May 19, 2019

Best Teams & Coaches as Favorites

One measure of the strength of a program is if the team wins when it should win, meaning when they are favored.

Not all favorites are the same, of course.  Being a field goal favorite is not the same as being a 21 point favorite, nor is a being a home favorite always the same as being a road favorite.

In the tables below, which looks at games between FBS teams from 2011 to 2016, these distinctions are not made – the data includes all favorites, whether they were 1 point or 21 point favorites. There’s all kinds of rabbit holes you can examine in this type of exercise, but I chose to stay at the top level in this instance.

The results are generally what was expected, specifically near the top, though I admit Kansas State at the apex surprised me a bit.

When you think about the best coaches in college football the names of Snyder, Swinney, Saban, Fisher, Petersen and Meyer are among the first off the tongue.

If we look specifically at coaches (at current/last school) the order would be:

The winning percentage as a whole was 77.3%, so the cutoff was Tennessee – everyone below that is below average.

One team stands out in a negative way.  Virginia Tech has lost 18 times as a favorite in the last 6 seasons, an average of 3 times per season.  Most of that obviously, was during the waning years of the Beamer era, but the Hokies did lose twice as favorites in 2016 (substantial favorites at that) despite winning the ACC Coastal.

5 Biggest Non-Conference Games for ACC Teams in 2017

5 biggest non-conference games for ACC teams in 2017.

The Aftermath: Clemson-35 Alabama-31

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson celebrates following a game winning TD drive to win the national championship (John Bazemore/AP)


The SUR Crew of Marty Coleman, Matt Wilczewski, and Chris Cox chime in on Clemson’s second national championship and delve into what the future holds for the Tigers…

The Aftermath: Clemson-35 Alabama-31

To start things off, let’s get your thoughts on how Clemson was able to pull off the comeback victory. What changed down the stretch that enabled the Tigers to outscore Alabama by a score of 21-7 in the 4th quarter?

MW: Most believed this year’s Alabama starting defense, particularly their defensive line, was even better than last year’s group. However, the Tide lacked the depth that the 2015 team had, and thus struggled conditioning-wise when forced to face 99 plays in a single game. Easily the most they’ve seen all season, and thus not something their bodies were used to. Add that to veteran leadership and the Clemson offense’s experience in pressure situations, and it’s a comeback recipe.

MC: The sheer number of plays Alabama was forced to defend had a huge effect at the end of the 3rd and through the 4th quarter. Think about the playmakers Clemson had on the field on that drive: Watson, Renfrow, Leggett, Mike Williams. Wow. I also believe leadership and believing played a role.  I heard Deshaun say he told the guys “Let’s be great, let’s be legendary” prior to the final drive.  That’s leadership and they’re legendary.  And, oh yeah, Mike Williams is a grown man.

CC: Yeah, it really just seemed like Clemson wore down that Alabama front 7 and they were able to exploit 1-on-1 matchups in the secondary because of it. Don’t think I heard Reuben Foster’s name mentioned at all in the last quarter and coming into this game we knew that Clemson’s receiving corps had a big advantage over the Tide’s secondary. Also, there never seemed to be a sense of panic and I think that was evident in Tony Elliott’s play calling. He simply stuck to his guns and let the talent shine through. Dabo said he built this program on attitude and belief. Those two factors ended Clemson’s 35-year drought.

What does it tell you about Clemson when they lost the turnover battle by 2, trailed by double digits in the 4th quarter, gave up four +25 yard touchdowns, and still somehow ended up winning the game?

MW: It’s incredible that Clemson won Monday night with all of those factors thrown in. I truly thought Clemson would have to at least keep the turnover margin even to have a shot at victory. I mean, teams just don’t win games, let alone a national championship when they lose the turnover battle by 2. This group simply wanted it more down the stretch, and as Chris said, they’re battle tested from all of the close games throughout the year. A special team.

MC: Resilient. Want to. Determined. Pick an adjective. Whether the fans believed or not, the team and coaches did and you can’t say enough this team and this coaching staff for never wavering, never giving up, never doubting.  Deshaun said it, they are legendary in the eyes of the Clemson faithful.

CC: Just shows how battled tested this group is. They’ve been down this road countless times before and they simply were not phased. On the biggest stage, against the nation’s best, with their backs against the wall Clemson responded. Dabo has built a family on that sideline and despite many writing the Tigers off after Bama went up by double digits with 17 minutes to play this team rose to the occasion. That’s special.

In retrospect, did the loss to Pittsburgh end up propelling Clemson to the National Championship?

MW: I do believe so. It’s so difficult to stay focused throughout an entire season, and losing to Pittsburgh provided a wake up call when the team was lulling to sleep mid-year. Several interviews following the Pittsburgh loss from players noted how focus and attention to detail changed in practice, meetings, etc. Not to mention that after receiving feedback from a couple seniors following the loss, Swinney agreed to dial back the physical nature of practice each week, limited the number of practices that included contact.

MC: I believe it played a role because it gave the team a sense of urgency that just hadn’t seemed to be there on balance throughout the season. Yes, there were big wins (Louisville and Florida State, for example), but there were also duds, shoulda lost, and barely hung ons.  In my opinion they began to believe their own hype and thought there was no way they were going to lose.  The loss caused a refocus and the reality that every game from that point on was a de facto playoff game – another loss and the dream is over.

