July 30, 2015

Clemson’s Schedule from Easiest to Toughest (Part I)

Dabo Swinney

In the first of a two part series Seldom Used Reserve’s editor Marty Coleman and Recruiting Editor/Contributor Chris Cox rank the Tigers games from easiest to most difficult.  The work was done independently without knowledge of how the other ranked these games.  Today we feature games 12-7.

12
MC – Wofford: Once upon a time Wofford gave eventual 2011 ACC champion Clemson all they wanted. The teams have moved in different directions since that day and the 2015 Tigers are more talented up and down the roster than the 2011 group – which is saying something for a team that included Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Andre Ellington to name a few.

CC – Wofford: The Terriers are coming off back to back disappointing seasons, which saw them finish 5-6 (2013) and 6-5 (2014).  The last time the Terriers ventured into Death Valley they gave the Tigers quite the scare.  Back in 2011 Wofford actually led an uber-talented Clemson squad by a score of 24-21 in the 3rd quarter before the Tigers added two touchdowns on their way to a hard pressed 35-27 victory.  You can be sure that Wofford will find some holes with the triple option against a new-look Clemson defense, but this is a game that the Tigers should light the scoreboard up.  Outside of winning, the best thing that could come out of this game would be a clean medical bill.D.J. Reader closes in on an S.C. State runner

11
CC – Appalachian State: The first thought that pops into the minds’ of Tiger fans is the colossal upset App State pulled off in the Big House.  Believe it or not, that game took place nearly a decade ago, 8 years to be exact, and they don’t pose near the threat that they used to. During their first season as an FBS school the Mountaineers did compile a 7-5 record, which included a season ending 6-game win streak.  One player to watch in this matchup is Junior RB Marcus Cox, who has compiled over 2600 yards in just two seasons for the Mountaineers.  The Tigers will also have to be cautious not to look ahead to their first big test of the season at Louisville, which awaits just 5 days after this one.

MC – Appalachian State: I debated flip flopping 10 and 11, but ultimately left the Mountaineers at 11.  App State won their last 6 of 2014 and will likely be on a 7 game winning streak when they enter Death Valley.  But this ain’t the Sun Belt or the Big House circa 2007.

10
MC – Wake Forest: This game is scheduled the week before South Carolina for a reason, just like the Citadel was in previous seasons.  The Deacons did give the Tigers a battle last season, but that was on the road, on a Thursday with the atmosphere of GrovWayne Gallman runs for a 30-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter at Wake Forestes Stadium.

CC – Wake Forest: Dave Clawson struggled during his first season in Winston-Salem, but I think anyone would have considering how bare the cupboard was.  The Demon Deacons were forced to throw a freshman QB into the fire last season and he was protected by the nation’s worst offensive line, which allowed 48 total sacks.  Given better protection, now sophomore QB John Wolford should have some success this season. He will likely be another one of those Wake Forest quarterbacks who never seem to graduate like Riley Skinner and Tanner Price, who each started all 4 years.  Note: Cole Stoudt compiled 282 yards passing and 3 TDs against the Deacons who must replace 84 starts from their departing corners.  Oh, and in case you didn’t know Clemson has Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, and Tay Scott. While Clemson did struggle last year on the road in front of a raucous Demon Deacon fan base I see this year’s game going quite smoothly for the fighting Dabo’s.

 

9
CC – Syracuse: “Soft-nosed” Scott Schaffer and his mighty Orangemen are coming off of yet another disappointing season. But at least they played Clemson close last year right? Moral victories! Shaffer will have his work cut out for him as the Orange have yet to find a proven playmaker on offense and the defense must find a way to replace 8 starters.  Furthering the bad news, the beef between Dabo and Shaffer that has been well documented among the media has likely not been forgotten by the Clemson coaching staff.  You can be assured that, if given the chance, the Tigers squeeze all the juice out of the Orange.  The only hiccup could surround how the Tigers respond from the week before after having played FSU.  Even if the Tigers drink all the beer in Clemson following the FSU game, they still have enough talent to sweat out a win in the non air-conditioned Carrier Dome.

