Clemson football preview: Tigers 2017 schedule, roster and three things to watch

Here's a preview of Clemson's 2017 schedule, roster and biggest questions entering the season.

Clemson won its first national championship since 1981 by beating Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff National Championship game in January. That capped a 14-1 season and puts the Tigers on top of the college football mountain heading into Clemson's 2017 schedule.

Now, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney will lead the Tigers in their national title defense without star quarterback Deshaun Watson and several other key pieces. However, Clemsonstill hasa talented 2017 roster, including a recruiting class that had a composite ranking of No. 16across four major sites, to make a third consecutive run at both theACC championship and College Football Playoff.

MORE: Clemson's storybook season 35 years in the making

The Tigers are ranked No. 3 in Sporting News' Way-Too-Early Top 25, and here's a preview of Clemson's 2017 schedule, roster and biggest questions entering the season.

2017 Clemson football schedule

Sept. 2:vs. Kent State

Sept. 9:vs. Auburn

Sept. 16:at Louisville

Sept. 23:vs. Boston College

Sept. 30:at Virginia Tech

Oct. 7:vs. Wake Forest

Oct. 13:at Syracuse (Friday)

Oct. 21:BYE

Oct. 28:vs. Georgia Tech

Nov. 4:at N.C. State

Nov. 11:vs. Florida State

Nov. 18: vs.The Citadel

Nov. 25:at South Carolina

Dec. 2:ACC championship (site TBD)

When is Clemson's spring game?

Clemson's spring game is scheduled for April 8 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C. Time and TV coverage is to be determined.

2017 Clemson recruiting class

Clemson finished No. 16 on team rankings for 2017. The class had just 14 recruits, but four, including five-star quarterback Hunter Johnson, are early enrollees who are already on campus.

2017 Clemson roster

Clemson's official roster will be updated throughout the spring and fall here.

Three things to watch this spring:

1. Who replaces Deshaun Watson?

Watson leaves huge shoes to fill, and the quarterback battle will start in spring practice. Junior Kelly Bryant played sparingly last season, and redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper is back. Johnson also could be in the mix. Trevor Lawrence, the top quarterback recruit for the 2018 class, also is committed to play at Clemson. The Tigers have options. They just need more experience at the position.

MORE: Clemson's recruiting classshows national reach

2. Which running back breaks out?

Leading rusher Wayne Gallman is gone, which opens the door for running backs Tavien Feaster, C.J. Fuller and Adam Choice. Of those options, keep an eye on Feaster. The four-star recruit from the class of 2015 averaged 6.0 yards per carry in limited action in 2016. Feaster has drawn some loose comparisons to former Clemson star C.J. Spiller. That type of player is just what this offense could use given the departure of so many big-time playmakers. Feaster just needs to go out and prove it.

3. Can defensive line dominate again?

Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell are back, and that's good news for a Brent Venablesdefense built from that interior. Those three combined for 16 sacks and 34 tackles for loss last season. The change, however, comes with the addition of new defensive line coach Todd Bates. He was hired after assistants Dan Brooks retired and Marion Hobby left for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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