Clemson enters the season with the No. 1 national ranking, just happy to have a chance to see if it is really the best team.
“I think (it’s) just a deeper appreciation that we all have (for the game) and do what we do,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “… This is what we love to do. And we’re doing it the safest possible way that we can.”
With the backdrop of playing during the coronavirus pandemic, the Tigers begin the quest to showcase their talent on the road against Wake Forest on Saturday night at newly named Truist Field in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“We want to play,” Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “We want to do what we love, have some normalcy.”
Clemson jumps right into Atlantic Coast Conference competition with a revised schedule put together in the summer when the league decided to play a 10-game conference slate plus one non-league game.
The Tigers have a league-high five All-ACC preseason first-team selections, topped by Lawrence as preseason player of the year. Senior running back Travis Etienne, another first-team selection, was the ACC Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019.
That duo has helped Clemson to a combined 29-1 record over the last two seasons, one ending in a national championship and the other with last January’s runner-up finish.
There’s leadership throughout the Clemson roster, Swinney said.
“I’m proud of the guys who have set the tone as we’re trying to have a season,” he said.
Clemson has won 11 consecutive meetings with the Demon Deacons, including last year’s 52-3 home victory and a 63-3 walloping two years ago in Winston-Salem.
It has been three years since the Demon Deacons have scored even a touchdown against the Tigers. Much of the responsibility to change their fate falls on quarterback Sam Hartman, who played in only four games last season to preserve a redshirt season.
“He has continued to grow up to be a leader,” said teammate Sulaiman Kamara, a defensive lineman.
Hartman isn’t untested. He was the 2018 starter as a true freshman, holding that spot until a broken leg in early November.
“He looks like an ACC starting quarterback right now,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.
Wake Forest finished 8-5 last year, dropping four of its final five games.
Quarterback Jamie Newman exited as a graduate transfer to Georgia (and has since opted out of the season). Standout receiver Sage Surratt announced in August that he’ll sit out the season in favor of prepping for the NFL Draft, so there are holes to fill on the offense that also was gutted with three linemen joining NFL teams in the spring.
There are high expectations for Wake Forest’s defense.
“We have a lot of guys, especially on defense, who’ve played a lot of football,” Clawson said.
The leader of that group figures to be defensive end Carlos Basham Jr., a redshirt senior who recorded 11 sacks and 18 tackles for loss last season. He was named second-team AP preseason All-America.
Kicker Nick Sciba remains with the Demon Deacons. His streak of consecutive successful field goals reached an NCAA-record 34 before ending in the 2019 regular-season finale, a stretch of makes that began in 2018.
Under the original schedule, Wake Forest would have started the season with four straight non-conference games and Clemson would have arrived for the second-to-last game on the slate. Now the task looms large for the Demon Deacons, who haven’t defeated a top-five team since 1946.
“Obviously it’s a big first game,” Wake Forest tight end Brandon Chapman said.
–Field Level Media