MC – Syracuse:  The Orange in the ACC for basketball is great.  In football? Ugly.  The Tigers will survive another trip to the loudest venue (hat tip Jimbo Fisher) in the ACC and Scott Shaffer’s “How to win friends and influence people” antics.

8
MC – Boston College – Boston College’s style of play lends itself to closer games, in general and if this was in Beantown it would be several notches higher.  Clemson’s losses up front on defense could mean a big running day for the Eagles, but how do they keep up with the Tiger offense and the crowd in Death Valley?  The answer is they don’t.

CC – Boston College – In just 2 seasons, Steve “Be A Dude” Addazio has reestablished the Eagles as the gritty, hard-nosed program they’ve been known for.  (I’m a big Addazio fan FYI) Last season he used his ground and pound attack to bolster over 250 yards per game on the ground.  Mack A 2Now for the bad news…gone is offensive coordinator Ryan Day, QB Tyler Murphy, and all 5 starting offensive lineman.  While the Eagles return last season’s leading rusher Jon Hillman (860 yards, 13 TDs), he will have to rely on a completely new line to open up holes for him.  However, if there’s anything we’ve learned about Boston College over the years is that: 1. They grow lineman on trees and 2. They always give Clemson fits.  With that said, on paper Clemson is the far superior team and Deshaun Watson will get his first crack at them this year at home.  At least the Eagles will get to fly into some warmer weather.

7
CC: – N.C. State – After a 41-0 drubbing at the hands of Clemson last season I’m not sure anyone from Raleigh wants to play the Tigers any time soon.  The good news for the Pack is that Clemson will have to replace the majority of a defense that held them to a mere 154 total yards of offense and no points. Now for the bad, Deshaun Watson is back after totaling 4 touchdowns in the first 20 minutes of last year’s contest.  The Wolfpack do return a solid one-two punch in QB Jacoby Brissett and RB Shadrach Thornton. Brissett’s name has been tossed around as a dark-horse ACC POY candidate, but he’s going to have to fair better than the 4 of 18 performance he displayed against Clemson if he wants to do so.  Carter-Finley stadium has been a house of nightmares for the Tigers over the years, but this game isn’t on a Thursday so I feel much better.

MC: – N.C. State – The Pack is here by default and because this game is in Raleigh and the talent of the teams above them.  Others think more of the Pack than I, but I can’t get the memory of Jacoby Brissett’s 4/18 day last year in Death Valley out of my mind.  Brissett will be better, because it’s hard to be worse and the Clemson defense will take a half step back.  The Pack appears to be improving, but there’s a gap between Florida State, Clemson and the rest of the Atlantic.

The easiest 6 games of the season were the same for both, but I wouldn’t count on that happening in part 2.

Join our free Clemson Message Board Community to discuss this and other Clemson related topics.

Figure The Odds: Irish back in the Valley, but probability of winning is…

DW Super

Editor’s Note:  The probabilities below are derived from an algorithm developed over the last several years that includes a database of over 2,800 college football games over 4 seasons and takes into account the teams relative strengths and weaknesses and on field performance.  While in its infancy, the algorithm acquitted itself well head to head with the ESPN FPI measure during last year’s bowl season.

A philosophical question: Is it a good thing to have almost everyone coming back from a defense that wasn’t very good?

That might be the question at Notre Dame as the Irish return 10 starters from a defense that gave up over 400 yards a game in 2014 and faces Clemson in Death Valley the first weekend of October.

At this point the Tigers will have 3 games behind them, including perhaps a tough road contest at Louisville, will be coming off 16 days of rest and the Tigers and the sellout crowd will be ready for one of the most anticipated games in recent memory.

The Notre Dame offense (9 starters return from unit that averaged 444 yards per game) will present some problems for a rebuilding Clemson defense and I would expect a nip and tuck game till the end.

