There are plenty of questions surrounding Clemson as it tries to defend its first ACC championship in 20 years. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins and new defensive coordinator Brent Venables have gotten plenty of attention, but here are some lesser-known players who could play a big role in the level of success the Tigers enjoy in 2012.

Offense: Tight end Brandon Ford. Ford has to replace Dwayne Allen, who won the John Mackey Award last year as the nation’s top tight end. Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster called Allen the best player in the league last year. Ford is a 6-4, 245 pound senior, and he caught 14 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns in 2011. Coaches are excited about what Ford can bring to the table, and he could complement the better-known skill players like wide receivers Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins.

Defense: Sophomore defensive tackles DeShawn Williams, Grady Jarrett and Josh Watson have a lot on their plates as they try to fill the voids left by Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore. Williams, Jarrett, and Watson combined for just 22 tackles in 2011, but they will have to step up and plug the middle in the 4-3 scheme of Venables. There isn’t much depth at this position, and these three will have to stay healthy.

Special teams: Freshman punter Bradley Pinion enrolled in January, and he is battling senior Spencer Benton for the starting job. Pinion averaged 46.1 yards per punt in his senior season at Northwest Cabarrus High School in Concord, N.C. He was widely regarded as one of the best high school punters in the country last year. If he can step up and win the job, coach Dabo Swinney will be set at the position for a while.

For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from ACC bloggers Shawn Krest and Sean Bielawski, follow @CBSSportsACC.