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Take Two: Is Clemson the team to beat next season?

Take Two returns with a daily offering tackling a handful of issues in the college football landscape. Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst AdamGorney lays out the situation and then receives takes from Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell and a local expert from the Rivals.com network of team sites.

MORE TAKE TWO: Should Bradley Chubb be the No. 1 overall pick? | Frost at Nebraska

CLASS OF 2019 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position

Kelly Bryant
Kelly Bryant (AP Images)

THE STORYLINE 

Clemson received a huge boost when a bunch of defensive stars - especially along the line - decided to return to school next season as the Tigers look to not only return to the College Football Playoff but win the national championship again.

The ACC powerhouse should be set defensively, but there will be some questions on offense. First, the downfield passing threat of quarterback Kelly Bryant has to be better. And young receivers are ready to step into starting roles, but how will that work after the Tigers lost a bunch of top targets?

Still, Clemson is as good as any team in the country and could be No. 1 in preseason polls, but there are a few teams that certainly deserve recognition as well. First up, A-L-A-B-A-M-A.

In the last meeting, the Crimson Tide torched Clemson, 24-6, in a national semifinal before their come-from-behind victory over Georgia in the title game.

Alabama has a lot of talent returning, as always, and should be a contender as well. Then there is Ohio State, Oklahoma, Georgia, Miami, Wisconsin, Auburn, Penn State, Washington and others who are not going anywhere, either.

But Clemson might be too good, especially on defense, not to seek its second national title in three seasons. Loaded from front to back, the Tigers have future pros nearly everywhere. Can Alabama - or someone else - take them down?

  FIRST TAKE: LARRY WILLIAMS, TIGERILLUSTRATED.COM  

“I don't spend much time pondering rankings, other than the only one that actually matters. So you're not going to get a great deal of conviction from me relating to one that's released in February. That said, it's hard to argue with putting Clemson No. 1.

“The assembly line of great defensive linemen was a huge reason the Tigers rose to elite status in 2015, and it's the main reason they've remained there since. So to have a truly ridiculous assemblage of talent there in 2018 seems a reasonable foundation to argue placing them at the top. And regarding questions about the offense: We need to remember that 2017 was a rebuilding year for that side of the ball after monstrous personnel losses. Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud are gone, but the Tigers have gobs of emerging talent outside with Tee Higgins, Diondre Overton, Amari Rodgers and Justyn Ross. Inconsistent downfield passing ended up being the downfall last season, but here's thinking it will be improved. Bryant made major strides as a passer last offseason, and he could continue to develop. If he doesn't, Trevor Lawrence is more than capable. And don't forget about Hunter Johnson, either.”

SECOND TAKE: MIKE FARRELL, RIVALS.COM

“They should be No. 1. When I did my too-early-top-10 I had them second or third, but that was before all the NFL declarations occurred. I had Alabama at No. 1 and it’s hard to bet against Alabama. They’re a young football team, and you assume Tua Tagovailoa takes over there as a sophomore at quarterback, and they’re going to use Jalen Hurts in a lot of ways offensively. The Crimson Tide have so many young weapons on offense and some experience returning on defense. Alabama is tough not to pick at No. 1, since the Tide are the reigning champs.

"But with Clemson having that entire defensive front come back and so much talent - I’m not worried about the wide receivers, because those guys (Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud) were a bit underachieving. The Tigers have young guys, some studs waiting to emerge at receiver. They’ve never had a problem making an impact at that level. They have a really fast running back. The quarterback play will be interesting. It has to improve from a passing standpoint for them to win it all. Defensively, they’re so loaded I can definitely see them being No. 1.”