Written by Chris Kubala
We’re still waiting to see how things may play out as far as the college football season goes thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that has run rampant across the globe this year. The NCAA has given the decision-making power about when athletes can return to campus and begin voluntary workouts last month, with several conferences opening up their campuses beginning this week. It’s uncertain as to how things will unfold, both with individual conferences and the sport as a whole. There are some things we do know and for the reigning ACC champions, things aren’t all on the positive side of the ledger when it comes to the 2020 season.
The Clemson Tigers roared through the regular season last year, winning the ACC and making the College Football Playoff. After dispatching Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinals, the Tigers were knocked off by #1 LSU 42-25 in the national championship game, leaving them with a 14-1 mark on the season. Hopes were high for coach Dabo Swinney and Clemson to make another run to the CFP Championship Game and potentially deliver another title to Death Valley. Things are going to be a bit tougher for the Tigers after an announcement on Monday afternoon.
Wide receiver Justyn Ross, who led the team last season by reeling in 66 passes for 865 yards and eight touchdowns, is going to miss the 2020 season for Clemson. He is scheduled to undergo surgery for a congenital fusion in his back and spine later this week and has been ruled out for the year. Swinney had the following to say about the injury and how it will impact things going forward:
"He will be out this year. He will not be able to play this fall. If he was a football coach or an accountant he would probably be back at it in probably six weeks, but he is a football player so there is obviously a lot more involved here to play the game he loves."
It was reported that Ross suffered a stinger in spring practice back in March before everything was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. The injury wasn’t expected to be serious but future tests found that he had the condition since birth. He also has had a history of stingers in his career that has impacted him. As for Clemson, it’s a blow to their receiving group as Tee Higgins, who hauled in 59 passes for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, left school for the NFL after last season. That takes the top two receivers from last season’s team out of the mix for this year and puts pressure on younger guys to step up.
Amari Rodgers is the top returning receiver with 30 catches for 426 yards and four touchdowns. He’s the second-leading pass catcher as running back Travis Etienne, who caught 37 passes last year, is back for his senior year. That will help Trevor Lawrence and the offense as it will force opposing defenses to find a way to clamp down on the run game. In order to do that, defenses won’t be able to double anyone in the passing game. Joseph Ngata (17 receptions, 240 yards, TD) and Frank Ladson Jr. are going to have to step up and contribute to replace the missing production of Ross and Higgins.
The next big decision for Ross will come in January when he has to decide to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft or stay in college. Should he stay in school, he likely would pursue a medical redshirt in order to retain two years of eligibility. He was slated to go in the first half of the opening round of the draft before the injury and it remains to be seen what decision he makes. At this point in time, it’s going to be a waiting game for him to make that choice. As it stands, we wish him the best in his recovery from this surgery.