Clemson football: 3 Tigers breakout stars set for monster 2022 seasons in ACC
The Clemson Tigers got a bowl win in 2021, but it was not the goal they had set prior to that season wherein they did not make it to the College Football Playoff. They did not even win the ACC title. But this time, Clemson football ahs both ACC and national domination on their mind again. With that said, here are three Clemson football players with tantalizing potential to break out and help the Tigers return to the top of the college football world in 2022.
3 Clemson football breakout stars in 2022 season
3. Nate Wiggins
For all the disappointments for Clemson Football in 2021, at least the Tigers’ defense was still one of the best not only in the ACC but in the nation. The Tigers allowed just 15.8 points per game and 313.2 total yards per contest, second and seventh in the FBS last season, respectively. Dabo Swinney has every reason to believe that he can sustain that form of his defense in 2022, and cornerback Nate Wiggins is going to be a big part of that.
Wiggins is entering his sophomore season with the Tigers and is expected to carve out a significant role on Clemson’s stop unit, in part because the school just lost two of their 2021 secondary studs over the offseason; Andrew Booth Jr. is now fighting for a starting gig with the Minnesota Vikings, while Mario Goodrich is also now in the NFL after getting signed by the Philadelphia Eagles.
That’s a lot of experience and on-field production that Clemson will have to replace, as Booth and Goodrich had five of Clemson Football’s 12 interceptions in 2021. The Tigers still have safety R.J. Mickens who had two picks last season but Clemson is definitely going to need more from him and the others to fill the void left by Booth and Goodrich. Immaturity appeared to be a major hurdle for Wiggins in 2021, and that limited his role on the team, but since then, he has gotten glowing reviews from quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and Swinney.
“Incredibly talented and very competitive, just a young guy maturing and really buying into what it takes,” Swinney said about Wiggins, who saw 130 snaps as a freshman. “It takes what it takes. There’s no shortcut to it. That’s the biggest thing I saw, him really buying into what it takes to not just be good but to be great.”
Wiggins, who was a top-10 cornerback recruit in 2021, is poised to produce more than the three tackles he had in 11 games (130 snaps) in his freshman year.
2. Dietrick Pennington
Pennington is far from a name most college fans would know about, but it might not be too long before he starts getting serious attention. The offensive lineman barely saw any action in 2021, his first year in college, after suffering a devastating knee injury right in his collegiate debut against the South Carolina State Bulldogs. He played just four snaps in that game and spend the rest of the year recovering from it. Now healthy, Pennington carries on his massive shoulders the expectations of Clemson to be a sturdy and consistent presence in pass protection and run blocking. While he’s tipping the scales at 360 pounds, Pennington is showing in the offseason an incredible level of mobility for a man his size.
Given the fact that he is coming off a serious knee injury, Pennington is not yet assured of a starting spot on Clemson’s offensive line. Junior Mitchell Mayes is also in competition for the starting role at right guard, but at some point, Swinney is going to want to discover what they really have in Pennington. Here’s an observation from Anna Adams of 247 Sports back in July about how Swinney seemed to feel about Pennington:
“Dietrick Pennington — game on. Mitchell Mayes and Bryn Tucker might start camp with more first-team reps at right guard, but it’s obvious based on Dabo Swinney’s comments yesterday that they expect Pennington to sort of pick up where he left off last year, which was as a potential starter.”
1. Cade Klubnik
While DJ Uiagalelei is currently on top of Clemson football’s quarterback depth chart, he will have to constantly look over his shoulder. With the kind of season he had in 2021, Uiagalelei can’t say for now that he is an absolute lock to be the Tigers’ starter in 2022. Plus, the Tigers added a five-star recruit in Cade Klubnik. Although Klubnik does not have the experience just yet on the collegiate level, Uiagalelei left the door open for the freshman to steal a starting gig by playing the way he did in 2021.
Clemson’s offense was substandard with Uiagalelei under center last season, as the Tigers averaged just 26.3 points per game in the ACC, good for just ninth overall in the conference. The Tigers were also just 13th (second-worst) in the ACC with just 359.2 total yards per outing. With a 108.65 passer rating, Uiagalelei was last in the entire conference among qualified quarterbacks in that statistical department. It might just take Klubnik one breakout game to ultimately push Uiagalelei out of the picture.