Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. Proving as much in a loss as in a win
Let's take a trip back in time, to that faraway year of 2014. It was a simpler time. Cleveland was still in a sports title drought. Donald Trump was just an obnoxious reality show star. Alabama's dynasty had not yet died.
Clemson, coming off of 32 wins in three years, had fallen into an offensive malaise. The Tigers' senior quarterback, Cole Stoudt, was fighting inconsistency, and their blue-chip freshman couldn't stay healthy. Deshaun Watson was handed the reins in Game 3 against Florida State, nearly engineered a road upset win of the defending national champions, and then torched North Carolina and NC State. He then missed three games, came back for a few plays, missed another game, then torched South Carolina on a torn-up knee.
Whenever Watson was out, Clemson's offense ground to a halt. The Tigers averaged just 4.2 yards per play against Louisville, BC, and Syracuse, then averaged 3.5 with three turnovers in a 28-6 loss at Georgia Tech. Even in defense-based blowouts of Georgia State and Oklahoma, they failed to top 5 yards per play.
In my 2015 Clemson preview, I was trying to determine whether tiny sample sizes were a sign of things to come and whether the injury bug would let up on Watson.
With a healthy Watson, a lot of potential weaknesses get covered up. The running game has an extra efficiency option (and if the defense is going to regress in run defense, ball control and efficiency become doubly important), and the passing game has an absurdly high ceiling. Line play is a concern no matter what, but Watson appears good enough to drag Clemson toward a strong season.
But what if Watson gets hurt again? His injuries were disparate enough that we shouldn't assume he will always have issues, but until he proves he can survive for a whole season, we don't know. And without Watson, either a former walk-on or a true freshman (one less touted than Watson) takes over, and all of the offense's potential weaknesses play marquee roles.
With Watson, Clemson is a Tier 1 team in the ACC. Without Watson, Clemson might fall behind Florida State, Louisville, Virginia Tech, and Miami at least.
With Watson, Clemson could be favored in every game. Without Watson, 6-6 is on the table.
Watson played in every game in 2015. And because Watson played in every game, Clemson played in 15 games.
Watson wasn't the only reason why Clemson made the finals of the College Football Playoff and damn near won the national title, of course. That Clemson could completely rebuild both lines and still dominate in the trenches was a staggering feat of recruiting and development. So was losing leading receiver Mike Williams and leaning on a bunch of freshmen and sophomores in the passing game. That defensive coordinator Brent Venables was able to completely take almost every opposing offense out of its game plan had nothing to do with Watson.
Still. Clemson's defense was awesome in 2014 and awesome in 2015. Clemson's offensive trajectory flipped by 180 degrees because of Watson. He was magnificent. With him running the show, Clemson was indeed favored in every game until the postseason. The Tigers survived a tricky early trip to Louisville and outlasted Notre Dame in a monsoon. They sneaked past South Carolina in a strange rivalry game and held off hard-charging North Carolina. They crushed Oklahoma in the national semifinals and led Alabama in the finals with 11 minutes left before a surprise onside kick and a kick return score turned the tables.
2015 was a magical year for Watson, head coach Dabo Swinney, and everyone else associated with Clemson football. And if Watson stays healthy once more, 2016 could be just as fun. It's amazing how having the best quarterback in the country can affect a team, huh?
|Record: 14-0 | Adj. Record: 14-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 2 | Final S&P+ Rk: 2|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|31-Oct||at NC State||49||56-41||W||93%||97%||+2.0||+4.5|
|28-Nov||at South Carolina||88||37-32||W||77%||85%||-21.1||-12.0|
|5-Dec||vs. North Carolina||24||45-37||W||84%||72%||-8.8||+3.0|
|Points Per Game||38.5||16||21.7||24|
2. Awesome from start to finish
In this year's Florida State preview, I remarked on how consistent the Seminoles had been over the last two years. Even when you're flawed, being able to count on a certain level of play from week to week, instead of major fluctuations, can do quite a bit for your win total.
