If running backs are really only as good as their linemen, Clemson's neophyte backfield is in for a fine season. Forget the fact that of the six players vying for the celebrated I-back position (since 1979, Tiger tailbacks have averaged 140 yards per game) only one has ever seen game action—and that for only three plays. No one is worried. Counting both sides of the trenches, Clemson returns nine of 10 starting linemen. If third-year quarterback Rodney Williams had some wide receivers and if the defense had an extra linebacker or two, folks might be talking national championship.
But, oh, those lines. The ace of the offensive front is All-America guard John Phillips, a 6'5", 260-pounder with the agility of a linebacker and the dependability of a Maytag. Last year, according to Tiger statisticians, Phillips had 100 knockdown blocks, and the line allowed only one sack in the final 10 games.
Senior tackle Michael Dean Perry, the Refrigerator's little brother, is Clemson's defensive dispose-all. The 11th of 12 Perry children, he must have been elbowed aside at feeding time: He weighs a scant 270. At least he'll get lots of Gatorade breaks, because the Tiger defensive front goes two deep at each position.
Danny Ford's Tigers are a shoo-in to repeat as ACC champs, especially with some of the competition doing all it can to help out. Duke volunteered to forfeit its home-field advantage in exchange for the extra cash generated by traveling to the 79,854-seat Death Valley. Among the other seven home-field opponents are Georgia Tech and Georgia, whose coaches have ranked the Tigers 7th and 8th nationally. Nobody will be shocked if Clemson turns out to be just that good.
Williams runs better than he passes, but his line will give him plenty of room to do both.