In the end, however, Clemson’s defensive strength (DBs) will be too much for the Notre Dame offensive strength (passing game). Then there’s the Clemson offense against that Notre Dame defense we mentioned above.
CLEMvsND5

We’ll know a good bit about the Irish before they reach Clemson – they open with Texas at home, travel to Virginia and then host Georgia Tech in week 3 (and Massachusetts in week 4) before the trip south.

The ESPN FPI has this game as the second lowest probability for a win for the Tigers at 54.8%, which I have to admit surprises me a bit, but may be related to the 19 returning starters for the Irish.

Historically, 3.5 point favorites at home have won 53.7% of the time and covered only 46.3% of the time. That spread means Vegas thinks these teams are close to being even, with Clemson getting something for being at home.

From the expected points table we can give an early number of 31-25 in Clemson’s favor.

The probabilities listed above will change prior to the game being played as both teams play the previous week adding additional information to their profile.

Other 2015 Win Probabilities for Clemson

Wofford
Appalachian State
Louisville

Figure The Odds: Will Louisville be Clemson’s first real test of 2015?

Jarrett vs Louisville

Editor’s Note:  The probabilities below are derived from an algorithm developed over the last several years that includes a database of over 2,800 college football games over 4 seasons and takes into account the teams relative strengths and weaknesses and on field performance.  While in its infancy, the algorithm acquitted itself well head to head with the ESPN FPI measure during last year’s bowl season.

There aren’t many teams below Clemson on the list for returning starters in 2015, but Louisville is one, even if you count Isaiah Battle’s departure.

I underestimated Louisville last season, or perhaps I should say I underestimated the Cardinals defense.

It’s difficult to look at the number of starters lost and decide whether a team, or unit, will be better. Look no further than the Clemson starting quarterback position for evidence. The guy replacing the starter may be better than the “starter” from last season.

However, when there’s an elite player or, in Louisville’s case, an elite defensive unit, you’re generally in safe territory to expect some drop off when only 4 starters return. I also expect some drop off from Clemson’s defense for similar reasons. The question is how much?

None of Lousiville’s 4 returning defensive starters are members of the defensive backfield, which doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals if Deshaun Watson is upright.
CLEMvLOU
The ESPN FPI measure gives the Tigers at 62.8% probability of winning.

Theoretically, Louisville has the short week, home game on Thursday night advantage. That’s even dubious as I pointed out a couple years back (dated info, but…) and quite overblown, in general. There’s an old adage that the best team usually wins and I think that’s the case here.

Looking at the expected points chart published back in April leads us to a 24-21 score in the Tigers favor and Clemson was tabbed an early three point favorite in Vegas.

As you can imagine, the odds the Tigers cover are much lower at 56.5%. If that 3 point spread stands, we’re likely looking at a tight game which brings all kinds of field goal kicking questions to mind.

Clemson has a good chance of entering a 16 day window without a game at 3-0 as they prepare for Notre Dame’s visit to the Valley on October 3.

The probabilities listed above will change prior to the game being played as both teams play the previous week adding additional information to their profile.

Other 2015 Win Probabilities for Clemson

Wofford
Appalachian State

Figure The Odds: Mountaineers attempt to scale Mount Clemson

Random Numbers

Editor’s Note:  The probabilities below are derived from an algorithm developed over the last several years that includes a database of over 2,800 college football games over 4 seasons and takes into account the teams relative strengths and weaknesses and on field performance.  While in its infancy, the algorithm acquitted itself well head to head with the ESPN FPI measure during last year’s bowl season.

On September 12th Appalachian State saunters into Death Valley to take on Clemson in game 2 of the 2015 season.

The Mountaineers, who will most likely be on 7 game winning streak, return 20 starters (most in FBS) and both kicker and punter from a 7-5 team that now competes in the Sun Belt Conference and will complete the move from FCS to FBS with the second year of a mandated reclassification process.

