Clemson will embark on the 2017 season with a hard-earned but potentially burdensome tag -- defending national champion -- and coach Dabo Swinney doesn't particularly care for the description.
"We're not defending a national championship," Swinney said. "We're just chasing another one."
Defending, chasing, contending -- whatever the case, there's no question that the Tigers have joined the exclusive club of college football elites.
Under Swinney's guidance, Clemson has won 70 games in the past six years, including a 35-31 victory against Alabama in the national title game in January for the program's first championship in 35 years.
The Tigers' next challenge is maintaining that lofty status.
"I'm excited about it," said Swinney, whose team finished 14-1 last season. "It means new opportunities for a lot of people. Our goal is to be the best that we can be."
Despite the loss of much of last season's offensive firepower, including quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver Mike Williams, tight end Jordan Leggett and running back Wayne Gallman, Swinney's team has the potential to be a playoff player for a third consecutive year.
Much of Clemson success in 2017 will depend on who replaces Watson and Gallman.
Kelly Bryant, a junior who has great running skills but has completed only 13 passes in two seasons, is the most experienced quarterback and the odds-on favorite to start in the season opener against Kent State on Sept. 2, but he's being pushed in fall camp by freshman Hunter Johnson and sophomore Zerrick Cooper.
A three-way battle at running back is expected to continue through fall camp as well, with C.J. Fuller, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice the candidates. The Tigers lost Williams and all-time leading receiver Artavis Scott, but the return of Deon Cain and championship game hero Hunter Renfrow bodes well for a receiving corps that has received an influx of rookie talent as well.
While the offense plays catch-up, Clemson's strength, at least early in the season, will be built around a defense that returns seven starters. Defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are All-America candidates, and defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are potential stars as well.
This much is certain: It won't take long for the Tigers to see what their shortcomings might be. After the opener, Clemson faces Auburn at home and then Louisville and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson on the road in Week 3.
"The natural thing is to focus on who's gone," Swinney said. "But we'll focus on who's here. We've got a lot of talented young men, a lot of experienced people. We have most everybody back in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and that's always kind of where it all starts.
"For us, we want to try to win this league. To do that, you've got to win your division, so that's all we're focused on. Just put our best foot forward and be the best version of this team that we can be and we'll see where we get down the road.
"I think it's going to be fun. It's exciting when you've got some new pieces that are going to have to emerge."
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: WR Deon Cain -- Cain is poised to replace Mike Williams, who was drafted No. 7 overall by the Chargers last April, as Clemson's primary deep-ball threat. Despite being a back-up, the junior already has had his share of big moments as well as showing a knack for finding the end zone. With 14 touchdowns on only 72 receptions in his first two seasons, Cain is averaging a touchdown roughly every five catches, and his 18.1 yards per catch ranks fourth in school history. "This is one of the best receivers in the country," coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's been there, done that. In my mind, he's a proven player."
BREAKOUT STAR: DE Clelin Ferrell -- Ferrell broke out in many ways in 2016, but he appears to be set for an even more productive year in 2017. The redshirt sophomore, who had 50 tackles, including 12.5 for loss and six sacks last season, will benefit from having potential all-star Austin Bryant returning at the other end spot and All-America candidates Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence ready to collapse the middle of opposing lines. Given the talent, size and ability of Clemson's defensive front, Ferrell could be in line to post a double-digit sack total and continue Clemson's tradition of outstanding defensive ends.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Tee Higgins -- At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, Higgins looks like the next Mike Williams, both in stature and ability. The freshman receiver has wowed with his "ability to go get it," coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's got great body control, he's physical and I'm very encouraged by his toughness. He hasn't backed down a bit. He has zero fear." It's not surprising that Higgins may emerge as an early contributor; he was the top-rated player in Clemson's 2017 recruiting class after 68 receptions for 1,044 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior at Oak Ridge (Tenn.) High.
WR Ray-Ray McCloud, a junior with 78 career receptions, has split practice time between receiver and cornerback in fall camp. "He was originally recruited as a defensive back," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. McCloud also will returns punts this season.
LB Dorian O'Daniel, C Justin Falcinelli and OG Tyrone Crowder received their diplomas on Aug. 11, earning a day off from practice. Coach Dabo Swinney has had 157 of 162 senior lettermen earn their degrees over his nine seasons.
DE Richard Yeargin will miss the season after suffering a neck injury in an auto accident in June. A junior from Fort Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., Yeargin was listed as a second-team defensive end. He had 29 tackles in his first two seasons, including 14 stops and four tackles for loss in 12 games in 2016.
LB Logan Rudolph, the younger brother of Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, has moved to defensive end. The freshman might miss the season; coach Dabo Swinney said Rudolph might be able to play through pain this season but will need shoulder surgery at some point.