SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

The Clemson football team may not have been widely expected to accomplish all that they did in 2017 — winning their third straight ACC title, reaching No. 1 in the final regular-season ranking and making the College Football Playoff for a third straight season.

But the Tigers will not be able to play the disrespect card if what the 2018 prognosticators believe comes true.

The Tigers are ranked inside the top four in every “way-too-early” ranking, including a No. 1 ranking by USA Today. The rest of the rankings are: No. 3 by Yahoo Sports and The Athletic, and No. 2 by ESPN, The Sporting News, Athlon Magazine and Fox Sports.

Two factors are key in the rankings:

• The defense, which finished the 2017 season ranked No. 2 in scoring defense, should again be the cornerstone.

• The Tigers’ quarterback situation should get significantly better, either through the improvement of incumbent Kelly Bryant or through one of the young guns taking over the job.

“Clemson has continually reloaded on defense and must do so again,” The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel wrote. “Defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant could all turn pro, but sophomore DT Dexter Lawrence will return, and the secondary should be solid. QB Kelly Bryant will be back, but may have to fend off five-star youngsters Hunter Johnson and Trevor Lawrence. The Tigers’ run game should be stronger with experience.”

In addition to the Tigers’ high rankings, Bovada currently has Clemson sitting as the second-best odds to win the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship, for what that's worth. The Tigers (6/1) are behind only the reigning national champion Alabama Crimson Tide (11/4).

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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