The ACC was the first BCS conference to expand to 14 teams.
Some might say it’s a darn good thing Pittsburgh and Syracuse cast their lots with the ACC last September, because if the conference had seen how the 2011 football season turned out for the schools, it might have had secon
Tajh Boyd looks to lead Clemson to another ACC title in 2012.
The Clemson Tigers check in at No. 15 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Bellamy was expected to be a major contributor for Clemson in 2012, but was ruled ineligible after spring practice and will transfer to a junior college. Bellamy finished second on the team with 343 yards rushing and averaged six yards per carry as a true freshman in 2011. He also had three rushing touchdowns, caught two passes and returned four kickoffs for 64 yards last season. He had a season-high 81 yards rushing on just three carries in his first collegiate game in the season opener against Troy. One of those carries went for 75 yards, which was the longest rushing play for any Clemson player in 2011. He led the team in rushing twice, including 47 yards against Virginia Tech, the first time the two teams met in Blacksburg, Va., on Oct. 1. Bellamy also had a 31-yard touchdown run in that game that helped seal the deal on the Tigers’ 23-3 victory over the then No. 10-ranked Hokies.
Brewer enters his senior season with 40-career games played and 23 total starts under his belt. The three-year starter finished his 2011 campaign with 60 tackles, 45 of those being solo stops, three tackles for loss, an interception and seven pass breakups. He was second on the team in pass breakups and has 18 for his career. He had a season- and career-high 10 tackles against Georgia Tech and his lone interception came against Virginia Tech in the Tigers’ convincing 23-3 win in Blacksburg, Va. He has missed just one game in his first three seasons in a Clemson uniform.
Breeland played in all 14 games as a redshirt freshman in 2011, making seven starts at cornerback. He finished his first season in a Tigers’ uniform with 53 tackles, 42 of those being solo stops, one tackle for loss, four pass breakups and two interceptions. He tied for second on the team in interceptions and got his first career pick against Maryland. His other interception came in the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech when he picked off Logan Thomas at Clemson’s two-yard-line and returned it 64 yards. Breeland had a team-high 11 tackles (seven solo) in the Tigers’ loss to then No. 13-ranked South Carolina on Nov. 26.
The highly regarded recruit made an impact in his first collegiate game, as Anthony recorded four tackles, a sack and broke up a pass in Clemson’s 2011 season-opening win over Troy. The true freshman finished his first season in a Tigers’ uniform with 32 tackles (25 solo), six tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup in 13 games. He made three starts late in the season, including in the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech. He made the most of that opportunity as he tallied three tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack and forced a fumble in the Tigers’ convincing 38-10 win.
Goodman enters his senior season as the most experienced Clemson player on the roster with 41 career games played. He started all 14 games last season and finished with 59 tackles, 43 of those solo stops, four tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. He played 767 snaps last year, which was not only the most on the team at his position in 2011, but the most by a Tigers’ defensive lineman in school history. His best game of his junior season came against Boston College when he tallied six tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and caused a fumble on a sack. He also had a season-high nine tackles against Georgia Tech’s option offense on Oct. 29.
Last season Hopkins became just the second wide receiver in ACC history to have 50 or more catches in his first two seasons, joining fellow Tiger Derrick Hamilton (2001-02) in this distinction. Hopkins finished 2011 second on the team with 72 receptions and 978 yards receiving and also had five touchdown receptions. Hopkins had 157 yards receiving against North Carolina, which was the most by any Clemson receiver in 2011. Hopkins led the Tigers in receiving in three of the their last four games, during which he had a combined 25 catches for 347 yards. He hauled in a season- and career-high 10 receptions in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia, which went for 105 yards and a touchdown. He is the only Clemson player in school history to have two 100-yard receiving games in bowl games as he had 105 yards receiving against South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl as a true freshman in 2010.
Besides being named first-team All-ACC last season, Freeman was one of the six finalists for the Dave Rimington Award, which is given to the nation’s top center. Freeman was one of two juniors who were named finalists. Freeman enters his senior season with 36 starts in 40 career games played, the most of any Clemson offensive player. Last season alone, Freeman played 1,044 snaps, the most of any player in school history. Freeman is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line, as he and junior left guard Brandon Thomas are the only returning starters up front. A two-time Academic All-ACC performer, Freeman should finish his career as the record holder for most career starts by a Tigers’ offensive lineman (48).