This is the program (notice I didn’t say team) that famously took down Michigan at the Big House back in 2007.  Never mind that a few crazy things had to come together for it to happen, it happened, so there’s always a chance, right?

Not really, at least not much of one.

CLEMvAPPSTThe ESPN FPI measure gives the Tigers an 86.2% chance of winning, which roughly translates to 3 wins in 20 games for App State.  I don’t see it happening this year or 3 times in 20 games.

My numbers give Clemson a 94.7% probability of winning, which means about 1 victory in 20 games for Appalachian State.

History indicates that teams with Clemson’s expected statistical advantages cover the spread 74.3% of the time.

The probabilities listed above will change prior to the game being played as both teams play the previous week adding additional information to their profile.

 

Other Clemson Win Probabilities to Date

Wofford

Figure The Odds – The probability that Clemson beats Wofford is…

Random Numbers

Editor’s Note:  The probabilities below are derived from an algorithm developed over the last several years that includes a database of over 2,800 college football games over 4 seasons and takes into account the teams relative strengths and weaknesses and on field performance.  While in its infancy, the algorithm acquitted itself well head to head with the ESPN FPI measure during last year’s bowl season.

Clemson opens the season with FCS Wofford on September 5 in Death Valley.  Typically, I wouldn’t include FCS teams in a win/loss probability analysis because they are not part of the 2,800 game database used to derive these probabilities.

However, certain adjustments can be made by looking at historical games to determine what 366 yards per game against an FCS schedule is likely to translate to when playing a FBS team the caliber of Clemson.  Similar adjustments were made to the defensive side for Wofford.

The Terriers gave the Tigers all they wanted in game 2 of the Chad Morris era back in 2011, when the Tigers eventually roared to an 8-0 start.  But this is a different Clemson team and, perhaps more importantly, a different Wofford team, one that hasn’t had the same success in recent seasons.

CLEMvWOFF

For what it’s worth the ESPN FPI measure gives Clemson a 99.7% chance of winning and the reality is with a healthy Deshaun Watson there’s no question who wins, but rather what the final score will be.  The expected points per yard gained chart published back in April suggests a score of 38-18, but again this was calculated using historical data of two FBS teams and may not exactly correlate in an FBS vs. FCS matchup.  To double check myself to an extent I also applied the 2014 Clemson yards gained per point scored and yards given up per points given up and came up with….38-18.  Many will scoff at the score (and many will be unhappy it is even close to correct), but remember a team with Sammy Watkins, Andre Ellington, Tajh Boyd and other NFLers led Wofford a mere 28-27 before scoring on the second play of the 4th quarter in a 35-27 win.

I don’t take myself too seriously with these probabilities and you shouldn’t either.  For me the fun is in adjusting the algorithm and “compete” (very loose term) with the ESPN FPI measure and the resources of the World Wide Leader.

It’s fun to discuss in late July, but I wouldn’t bet the house (or a nickel) on it.

Carlos Watkins looking to help lead Clemson’s new-look defense

Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (94) fights through a block during the spring game at Clemson's Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (94) nearly sacks Clemson quarterback Tucker Israel (10) during the annual spring game in Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (94) nearly sacks Clemson quarterback Tucker Israel (10) during the annual spring game in Memorial Stadium in Clemson. Photo courtesy OrangeandWhite.com

Despite several defensive-line departures for the NFL that are among the 11 contributors to last year’s defense currently on NFL rosters, the Clemson football coaching staff isn’t worried about the state of affairs on that side of the line of scrimmage.

In fact, head coach Dabo Swinney doesn’t expect a significant falloff in production from last year’s starting squad when this year’s top 11 defenders are designated, though he doesn’t immediately expect a revitalization to last year’s top-ranked form, either.

What Clemson lacks from last year’s unit is not talent, but depth, and without the luxury of a two-deep comprised of vast experience, the Tigers will depend defensively on a number of young, yet touted, up-and-comers for a smooth transition to a new-look unit.

