Clemson Football faces South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday night, and a lot will be on the line.
Clemson wants to avenge last season’s loss to the Gamecocks in Death Valley. South Carolina needs a victory over the Tigers to be bowl-eligible.
For Clemson, the South Carolina game won’t be the last one of the season. The Tigers will play in a bowl, but the Gator Bowl, Sun Bowl, or Duke’s Mayo Bowl won’t hold the same kind of influence on the Clemson offseason as the Palmetto Bowl.
The outcome of Saturday’s game will guide the direction Clemson takes this offseason both as a program and individually for coaches and players alike.
Last weekend, a colleague of mine with FanSided, Josh Yourish, listed Cade Klubnik as one of seven current players that was not likely to return with Clemson Football in 2024. If you read his explanation, he was actually saying that it was a realistic possibility from his perspective, not a slam dunk.
Nonetheless, he did bundle Klubnik with other players that he thought probably would not be back in 2024, and his presentation stirred quite a bit of consternation among Tiger Nation.
I do not agree with Josh’s opinion that Klubnik is likely to transfer, though he does make a few good points.
- He said Klubnik has been part of the problem with this offense, which is correct.
- He pointed out the recent precedent set by DJ Uiagalelei of a high-profile quarterback transferring out of the program, which is correct.
- He said Keon Coleman and Jaheim Bell were assets added through the portal for FSU quarterback Jordan Travis, which is correct.
I think you have to look at the past precedents for why players transfer out of the Clemson program. It is hard to come up with examples that fall outside these two categories:
- Players transfer because they have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff (usually losing a starting job or being passed over for promotion)
- Players transfer because they see that there is enough depth ahead of them that they aren’t likely to play unless there is a run of injuries at their position.
DJU hasn’t been the only quarterback to transfer out of Clemson since the advent of the portal: Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper, Hunter Johnson, Taisun Phommachanh, and Billy Wiles all transferred out of the program.
None of them were starters who willingly yielded the starting job for greener pastures with another program. They either lost the starting job or realized they weren’t going to get a real shot at starting. They all wanted more playing time, and all (eventually) found it:
- Bryant was the starter at Missouri until he was injured for the season
- Cooper started several seasons at Jacksonville State
- Johnson was named starter at Northwestern, but wasn’t able to hold onto the job
- Phommachanh was the starter for UMass this season following a brief stop at Georgia Tech
- Wiles has been the starter for Southern Mississippi after being a walk-on at Clemson
Klubnik isn’t in the same place those men were when they decided to transfer.
I don’t think Klubnik was immune to the heat that was on everyone following the NC State loss, but there is no evidence he has fallen out of favor or is in any real danger of losing the starting job. Based on what we have heard thus far, Christopher Vizzina would have to take a big jump this offseason to even get into the conversation.
Can Vizzina take a big jump and challenge Klubnik? Sure. Is it likely? No. Odds say it is more likely he puts pressure on Hunter Helms and Paul Tyson (assuming either return themselves) to be the primary backup in 2024.
If we are using Uiagalelei as a reference point, Klubnik likely has at least one more season to prove he can work out his issues.
Many Clemson fans would have liked to see Uiagalelei out as the starter after one season, but the staff stuck with him. There was more pressure to perform, but it seems the standard we’ve heard – ‘til graduation do we part’ – was in practice with DJU.
If DJ got three years in the program, Klubnik likely will too.
Cade Klubnik doesn’t fit the profile of a player likely to transfer out of Clemson Football
Even in 2021 when it seemed like things were beginning to unravel for the Tigers, players didn’t jump ship from the program. I do not drink the ‘culture’ Kool-Aid, but in this case, it appears to be a strong reason why players who choose Clemson tend to not leave Clemson unless it’s about playing time.
Uiagalelei could have exited after the 2021 season. Plenty of people noted that he wasn’t a great fit for the offense Clemson was running. He could have left to find a better fit a year earlier than he did, but he chose to stick it out. He hadn’t fallen out of favor at that point.
(As a side note, I think DJ would have been an even worse fit in Garrett Riley’s system than he was in the previous offense.)
If anything, Dabo Swinney was even more adamant about not using the portal following the 2021 season than he has been the last few months. DJ could have left Clemson because they weren’t willing to bring in pass-catching transfers the way Florida State did this past offseason, but he didn’t.
Klubnik wanted to be at Clemson, even when Clemson wasn’t sure they wanted him. The Tigers were all in on Ty Simpson. They spoke with Klubnik but it was clear Simpson was their priority. It wasn’t until Simpson verbally committed to Alabama that Clemson even offered Klubnik a scholarship.
Klubnik didn’t waver. He was patient and waited out the Simpson recruitment. It didn’t bother him that he was Clemson’s ‘second choice’. This just doesn’t sound like someone who would ‘jump ship’, especially when he routinely takes accountability for what we mentioned earlier: he has played his part in this offense’s failures.
This does not mean things can’t change. I can see a scenario where Klubnik leaves, but it would only be if he suddenly fell into one of those two categories we discussed.
One of these three things will happen:
- Riley will return as offensive coordinator
- Riley will take a head coaching job or leave for another coordinator position, and someone else will step in
- Dabo Swinney will part ways with Riley, and someone else will step in
Each of these three options at offensive coordinator opens up a multiverse of possibilities. What Clemson does at OC could be an influence on whether the Tigers potentially look at taking a transfer quarterback. They do not have a quarterback commitment in the Class of 2024. Even if they start looking for depth, if the 2024 OC sees someone they like in the portal, it could shift Klubnik’s position.
I would consider that a long shot right now, and not a likelihood. Regardless of the OC, I don’t think Dabo Swinney has lost confidence in Klubnik. Not yet, at least.
Like we said earlier, if we are using Uiagalelei as a benchmark, we can revisit this subject after the 2024 season, depending on how that turns out for the Tigers.