As consistent as FSU was in 2015, Clemson had the Seminoles beaten in this regard. The Tigers hit the 91st percentile or better in nine of 15 games -- by the way, talking about a college team playing 15 games is still really strange, isn't it? -- and never fell below 73 percent. Of their three least impressive performances, one was in the Notre Dame monsoon, and another was the rivalry game vs. South Carolina. Meanwhile, their 58-0 erasure of Miami might have been the single best performance of the year by any team.
That Clemson pulled off this level of consistency with brand new lines, young skill position guys, and, yes, a true-sophomore quarterback, was absurd. Clemson was the exception to many rules last fall.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||48.7%||9||Succ. Rt. +||129.6||2|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.6||88||Def. FP+||28.0||38|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.1||17||Redzone S&P+||127.3||3|
|Q1 Rk||6||1st Down Rk||5|
|Q2 Rk||4||2nd Down Rk||13|
|Q3 Rk||8||3rd Down Rk||15|
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Deshaun Watson||6'2, 210||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9791||333||491||4104||35||13||67.8%||15||3.0%||7.9|
|Nick Schuessler||6'3, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8098||13||23||177||0||1||56.5%||2||8.0%||6.1|
|Kelly Bryant||6'3, 215||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8777||7||9||27||0||1||77.8%||0||0.0%||3.0|
|Tucker Israel||5'11, 195||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8535|
|Zerrick Cooper||6'4, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9083|
3. It's not all Deshaun, but...
Sometimes you can indeed learn a lot in small samples. As a freshman in an injury-plagued 2014 season, Watson completed 67.9 percent of his passes and proved efficient as a runner, gaining at least five yards on 49 percent of his carries. In 2015, he completed 67.8 percent of his passes with a 45 percent opportunity rate.
Granted, there were indeed some shifts. Watson's INT rate went up slightly, from an unsustainable 1.5 percent to 2.6. And without Mike Williams to stretch the field, his yards per completion slipped from an unsustainable 15.8 to 12.3. But he also cut his sack rate down to nothing, and he was brilliant in big moments.
In the rare games when Clemson's defense struggled to get a grasp on opponents, Watson responded with "Hey, don't worry about it." In the six games in which Clemson allowed more than 22 points, Watson completed 69 percent of his passes and produced a passer rating of 165.3. When the defense had things under control, he threw it into cruise control and produced a 148.7.
And this wasn't just against bad defenses: he produced a 160.0 against Alabama. He completed 30 of 47 passes for 405 yards, four touchdowns, and a pick against Alabama. In the national title game. As a true sophomore.
Watson rushed 192 times and took 15 sacks. He rarely seemed to truly get hit hard, but a physical quarterback like this is always going to be a little bit of an injury risk, especially considering he's not built like Cam Newton. But here's to another mostly injury-free year. I can't wait to see what this guy is capable of now that he's actually experienced.
(And by the way, not that I actually want to talk about the possibility of him getting hurt, but if it comes down to it, senior Nick Schuessler or four-star sophomore Kelly Bryant could be capable of steering the ship for a little while if they need to.)