When fall camp rolls around, one of the attributes decision makers will keep a keen eye out for is leadership — previously provided by guys such as Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Stephone Anthony and Robert Smith — and those who stand out in that department will aid in the development of the youth lining Clemson’s roster.

Carlos Watkins feels he fits the bill as a player who can step up to supply some of the lost leadership coaches are looking to restore.

Watkins, a former four-star recruit from Chase High School in Forest City, North Carolina, was unsurprisingly listed as a starter at defensive tackle on the Tigers’ post-spring depth chart and is consequently on the inside track to nab the gig.

Now, instead of counting on a Jarrett or Beasley, players like Albert Huggins, Sterling Johnson, Jabril Robinson and Christian Wilkins will look up to him and other veteran presences for stability and toughness when times get tumultuous.

“I went through the same thing in high school,” Watkins said after Clemson’s spring practice on March 30. “It’s just taking the next step up the ladder. (Departed players) did their part in getting us ready, so now, me and D.J. (Reader), it’s our time to take the role and lead these

Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (94) fights through a block during the spring game at Clemson's Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Clemson defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (94) fights through a block during the spring game. Photo courtesy OrangeandWhite.com.

younger guys.”

Watkins is embracing his new role of replacing those who have come and gone and isn’t feeling much added pressure in doing so.

“I mean, I kind of feel (the pressure),” Watkins said after spring practice on March 30, “but you know what your goal is when you’re coming in, and you know you really can’t fold under pressure because you got the younger guys behind you looking up to you, and you have to be there for them in certain ways and certain areas.”

Now that Watkins has an expanded opportunity to impact games, he is intent on doing his best to help prevent a down year defensively.

“We knew what to expect,” Watkins said after spring practice on March 30 of losing teammates to graduation and the professional ranks. “We didn’t want to have a drop-off, so that was the main thing we focused on. We stayed hard on the younger guys. Jabril (Robinson), Sterling (Johnson) came in early, and all the younger guys, we tried to stay on them pretty hard and let them know we don’t want a drop-off this year.”

Entering his redshirt junior campaign, Watkins has tallied 40 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback pressures across 338 snaps (23 games, one start).

One position no one is talking about

Clemson defensive back Cordrea Tankersley (25) tackles North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett (12)
Clemson defensive back Cordrea Tankersley (25) during the annual Spring game at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

Clemson defensive back Cordrea Tankersley (25) during the annual Spring game at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

With the focus of the Clemson Nation and media on the Tigers replacing Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett, there’s very little talk about the corner position opposite Mackenzie Alexander being a huge, gaping unknown.

Gary Peters didn’t get the accolades of Beasley, Anthony or Jarrett, but his play, both in numbers and through the eye ball test, tell the story of an unsung mainstay of the top defense in the land.

After sitting out the Georgia game due to a suspension, Peters started the remaining 12 games, seeing 691 snaps on the field while accumulating 45 tackles, 7 assists, 8 tackles for loss including 2 sacks, 15 passes broken up (next closest was 6), 2 quarterback pressures and an interception.

Peters also led the defense in stopping opponents (chart on right) from gaining first downs on 3rd and 4th downs in 2014, being involved in 15 such stops and edging Jarrett in that category.

Tim Bourret did a good job of detailing how opponents shied away from Alexander in 2014, which means Peters was often the target.

The summer depth chart listed seldom used reserve Cordrea Tankersley (158 snaps in 2 seasons) ahead of sophomore Ryan Carter who has a grand total 3 snaps of experience.  Popular thought has 4 star true freshman Mark Fields (10th rated cornerback, 113 player overall per Rivals.com) contending for playing time here.

Tankersley saw a 2014 season high 36 snaps with Peters suspended against Georgia, but never topped 24 for the rest of the season and had 6 games where his only participation was on special teams, where he totaled 7 tackles.

