensive linemen and potential first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He graded 90 percent and had three knockdown blocks in the national championship win over Alabama.
WHO TO WATCH, DEFENSE: Clemson’s defensive line is loaded again led by sophomore defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who was named Freshman All-American last year after compiling 79 tackles, 9.5 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks. He is already being discussed as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
OUTLOOK: Clemson must replace Watson, Gallman, three of its top four receivers and tight end Jordan Leggett on its high-powered offense. But four of five starters return on the offensive line led by Wyatt and Clemson has recruited offensive skill players extremely well over the past three years. National title game hero Hunter Renfrow returns and Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud are ready to step up at receiver. Clemson was ninth nationally in total offense in 2013 averaging 508.5 yards per game, the year before Watson arrived, so it’s a system that has consistently put up big numbers.
The defensive line is considered by many as the nation's best with Lawrence and Christian Wilkins at tackle and Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant at defensive end. All four are potential first-round draft choices. Clemson returns a talented group of linebackers led by Kendall Joseph and an experienced secondary with cornerback Trayvon Mullen poised for a breakout season.
AUBURN CONNECTION: None. Head coach Dabo Swinney, a former Alabama player and coach, has at least six position coaches or staff assistants with ties to the Tide program including Danny Pearman, Mickey Conn, Todd Bates, Woody McCorvey, Thad Turnipseed and Lemanski Hall.