|Wayne Gallman||RB||6'1, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8940||283||1527||13||5.4||4.8||40.3%||3||2|
|Deshaun Watson||QB||6'2, 210||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9791||192||1187||12||6.2||5.5||45.3%||4||1|
|RB||5'9, 215||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.8975||50||218||1||4.4||4.5||34.0%||0||0|
|C.J. Fuller||RB||5'10, 210||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8591||42||171||1||4.1||2.0||35.7%||1||0|
|Kelly Bryant||QB||6'3, 215||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8777||23||156||2||6.8||10.6||39.1%||1||1|
|Tyshon Dye||RB||6'0, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9275||23||91||2||4.0||3.7||34.8%||0||0|
|Ray-Ray McCloud||WR||5'10, 180||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9594||7||48||0||6.9||3.1||71.4%||3||2|
|Artavis Scott||WR||5'11, 190||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9661||5||27||1||5.4||2.0||60.0%||2||1|
|Nick Schuessler||QB||6'3, 200||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8098||4||2||0||0.5||0.0||0.0%||1||1|
|Tavien Feaster||RB||6'0, 205||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9807|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Artavis Scott||WR||5'11, 190||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9661||120||93||927||77.5%||24.0%||7.7||70.0%||55.0%||1.31|
|WR||6'4, 220||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9077||93||57||1030||61.3%||21.5%||11.1||60.2%||N/A||N/A|
|Jordan Leggett||TE||6'5, 255||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8712||59||40||525||67.8%||11.8%||8.9||52.5%||64.4%||1.35|
|Hunter Renfrow||WR||5'10, 175||So.||2 stars (5.3)||NR||49||33||492||67.3%||9.8%||10.0||67.3%||53.1%||1.75|
|Deon Cain||WR||6'2, 200||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9902||46||34||582||73.9%||9.2%||12.7||67.4%||63.0%||1.94|
|Ray-Ray McCloud||WR||5'10, 180||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9594||36||29||251||80.6%||7.2%||7.0||75.0%||44.4%||1.52|
|Wayne Gallman||RB||6'1, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8940||27||21||187||77.8%||5.4%||6.9||55.6%||44.4%||1.51|
|Trevion Thompson||WR||6'2, 200||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9426||15||10||115||66.7%||3.0%||7.7||40.0%||53.3%||1.48|
|Adrien Dunn||WR||5'7, 175||Jr.||NR||NR||2||2||9||100.0%||0.4%||4.5||50.0%||50.0%||0.65|
|Seth Ryan||WR||6'0, 175||Jr.||NR||NR|
|Garrett Williams||TE||6'2, 235||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9198|
|Cannon Smith||TE||6'5, 260||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8948|
|Milan Richard||TE||6'1, 200||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8898|
|Cornell Powell||WR||6'1, 200||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9314|
|Diondre Overton||WR||6'5, 195||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9205|
|T.J. Chase||WR||6'2, 185||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9158|
4. Even more weapons now
When Mike Williams went down, joining sophomore Adam Choice on the injured list, Clemson was forced to lean on sophomore running back Wayne Gallman, freshman running back C.J. Fuller, sophomore receiver Artavis Scott, and freshman receivers Hunter Renfrow, Deon Cain, and Ray-Ray McCloud. There were some upperclassmen in the rotation -- Charone Peake, Jordan Leggett, Zac Brooks, Germone Hopper -- but the sixsome of freshmen and sophomores combined for 325 carries, 283 pass targets, and 4,256 combined rushing and receiving yards.
They're all back. So are Williams and Choice. And Leggett. RB Tyshon Dye and WR Trevion Thompson could be ready for larger roles. So might tight ends Cannon Smith and Milan Richard. And the latest round of blue-chip freshmen: running back Tavien Feaster and any of three four-star receivers.
Goodness. Clemson's going to need to play 15 games again just to get these guys the touches they need. And there's still room for improvement! As mean and durable as Gallman has proven to be, he's still not incredibly efficient. And Scott is fast enough to break more big plays than he did last year.
Adding Renfrow was a particularly unfair touch. It's one thing for Clemson to recruit as well as it has of late; it's another for a walk-on like Renfrow to fall into the Tigers' lap. A star baseball player, Renfrow chose to forego scholarship offers to attempt to make Clemson's football team. He had a scholarship locked up before his freshman season began.