Ellington enters his senior season 10th in school history in career rushing yards (2,335) and tied for 10th in rushing touchdowns (25). Last season, he was named second-team All-ACC after finishing fourth in the conference in rushing with 1,178 yards in 13 games. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2011 and his career average is 5.8 yards per carry. He topped 1,000 career rushing yards in just 151 carries, the second-fewest in Clemson history. He had five 100-yard rushing games last season, including a career-high 212 yards on 24 carries (8.8 ypc) against Maryland. Ellington led Clemson in rushing in 10 of the team’s 14 games and his season-long rush was a 74-yard touchdown run against Wake Forest. He finished his 2011 campaign with back-to-back games of more than 110 yards on the ground. He had 125 yards and a touchdown in the Tigers’ ACC Championship Game win over Virginia Tech and 116 yards against West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.
Boyd was named first-team All-ACC quarterback last season after leading the conference in total offense (289 yards per game), passing yards (273.4 per game), touchdown responsibility (38), touchdown passes (33) and completions (298). He became the first Clemson quarterback to lead the ACC in total offense since Woodrow Dantzler did in 2001. Besides establishing school single-season records for total offense, passing yards and completions, Boyd broke the ACC mark for touchdown responsibility and he did all of this as a sophomore in his first year as the Tigers’ starting quarterback. Boyd’s best game of the 2011 season came Oct. 22 versus North Carolina when he carved up the Tar Heels’ defense for 367 yards through the air and a total of six touchdowns (five passing, one rushing). He was named a semifinalist for both the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award and the Maxwell Award last season.
Last season, Watkins became the first true freshman in ACC history to be named an Associated Press first-team All-American as he was named the all-purpose player. Watkins was also named the ACC Rookie of the Year as he led the conference in all-purpose yards with 2,288 in 14 games (176 yards per game). That’s the second-highest total in both school and ACC history, trailing only former Clemson great C.J. Spiller’s 2009 senior season total of 2,680 yards. In just one season, he has already rewritten the Clemson record books, including new single-season marks for receptions (82), receiving yards (1,219) and touchdown catches (12). Besides all those receiving yards, he had 213 yards rushing, 826 yards on kickoff returns, 12 yards on punt returns and also completed one pass for nine yards in 2011.
Dawkins didn’t fully blossom until his professional career, which ended in his retirement after the 2011 season. Before his potential Pro Football Hall of Fame career for 16 years in the NFL, Dawkins was productive safety for two coaches (Ken Hatfield and Tommy West) at Clemson. A three-year starter, Dawkins was a second-team All-ACC selection as a sophomore and junior before emerging as a second-team AP All-America selection as a senior in 1995. He finished his career with 11 career interceptions and 251 tackles. Dawkins showed a glimpse of what was to come in his pro career when he intercepted three passes against Duke in his final home game with the Tigers.
Compared to some others on this list, Simmons did not play during the best years of Clemson football. The Tigers went 22-14 during his three seasons with the Tigers, but Simmons was a dominant force anyway. He started all but one game in his three seasons at Clemson, racking up 486 career tackles. In 1996, Simmons set a school record with 178 stops, topped only by Keith Adams’ 186 three years later. Simmons earned consensus All-America honors the following seasons.
There is little left for Tajh Boyd to accomplish in his college career. He returned the Tigers to ACC supremacy with its first league championship in two decades as just a sophomore. He then shattered most Clemson and some ACC passing records as a junior in 2012. He owns the single-season school record for passing yards (3,896) and the ACC single-season touchdown record with 36 scoring strikes. He has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 4,000 total yards of offense and has a chance to finish as the ACC's most productive player in history (passing yards and total offense). Against NC State, Boyd set an ACC record by accounting for eight total touchdowns (5 pass, 3 rush) and the third best total offense game in ACC history (529). The reigning ACC Player of the Year wants more than just a conference championship in 2013.
Like his quarterback Steve Fuller, Bostic helped return Clemson to national prominence in the late 1970s. Behind Bostic, Fuller and running back Lester Brown, Clemson had a dominant run game during the 11-1 season of 1978. The ACC and Gator Bowl champions, Clemson set school records that for total rushing yards (3,469), rushing yards per game (289.1), total carries (741) and carries per game (61.8). Not even Chad Morris’ up-tempo offense topped Clemson’s 78.8 plays per game in 1978. Bostic was an All-America selection in 1977 and ’78.
The Refrigerator’s brother was more than just a familiar name along the Clemson defensive line. Michael Dean Perry picked up where his brother left off and exceeded him in some areas. Like his brother, he was one of a handful of defensive players to win ACC Defensive Player of the Year (1987). Michael also broke William’s ACC records for career tackles for a loss (61) and career sacks (28). He remains Clemson’s sole record holder for career tackles for a loss and was tied for career sacks by Gaines Adams in 2006. Perry’s best season came in 1987 when he recorded 24 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks as Clemson went 10-2 with an ACC title.