Whether its Tankersley, Fields or someone else that ultimately fills this void we can confidently surmise teams will avoid Alexander’s area with regularity, putting pressure on the corner position where Peters quietly performed game in and game out without fanfare.

 

Film Review: Tony Elliott’s first game calling plays

Clemson's Tony Elliott communicates at the Florida State game during the first quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida.

Editor’s Note: The analysis below details the first 72 offensive plays from the Russell Athletic Bowl between Clemson and Oklahoma. Subsequent plays are not detailed due to an obvious change in offensive philosophy once the score reached 40-0.

Tony Elliott’s first play call at Clemson was a good one. With Clemson down to one healthy tight end for the Russell Athletic Bowl, Elliott dialed up a formation that included no tight ends and 4 wide receivers – 2 on each side of the field, one stacked behind the other.  Stacked formations have inherent advantages, especially for a receiver with short area quickness.  One obvious advantage is the receiver has a blocker out front at the time of the reception and even if the defender was playing tighter he would have to go around (or through) the blocker to get to the ball carrier.

First Play 1On the wide side of the field Artavis Scott lined up behind Charone Peake, took a half step back at the snap as Peake moved forward to block. Cole Stoudt took the snap, looked to his left and fired to Scott as Peake engaged a defender. Scott made the catch, but still faced 3 Oklahoma defenders converging on 1 blocker (Peake) and Scott as seen below. Peake made the block, one defender over ran the play, another took a bad angle and Scott had a 65 yard touchdown with running back Wayne Gallman 60 yards downfield throwing the final block.

The right handed Stoudt also had an open Mike Williams on the short (top of the screen) side of the field with Adam Humphries leading him and no Oklahoma defender within 8 yards.

First Play 2

We would see this formation 5 more times in the first 41 plays called by Elliott, with none being anywhere near as successful as the first. The 6 times that formation appeared (all on first or second down) totaled 81 yards, with 10 of those yards coming on designed runs by Wayne Gallman, who struggled for yardage all night (more on that below).

The four wide out theme continued throughout the night, as the Tigers went to some variation of the set on 46 plays (63.8%) and gained the vast majority of their yardage with this formation.
Personell

                                                              Note: 10 Personnel is 1 RB and 0 TE, 11 Personnel is 1 RB and 1 TE, etc.

Sam Cooper was the Tigers only tight end available (Rod Byers made a few appearances in goal line/short yardage situations) and Cooper was on the field for 22 plays that netted 40 yards. With Cooper on the field (without Byers) the Tigers had little success rushing (17 carries for 37 yards) or passing (2/4/12 yards, 1 sack) and actually had more success running out of the 0 tight end, 4 wide sets (13 rushes for 49 yards).

Personell Details

The Tigers had 9 rushes of greater than 4 yards and only 2 of them happened with a tight end (or two) in the formation and one of those was a wildcat run by Artavis Scott.

The four wide receiver set was a success, though the 3 sacks in 33 drop backs has to be a concern, especially considering the recent loss of Isaiah Battle and insertion of true freshman Mitch Hyatt at left tackle. On the other hand, the 11 personnel formation gave up a sack in 5 pass plays and only averaged 1.8 yards per play.

A subset of the 4 wide look and the most popular set we saw that night from the Tigers was 3 wide receivers to the field (wide) side of the field and 1 on the boundary (short), which was used 12 times.

No matter the formation, time and time again (51.4%) Clemson ran plays to the boundary, or short, side of the field and went to the wide side infrequently (19.4%).Side of Field

A couple of other notes:

  • Wayne Gallman was the only running back on the field until the score was 34-0, playing every down except the wild cat run.
  • Clemson gave up 4 sacks, 3 on 3rd down (and 3 in OU territory). For the plays reviewed the Tigers called 13 third down passes and gave up 3 sacks, including on the first two of the game.
  • Adam Humphries came across the formation in motion twice and both times he cut up and out to catch a short pass for minimal gains, but it was easy pitch and catch.
  • Elliott stayed true to the Chad Morris Book on 3rd and 1. Twice the Tigers faced a third and 1 and both times it was a designed run (one successful, one not).

