Every so often our comment section finds a topic for us to look a little deeper into.
The issue at hand: Offensive line recruiting – is Clemson getting the numbers and/or the talent?
Here's the current makeup going into 2014 (using Scout rankings)...
Clemson o-line makeup
Rising Juniors (7): Center - Ryan Norton (3-star); Tackle/Guard - Isaiah Battle (4-star tackle), Eric Mac Lain (4-star TE in HS, tackle/guard now), Shaq Anthony (3-star tackle), Joe Gore (3-star tackle), Spencer Region (3-star guard), Jerome Maybank (3-star tackle).
Rising Sophomores (2): Center - Jay Guillermo (3-star); Tackle/Guard - Oliver Jones (3-star tackle).
Redshirt Freshmen (2): Tackle/Guard - Tyrone Crowder (4-star, top-100 overall OL, 6-2 325), Maverick Morris (3-star tackle, 6-4 285).
2014 Commits (2): Tackle/Guard - Justin Falcinelli (3-star tackle, 6-5 300), Taylor Hearn (3-star tackle, 6-5 305).
2015 Commits/Top Offers: Tackle/Guard - Noah Green (Commit, 3-star, 6-5 275), Mitch Hyatt (Offer, 5-star OT, 6-5 271), Zack Bailey (Offer, 4-star OT, 6-5 307).
Outgoing Seniors/injured (3): OT Brandon Thomas (4-star, top-15 tackle), OG Tyler Shatley (3-star FB), OG Patrick DeStefano (top-20 rated, 3-star guard, won't finish out final three years of eligibility).
Breaking It Down
* Last year, Clemson had to replace one senior ( Dalton Freeman), and did so with a top-100 recruit in Tyrone Crowder and 3-star Maverick Morris. This year, it appears they lose two (Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley) and gain two (Justin Falcinelli and Taylor Hearn).
Why such low turnover? Well for one, Clemson's moved a pair of d-lineman and a tight end to the o-line (Shatley, Jerome Maybank and Eric Mac Lain), and that's contributed to a giant sophomore-moving-into-junior class for '13. There's a decent chance that group makes up three of the five starting spots next year.
* So if the current numbers hold, the Tigers will have 17 scholarship o-linemen. Normal? Pretty much.
Auburn will carry anywhere from 14-to-15 or so into 2014, as they had a group without a senior this season.
Alabama currently has six o-line commits to bring their '14 number to 18.
* But here, starting those comparisons lends to the star ratings, and Clemson's lack thereof with the upper rung they're trying to hang with.
In the last four classes, Auburn has had nine commits with four-star ratings or higher (2.25 per year; three top-15 rated OLs)
In the same timespan, Alabama has had seven and are bringing in at least four more in the next class (top-11 rated every season but 2010/2013).
Divisional rival Florida State? They've used the JuCo ranks more (something Clemson hasn't) in gaining five 4-plus stars and at least two more coming next season.
Instate rival South Carolina? They've had a top-15 rated o-line each of the last four years with four 4-plus stars.
I say all that to point to Clemson's meager numbers, with just one top-15 o-line (2012) and two four-stars (Crowder and Battle). In the dandy dozen '09 class, outgoing senior Brandon Thomas was a four-star as well.
In terms of playing experience, they will have plenty of snaps coming back despite losing two starters - and a lot of competition.
* Projecting out from here is tough, but the Tigers seem to be in on some top recruits in what will be a key class for rebuilding the o-line (2015). Currently, they are pegged by 247Sports' "Crystal Ball" to nab both five-star tackle Mitch Hyatt (North Gwinnett) and four-star tackle Zack Bailey (Summerville). Already committed is 3-star Noah Green (Boiling Springs). The 2014 group looks pretty settled in and there aren't many spots to fill to begin with.
* The issue with o-line and ratings is it's not the easiest evaluation area. Of the "Scout 300" players from 2012-14, only 14 percent are offensive linemen.
Of that upper-crust, SEC teams have landed 37 of them to the ACC's nine. Clemson had some bad luck in that area, too, as they would've made it 10 with 2012 commit Javarius Leamon (academics, went to S.C. State).
Is that an excuse? Sure, and I'm sure Dabo Swinney and co. would love to have had more than just one in that span. He's also said he likes the competitive depth they have, which will continue into next season. For now, if Clemson is going to mold into a more run-geared attack next season – that improvement will have to come from within.