Wake Forest could really use a Renfrow, is all I'm saying. Boston College would kill for a stud walk-on receiver to fall out of the sky. Instead, he landed at Clemson.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Eric Mac Lain||LG||15||16||2015 1st All-ACC|
|Jay Guillermo||C||6'3, 325||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8784||13||14||2015 2nd All-ACC|
|Mitch Hyatt||LT||6'5, 295||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9894||15||15|
|Tyrone Crowder||RG||6'2, 330||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9444||12||13|
|Maverick Morris||LG||6'5, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8544||3||3|
|Jake Fruhmorgen||RT||6'6, 280||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9435||1||1|
|Taylor Hearn||LG||6'5, 330||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8510||0||0|
|Justin Falcinelli||C||6'3, 305||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8656||0||0|
|Tremayne Anchrum||LT||6'3, 290||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8706|
|Sean Pollard||RT||6'5, 295||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8992|
|John Simpson||OL||6'4, 290||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9293|
|Sean Pollard||OL||6'5, 295||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8892|
5. The patchwork line dominated
Clemson had to replace four of five starters from a line that struggled to open holes for Gallman and company in 2014. On top of that, the Tigers only got two starts out of two-year starter Ryan Norton before injury.
Naturally, the line improved to seventh in Adj. Line Yards and fifth in Adj. Sack Rate. There is always context when it comes to the line stats -- Gallman's ability to muscle ahead and fall forward clearly had something to do with Clemson having a top-20 stuff rate, and Watson's ability to avoid pressure and maneuver in the pocket better than any dual-threat quarterback in college football had something to do with the sack rate. But lots of teams had good running backs, and lots of teams had QBs good at avoiding sacks. Clemson was still the only team in the country to rank in the top 10 in both of those measures.
That Norton and two 2015 starters (including sudden all-conference guard Eric Mac Lain) are gone could certainly affect depth; of the 11 linemen listed above, eight are either freshmen and sophomores, and it would only take a couple of injuries to make this one of the youngest lines in the country. But after last year, this unit gets the benefit of the doubt. Line coach Robbie Caldwell might not have been very effective as Vanderbilt's interim head coach back in 2010, but he's at least as effective in his current role as he was at turkey insemination way back when. Seriously, he should have been up for the Broyles Award last year.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||32.9%||4||Succ. Rt. +||128.5||3|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.4||103||Off. FP+||30.8||45|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||3.9||21||Redzone S&P+||128.2||8|
|Q1 Rk||3||1st Down Rk||4|
|Q2 Rk||2||2nd Down Rk||1|
|Q3 Rk||8||3rd Down Rk||55|
6. Unlikely depth
After getting embarrased by West Virginia in the 2011 Orange Bowl, Swinney hired Oklahoma's Brent Venables to salvage a defense and figure out how best to make stops while also possessing a non-stop, high-tempo offense. It's a tricky balance for obvious reasons; you need better depth to account for the fact that your offense is going to be forcing you to face more drives and snaps. Few have pulled it off well. Of the top 10 teams last year in Adj. Tempo -- Baylor, Tulsa, TCU, Boise State, Indiana, Arizona State, West Virginia, Texas Tech -- only two ranked better than 58th in Def. S&P+.
Clemson was 10th in Adj. Tempo ... and fourth in Def. S&P+. And the Tigers pulled that off with massive turnover in the front six/seven. The Tigers lost six of their top seven linemen from a line that ranked second in Adj. Line Yards and second in Adj. Sack Rate. They also essentially lost three of their top four linebackers -- two to graduation, one (strongside LB/free safety Korrin Wiggins) to injury.
With all of those losses, the Tigers still found eight to 11 linemen and about seven linebackers around whom Venables could build a rotation. Ends Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson, who combined for 14 tackles for loss in 2014, combined for 49 in 2015. Linebacker B.J. Goodson quadrupled his output. Seniors stepped up on the first string, and freshmen filled in with decent minutes on the second string.