Scott vs OUWhat does it mean moving forward? Probably not a lot. As mentioned, the Tigers were forced into the four wide to some degree and wouldn’t have used it as much with a healthy Jordan Leggett, a much better receiving option than Cooper. Tight ends (counting Byers) saw 882 snaps in 2014 and if you estimate two tight ends were used on 10 percent (probably much less) of those that means the Tigers had 1 tight end on the field around at least 90% of the time.

Yet this game was a tantalizing display of the possibilities when you have a wealth of taMike Williamslent at the wide receiver position – there were simply too many receivers that were too good for Oklahoma to cover effectively. Clemson didn’t need a running game, at least a traditional one, and instead “handed off” short passes to its best athletes and let them do their thing.

One game doesn’t make a trend and it should be noted that Oklahoma took bad angles, missed tackles, was out of position often and probably gave up at some point.

That doesn’t change the fact that Clemson has a talented and deep wide receiver corps and the thought of 4 of them on the field simultaneously with Deshaun Watson throwing the passes is an intriguing concept and shouldn’t be relegated to “emergency” situations.

Why I’d rather be a 3 point favorite on the road instead of at home

Random Numbers

Swinney Citrus 2Much like being the boss’s favorite at work, being the favored team in football has its plusses and minuses.

You may get more pats on the back for successes of questionable importance, but you’re also likely to be watched closely for any sign of wrongdoing or malfeasance and are most likely the subject of unfair rumors and water cooler scuttlebutt.

In general, there are pitfalls, but it’s a good thing to be favored and the more you’re favored the better. While underdogs and upsets are repeatedly featured and promoted, giving the impression that upsets occur “all the time”, the truth is that favorites win. A lot. Like 78% of the time over the last four years.

Not all favorites are created equal though and that 78% number is skewed by the huge favorites (19-21 points) that win at over a 95% rate.

A couple of weeks ago we learned that Clemson, at least by one sports book, is favored in every game, so logic would seem to infer that the Tigers should go 12-0 as things stand right now, correct?

No.

While it seems like a good thing to be favored, the Tigers are only a 3 point home favorite against Georgia Tech and a 2 point favorite when hosting Florida State and herein lays the issue.

WinPctBySpread11-14

The guys that make these lines know what they’re doing and have more riding on the outcome than you or I or any single bettor. They have millions of reasons for getting it right.

mgm_sports_bookWhile it’s not clear exactly how the home field is figured into the spread (for example, do you give Clemson and Duke the same home field advantage?), it’s generally accepted that around 3 points are added to the home team. (Hat tip to Brandon Rink of OrangeandWhite.com for reminding me to factor this in).

Looking at these games with this additional information would mean that on a neutral field Clemson would be a Pick ’em against Tech and a 1 point underdog to Florida State. Historical trends lend credence to this theory. Three point home favorites have won 48.9% of the time over the last 4 seasons and 2 point home favorites even less – 40%.

As it stands today, with limited information, history says Clemson would have less than a 50% probability of winning the Georgia Tech and Florida State games and also less than a 50% chance of covering against Notre Dame.

Clemson 6 Fav

On the flip side, being a 3 point favorite at Louisville (and South Carolina) is in reality saying that Clemson is 6 points better than these teams and corresponds to a much higher win (and cover) probability.

It’s important to remember that the probabilities above were calculated on the spread and home/away factors only – no other variables were considered.

Also, many or all of the spreads may change prior to the actual game being played as the season plays out and games, stats, and injuries are factored into the equation.

One important takeaway (at least for me) is that being a 3 point favorite on the road is much better, probabilistically speaking, than being a 3 point favorite at home which at first seems counterintuitive, but makes perfect sense given the data of the last four seasons.