Arguably Clemson’s most dynamic offensive playmaker of the Athlon era (since 1967), C.J. Spiller arrived to Clemson from Lake Butler, Fla., as an elite all-purpose recruit. He delivered in all areas, earning ACC Player of the Year honors in 2009. He was the first Clemson player to receive the award since Michael Dean Perry in 1987 and the first offensive player from Clemson to earn the award since quarterback Steve Fuller in 1978. Spiller had only one 1,000-yard season in his career (with 1,212 yards as a senior), but his 7.27 career yards per carry was the second-best average in Clemson history and the best since 1950. A threat as a runner, receiver and return man, Spiller shattered the Clemson record for all-purpose yards with 7,588 in his career, an ACC record and the third-most in NCAA history. His 51 total touchdowns (31 rushing, 12 receiving, seven on kickoff returns, one on a punt return) is a school record.
Clemson re-emerged from NCAA sanctions and a recruiting scandal in the late 1980s with defense once again at the forefront. After recording 71 tackles as a freshman, Kirkland enjoyed a breakout game at the end of his sophomore season in the Gator Bowl. With nine tackles and a sack, Kirkland was the Gator Bowl MVP as the Tigers’ defense held Heisman finalist Major Harris to 119 passing yards in a 27-7 win over West Virginia. Kirkland was a second-team All-American as a junior and a consensus first-team All-American as a senior, leaving school with 273 career tackles and 19 career sacks.
One of three defensive players from the title-winning 1981 team to make our list, the team captain Davis played a major role in clinching Clemson’s only national title by earning Orange Bowl Defensive MVP honors in the 22-15 win over No. 4 Nebraska to clinch the championship. Davis led Clemson in tackles that season with a then-school record 175, earning ACC Player of the Year honors and consensus All-America honors. More than a sure tackler, Davis had a penchant for forcing opponents to cough up the ball with 10 forced fumbles and eight recovered fumbles in his career. Both are school records.
“The Refrigerator” had a knack for the big debut, even before helping the Chicago Bears’ dominant defense to the Super Bowl as a rookie in 1985. As a freshman at Clemson, Perry helped the Tigers to the 1981 national title. That season, Perry came off the bench to 48 tackles and four sacks, including two in a key win over North Carolina. That was only the start for the 300-pound lineman, who earned his nickname as a senior at Clemson after earning consensus All-America honors as a junior. In his final season in 1984, Perry led the nation with 27 tackles for a loss and had 100 tackles – as a nose guard – to earn ACC Player of the Year honors. Only three ACC defensive players and two players from Clemson since then have earned such honors.
A dominant defensive back, Kinard was Clemson’s first of four unanimous All-America selections and the only one until 2006. The safety from Sumter, S.C., remains the Tigers’ only two-time consensus All-American. As Clemson went 12-0 and won the national title in 1981, Kinard led the Tigers with six interceptions and added 95 tackles. He returned for his senior season in 1982 to record 89 tackles and another six picks. He is Clemson’s career leader in interceptions with 17 and leads all Clemson defensive backs with 294 career stops.
Down 14-13, with 0:10 left, Clemson QB Woody Dantzler connects with Rod Gardner on a 50-yard pass to the South Carolina eight-yard line that sets up a game-winning 35-yard field goal by Aaron Hunt. Clemson fans dub the play “The Catch II,” while Gamecock supporters complain that Gardner pushed off.
Mark Buchholz hits a 35-yard field goal with no time remaining to give Clemson a 23-21 victory over South Carolina. It is the first time in the history of the rivalry that the game is won on the last play and is the Tigers’ fifth win in six games against the Gamecocks.
Tajh Boyd throws three touchdown passes to lead Clemson to a 38-10 romp over fifth-ranked Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game. The triumph gives the Tigers their first conference crown in 30 years and sends them to the Orange Bowl.
Steve Fuller completes a 20-yard touchdown pass to a twisting Jerry Butler with 0:49 left to give Clemson a 31-27 win over South Carolina. “The Catch” serves as notice that the Tigers have returned to the top echelon of college football.
Clemson stifles Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, 22-15, behind QB Homer Jordan and receiver Perry Tuttle to complete a 12-0 season and win its first national championship. The Clemson defense holds the Cornhuskers to 256 total yards.
Will the SEC's streak of national championships end in 2012?
Spring practice is wrapping up around the nation, which means the 2012 college football season is just around the corner. Athlon’s top 25 for 2012 kicks off on May 1 and ends in early June with our pick to win the national title. The SEC has won six championships in a row, but will that streak end in 2012? The early odds favor a SEC repeat, but there are some threats looming for a seventh consecutive title.
Can EJ Manuel lead Florida State to an ACC Atlantic title?
The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No.