None of this would have worked had there been many misses in recruiting and development, and even when you're signing top-15 classes, you should have more misses than that. This was an incredible accomplishment.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Carlos Watkins||DT||6'3, 300||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9644||15||26.0||3.4%||7.5||3.5||1||3||0||0|
|Christian Wilkins||DT||6'4, 315||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9888||15||25.5||3.4%||4.5||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Austin Bryant||DE||6'4, 265||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9168||13||18.0||2.4%||2.0||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Scott Pagano||DT||6'3, 295||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8984||15||13.0||1.7%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Richard Yeargin||DE||6'3, 255||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8984||9||6.5||0.9%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jabril Robinson||DT||6'2, 280||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8060||7||5.5||0.7%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Albert Huggins||DT||6'4, 295||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9555||5||4.0||0.5%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Chris Register||DE||6'2, 245||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8929|
|Clelin Ferrell||DE||6'5, 255||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9445|
|Dexter Lawrence||DT||6'5, 340||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9991|
|Nyles Pinckney||DT||6'3, 300||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8872|
|Xavier Kelly||DE||6'5, 255||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9510|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ben Boulware||WLB||5'11, 240||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9216||15||63.0||8.3%||8.0||3.5||2||7||3||0|
|Dorian O'Daniel||SLB||6'1, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9522||15||29.0||3.8%||5.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Jalen Williams||SLB||5'9, 225||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8056||15||11.0||1.5%||2.5||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Judah Davis||LB||6'1, 230||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7667||13||8.0||1.1%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|J.D. Davis||WLB||6'1, 225||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7667||8||5.0||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kendall Joseph||MLB||6'0, 230||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8610||7||5.0||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Chad Smith||LB||6'4, 235||RSFr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9064|
|Tre Lamar||LB||6'4, 240||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9698|
|Shaq Smith||LB||6'3, 240||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9610|
7. Who's next?
So now it's time for more players to step up. Dodd, Lawson, Goodson, and Travis Blanks are gone, and while Clemson is ridiculously loaded at tackle and still boasts Ben Boulware and play-maker Dorian O'Daniel at linebacker, backups will once again have to step up, especially at end.
At the end of spring football, the DEs atop the depth chart were redshirt freshman Clelin Ferrell and sophomores Austin Bryant, Chris Register, and Richard Yeargin. They combined for three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last year. Ferrell and Bryant are former star recruits, but ... surely there's going to be a drop-off there, right?
It will be very hard to match last year's pass rush numbers, but luckily the Tigers will still have a corps of tackles that can blow up the interior of just about any line. There's quality in every class: senior Carlos Watkins and junior Scott Pagano are back, as is blue-chip sophomore Christian Wilkins. Plus, they're joined by sophomore reserves Jabril Robinson and Albert Huggins, and the latest blue-chipper, 340-pound, all-world freshman Dexter Lawrence. They should be able to make young ends look pretty good, and they should assure that the run defense is as ridiculous as ever.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cordrea Tankersley||CB||6'1, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8889||15||43.5||5.7%||3.5||1||5||9||0||0|
|NB||6'0, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8579||13||28.0||4.3%||3.5||0||2||1||0||0|
|Van Smith||FS||6'0, 190||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8938||14||16.0||2.1%||1||0||1||0||0||0|
|Ryan Carter||CB||5'9, 175||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7633||14||13.5||1.8%||1||0||0||2||0||0|
|Jadar Johnson||SS||6'1, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8519||15||13.5||1.8%||0.5||0||2||1||0||0|
|Adrian Baker||CB||6'0, 180||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8781||12||11.0||1.5%||0||0||2||1||0||0|
|Mark Fields||CB||5'10, 195||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9537||13||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Edmond||CB||6'0, 170||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8175||15||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Trayvon Mullen||DB||6'3, 175||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9676|
|Isaiah Simmons||DB||6'4, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8913|
8. Overrated in the back?
Clemson's biggest weakness last year was getting off the field on passing downs. For all their strengths on standard downs -- and almost nobody in the country was better at accounting for a team's known weapons and preferences than Venables' D -- they ranked just 68th in Passing Downs S&P+ despite a solid pass rush.