2015 Projection: Clemson Offense

TE Bowl

The final installment of our preseason projections with orangeandwhite.com.

Clemson fans are waiting anxiously for the 2015 season to get under way, mesmerized by the thought of a healthy Deshaun Watson at quarterback full time along with a bevy of talented skill players at every position across the offense.Clemson Football -  Deshaun Watson

The gaudy numbers that Watson put up individually and the team put up while Watson was at the controls have been extrapolated for a full season in the minds of many that wear the orange and white.

While I, too have high hopes for the offense, certainly higher than those achieved last season, I believe it’s wise to take a look at factors that may slow the gains Tiger fans envision.

  1. New Deputy Sheriff in town – When Wofford rolls into town on September 5 Tony Elliott will be calling plays for the second time at Clemson.  While the results from the first game were extremely positive, let’s remember Elliott had several weeks to prepare, everything went the Tigers way early and despite the overall success in that game the offense was not able to run the ball.  A more seasoned Chad Morris struggled with play calling at times, yet many believe Elliott, who learned under Morris, will somehow be immune to similar struggles.

  1. Defense! Defense! Defense! – Watson didn’t see much of it in his time on the field in 2014.  The average defensive ranking Watson faced per drive? 97.1.  Expect this number to be closer to the 49 average ranking faced by Cole Stoudt last season.

  1. Keeping them in line – The offensive line has sustained a fair amount of attrition and is staring at starting a true freshman in Mitch Hyatt to protect Watson’s blindside.  That may not be a problem in game 1 or 2, but could be an issue deeper into the schedule. Perhaps an even bigger issue is depth.  If we know nothing else about the coming season we can be assured injuries will happen on the line.  The questions are who, how many and how bad will it be?

  1. Fragile Handle With Care – Watson was injured 3 times in about 10 months on campus.  It’s not important that not all of the injuries involved contact or happened during a game, what matters is they kept him off the field.

Watson appears bigger and stronger and perhaps he has had his share of injuries all in one season and it won’t be an issue, but it would be foolish not to list it as a concern.

Mike Williams, Walker SmithNow that I’ve made the case for cautious optimism I’ll begin by saying this offense has a chance to be one of the most dynamic in the country.  From Watson to Mike Williams to Artavis Scott to Wayne Gallman there are playmakers at every skill position, sometimes 2 deep, along with a couple of 5 star freshmen hoping to make their mark.

Clemson finished 58th in total offense last season, averaging just over 408 yards per game.  I don’t think there’s any question with a healthy Watson those numbers will be eclipsed with relative ease.

The numbers I’ve assigned below would put the Tigers around 30th in the nation in total offense and give them a 6.16 yard per play average (about 15% better than last season), a healthy improvement, but not the leaps and bounds most assume.

For the offense to improve more than 15% there needs to be some good fortune involved, mainly a healthy Watson along with minimal injuries and rapid development along the line.Artavis Scott runs for a 68-yard touchdown pass at Wake Forest

Clemson averaged 78 plays per game in the 52 games with Morris calling the plays and accumulated 79 in the Russell Athletic Bowl with Elliott running the show (and Stoudt at quarterback), but lost in the highlight reels is the fact that Clemson played slower with Watson at quarterback.

With a new coordinator, a relatively inexperienced quarterback (330 snaps) and a rebuilt offensive line, I expect a slight slowing of the offense, at least in the first few games of the season.

The wild card in the scoring category could be field goal kicking which is in a state of flux with the suspension of Ammon Lakip.  If Lakip doesn’t return the natural inclination is to assume fewer points, but in an odd twist the Tigers could actually score more without Lakip assuming they go more often on fourth down.

2015 Projection: 74 Plays Per Game/456 YPG/38 PPG

2015 Projection Breakout Per Game Passing: 265 YPG/32 TD

2015 Projection Breakout Per Game Rushing: 191 YPG/28 TD/4.3 YPR