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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

CLEMSON — There is a fever pitch of excitement surrounding the 2018 Clemson Tigers, and rightfully so with arguably the most talented football team set to take the field in the history of the school.

With a bevy of four and five-star athletes at nearly every position, there is little doubt the Tigers have the star power to contend for a fourth straight appearance in the College Football Playoff. They will be the odds-on favorite to win their fourth straight ACC title when the media gathers at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte in a little over a month.

Today, we look at the three position groups that Tiger fans should not worry about when the season starts in 12-1/2 weeks.

1. The defensive line: This goes without saying, as the group is already being mentioned by many national pundits as “The greatest defensive line in college football history.”

The Tigers return three first-team All-Americans (Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins) on the defensive line -- the first time in college football history that a school has had three returning first-team All-America defensive linemen on the same team.

Joining the three All-Americans is rising junior Dexter Lawrence, who missed out on being named an All-American after missing time due to a foot injury. But Lawrence was named to the first-team All-ACC list.

However, the confidence level in the defensive line does not just come from the first four players on the depth chart, it comes from the players behind them including former Orangeburg-Wilkinson standout Albert Huggins, Nyles Pickney, Justin Foster, Chris Register and Xavier Kelly.

Joining the veterans are true freshman phenoms Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry and Darnell Jefferies.

2. Wide receivers: Gone are two of the most dynamic playmakers from last year’s team in Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud, but the Tigers do return their top receiver from last year and the hero of the 2016 national championship team, Hunter Renfrow.

Renfrow caught 60 passes for 602 yards and three touchdowns last season, and carries into the 2018 season a streak of 28 games with a reception.

Joining Renfrow are a pair of rising sophomores who exploded onto the scene last season — Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers.

Higgins caught 17 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 20.3 yards per catch, a team high, while Rodgers amassed 19 receptions for 123 yards.

The Tigers return four other letterman from last year’s squad in Diondre Overton, who finished 2017 with 14 catches for 178 yards; Trevion Thompson, who finished with 11 reception for 94 yards; Cornell Powell, who finished last season with eight receptions for 57 yards and one touchdown, and T.J. Chase, who finished with five receptions for 35 yards and one touchdown.

Joining the veteran-laden group is true freshman Derion Kendrick — who drew comparisons to former Tiger great Sammy Watkins — and incoming freshman Justyn Ross, the No. 1 player in Alabama.

3: Offensive line: Led by the Tigers’ fourth returning All-American, left tackle Mitch Hyatt, the Tiger offensive line should be a strength entering the 2018 season.

The Tigers return three starters off last year’s team, all of whom were All-ACC selections.

Sean Pollard and Tremayne Anchrum join center Justin Falcinelli as the anchors to the Tiger offensive line, with John Simpson, Zach Giella, Matt Brockhorst, Blake Vinson, Gage Cervenka, Chandler Reeves, Noah DeHond and true freshman Jackson Carmen all vying for playing time.

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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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