That's a little bit confusing when you remember how good players like cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley and safeties T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse were at times. But a weakness, it was. On third down with between four and nine yards to go, opponents completed 32 of 64 passes for 394 yards, three touchdowns, and two picks. That's a 110.9 passer rating, too high for such an otherwise dominant defense.
Alexander and both safeties are gone, and while Wiggins returns to the mix (at either FS or SLB), players like senior Jadar Johnson, juniors Marcus Edmond and Ryan Carter, and sophomore Van Smith are going to step up to not only fill the shoes of last year's starters, but improve on their level of passing downs play. This secondary wasn't quite as good as its reputation, and now it's rebuilding a bit.
|Andy Teasdall||5'11, 190||Sr.||67||39.5||1||24||20||65.7%|
|Greg Huegel||5'11, 185||So.||37||62.9||10||1||27.0%|
|Greg Huegel||5'11, 185||So.||57-62||21-22||95.5%||6-10||60.0%|
|Artavis Scott||KR||5'11, 190||Jr.||15||24.7||0|
|C.J. Fuller||KR||5'10, 210||So.||14||16.9||0|
|Artavis Scott||PR||5'11, 190||Jr.||13||4.2||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||27|
|Field Goal Efficiency||6|
|Punt Return Success Rate||126|
|Kick Return Success Rate||100|
|Punt Success Rate||49|
|Kickoff Success Rate||88|
9. Good special teams despite the return game
Clemson did manage seven kick returns of 30-plus yards, so there was a little bit of explosiveness there. But the Tigers still ranked 100th in kick return success rate and 126th in punt returns. That's dreadful. That they still ranked 27th in Special Teams S&P+ tells you how good Greg Huegel was in the place-kicking department and how good Andy Teasdall was at preventing punt returns. Despite playing in 15 games, Clemson ranked 43rd in punt returns allowed, giving opponents just 16 return opportunities and allowing just 97 return yards.
That Teasdall and Huegel are back means this should be a decent unit again. But if the defense were to slip because of turnover at defensive end and safety, Clemson might need to get a little bit more out of special teams for field position purposes.
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|22-Sep||at Georgia Tech||54||16.3||83%|
|7-Oct||at Boston College||50||16.0||82%|
|29-Oct||at Florida State||5||1.1||52%|
|19-Nov||at Wake Forest||74||20.1||88%|
|Projected wins: 10.0|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||33.3% (12)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||6 / 14|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / -1.8|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||-0.1|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||70% (90%, 50%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||13.1 (0.9)|
10. As ready as anybody
It should go without saying that there are plenty of obstacles standing in the way of Clemson as the Tigers attempt to not only repeat what they accomplished last year but also win one more game along the way.
- Injuries could be more prolific, or at least more ill-timed. (Clemson suffered quite a few injuries last year, but most were either in the preseason or early in the season, and the rotation that Venables had established in September remained mostly intact. So aside from Shaq Lawson's injury against Oklahoma, it could have been worse.)
- Injuries could strike the QB position (sorry to keep reminding you of this, Clemson fans).
- Bounces could go the wrong way in a tossup game against FSU or in likely-but-not-guaranteed-win games against Auburn or Louisville.
- A drop-off in the pass rush department could lead to even worse passing downs issues, which could create fatigue and depth issues, etc.
- Hangovers happen. There doesn't always need to be a reason.
Every team has a list of things that could go dramatically wrong, and Clemson is no exception.
Still, outside of that team from Tuscaloosa, no team in the country is more proven, ready, or likely to make another huge run. The Tigers have the best quarterback in the country, one of the best skill units, one of the best offensive lines, and at the very least, one of the best sets of defensive tackle and linebacker talent.
Dabo Swinney has put together an impossibly athletic, deep team, one that can both outrun you on the perimeter and push you over in the trenches. Florida State will take a hard run at Clemson's conference crown, and Alabama and plenty of others are entertaining the same national title ambition as the Tigers. But this is going to be a really, really good team once again.