Add in a 1,000-yard rusher gone in Rod McDowell and it’s easy to expect a dropoff – CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd does, not listing the Tigers in the top-39 - but Dabo Swinney and co. certainly have other ideas.
In a ESPN piece naming Clemson one of 16 playoff contenders, Swinney points to the veteran-laden defense.
"Nobody knew Vic Beasley (last season)," Swinney said. "Nobody knew Grady Jarrett, and nobody knew Corey Crawford. Nobody even knew their names. I had somebody come in here and do a radio show and asked him if he could give me one name of our defensive linemen. He couldn't name one name, not one of them, and, boy, I used that with those guys. Now, everybody knows those guys."
The road to the college football final four will run through Tallahassee and the defending champs, Florida State, however.
ESPN stats and info’s Football Power Index (FPI) has the Seminoles as the preseason favorite and a near-five-touchdown favorite against the average FBS team (32.2 points). Last season, they paced the nation with a 34.6 FPI ahead of Oregon (28.5), Alabama (25.4), Baylor (24.4) and Stanford (24.4) in the top-five. Clemson finished 14th (17.2).
In the preseason ranking, FSU has the No. 2 offense (16.9), No. 1 defense (13.6) and No. 1 special teams unit (1.7) nationally. Oregon is next-best (28.5), followed by Auburn (24.3), Alabama (24.1) and UCLA (22.6).
South Carolina comes in at No. 9 (19.8), Georgia No. 12 (19.5) and Clemson No. 15 (17.6).
The Tigers are listed with the No. 25 offense (6.6), No. 6 defense (10.4) and No. 40 special teams unit (0.6).
Last season, Clemson had the No. 16 offensive (14.5) and defensive (8.78) FPI and the No. 88 special teams unit (-.75).
For comparison, Football Outsiders’ FEI ranking had the Tigers with the No. 26 offense, No. 17 defense and No. 78 special teams unit in college football last season.
Other college football analytics aren't quite as sure Clemson is in the national title echelon this season.
Focused on recruiting, SB Nation identified 11 contender teams by a "blue-chip ratio," where Florida State (56 percent) and Georgia (51 percent) made the list, but Clemson (42), Oregon (42), UCLA (42) and Stanford (39) are on the outside looking in.
CFB Matrix's top-10 playoff-ready teams was headlined by the usual suspects, but also had Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Oregon.
"They get make a vast majority of their team and their schedule is miles better than 2013," CFB Matrix's Dave Bartoo wrote analyzing Florida State's chances. "Their 3 toughest games are all at home. Pretty easy to pencil them into an ACC title and the playoffs again. Repeating however? Tough call."
"The only top 8 recruiter of this century to not make a title game? Yup. UGA. But they lose a forever cornerstone in Murray...and they get back 90% of key defensive production. They also have one tough roadie at the Gamecocks with Auburn, the Vols and Clemson at home with no trap games on the horizon. Expect playoff berth."
2014 ACC Preseason FPI
1) Florida State (32.2)
2) Clemson (17.6)
3) Louisville (6.5)
4) Syracuse (5)
5) N.C. State (0.4)
6) Boston College (-3.4)
7) Wake Forest (-8.5)
1) North Carolina (15.6)
2) Miami (12.1)
3) Virginia Tech (9.8)
4) Pittsburgh (8.5)
5) Duke (8.1)
6) Georgia Tech (7.2)
7) Virginia (2.5)
Notre Dame (11.4)