CC: The easy answer here is yes, but I really don’t think the Pitt loss had much to do outside of the win at Wake Forest the following week. Even in the national championship game this was the same Clemson team we’ve seen all season. An elite offense led by an elite QB with elite weapons, a defense that’s susceptible to star running backs, an offense that’s awfully giving with the football, a defensive line that’s relentless, a running game has to fight for every yard, and a team that knows how to win. That was the team on the field Monday night and that’s the team that lost to Pitt.

Dabo Swinney is now 89-28 with 3 ACC titles and a National Championship at Clemson, including a 70-13 mark over the last 6 seasons. Has he passed Danny Ford as Clemson’s All-Time coach?

MW: A difficult question to answer considering I wasn’t around to see the Danny Ford era. Both coaches now have national championships, and Danny Ford does have more ACC Championships, but the culture and program that Swinney has built is what truly stands out. It’s so difficult to win and win consistently in this era of college football, and Dabo Swinney has built a winning program to last. Considering the current state and upward trend of the program, one has to believe that it won’t be too long until Swinney becomes the consensus choice as Clemson’s greatest coach.

MC: A question for the old guy of the group.  I’ll lean Swinney. Ford had a run of 30-2-2 with a National Championship from 1981-1983 and Swinney is currently on a 28-2 streak over the last two years and their career records are currently very similar.  That’s where Ford’s time at Clemson ended and while Ford will always be first, college football is a whole different animal now than it was in the 80s. So much more goes into it, so much more can go wrong, but you get the feeling that something special is happening at Clemson. It didn’t start Monday night, but I believe this is relatively early in Swinney’s run and the best is yet to come.

CC: As many of you know I wasn’t around to absorb the Danny Ford era of Clemson football, therefore I’ve got to go with Swinney. And in my opinion it’s a lot tougher to reach the top these days than it was back in the 80s. For starters, Clemson had to play two postseason games before they could even reach the title game. Couple that with the fact that college football programs today are under constant surveillance through various media outlets and it’s not a stretch to say that the pressure is exponentially greater. I also don’t have much background on the kind of culture Danny developed during his time at Clemson, but I know Dabo’s culture change will be what he’s most remembered for.

On a similar note, does Deshaun Watson leave as the best to ever put on a Clemson jersey?

MW: Absolutely. Deshaun Watson is all you could ever want in college football, both as a player and a person. The best player in college football, yet still able to stay down to earth and steer clear of any discipline issues. Toss in arguably the most clutch player I’ve ever seen don a Clemson uniform, leading a final drive to win a national championship, and Watson is easily the best and most legendary Tiger.

MC: Yes. Clutch at the most important position in the game.

CC: No doubt. He would have been in discussion even without a win Monday night, so all that did was lock it up. +12K yards, 116 touchdowns, 2 ACC Titles, 2 Semifinal wins, 2 Davey O’Brien Awards, 1 Degree, 1 National Championship and he never required any public discipline. A truly special athlete and person.

Dabo’s said it and some of the media has repeated it – This Clemson program is built to last and will be a power for the foreseeable future.  Agree or disagree and why?

MW: It’s certainly built to last as one of the elite programs in college football, although it’ll be difficult to have another team as talented as this one was. But with a combination of a championship and a new facility, recruiting should continue to traject upward, and recruiting truly is the major key to success in college football.

MC:  28-2 is going to be difficult to duplicate and the problem (if there is such a thing) with winning the Championship is that expectations are now stratospheric. 10-2 becomes a downer. Bowl games that you once salivated over are now “meaningless”. Recruits you were once clamoring for are now just “OK”.  In the bigger sense of the term, yeah, the Tigers are well positioned to battle Florida State for the ACC and contend for a playoff spot every year.  However, let’s not forget that college football is littered with once dominant teams that had every advantage, fell from grace quickly and have struggled to get back (Texas, Auburn, Oregon, etc.) and they all thought their program was immune to the struggle to stay on top.

CC: Yeah I’m not sure if we’ll ever see a 28-2 run again, but it’d be foolish to rule it out. While the popular opinion going into next season will be Clemson taking a step back I can assure you Dabo will be preaching the exact opposite. And the longer I follow this program the more I realize that he’s right more times than not. Clemson’s brand is as hot as it’s ever been and now they’ve added a national championship to go along with the state of the art football operations facility that opens next month. Crazy things happen in college football and longevity is a rarity, but all signs point towards Clemson remaining in elite standing for a long, long time.

In closing, feel free to share any other thoughts and observations that we didn’t touch on above. Matt and Chris, with you guys in attendance maybe you can briefly talk about the vibe in the stadium following the win.

MW: Just an incredible experience to not only witness a Clemson National Championship, but have the opportunity to witness is it in the stadium as well. I’m trying to find adequate words to describe the feeling and emotion of watching my school win a national championship, something many don’t have the blessing to experience in their lifetime, but there are none that would do it justice. Pride. A lot of pride on Monday night. The Clemson Tigers are the National Champions of College Football.

MC: 35 years is a long time to wait, but I couldn’t be more proud of the team and the staff for the way they represented Clemson.  Certainly not perfect, but good guys who seem to genuinely care for each other and Clemson.  The last time the Tigers won the title I was in class with Donald Igwebuike and Kenny Flowers.  Years ago, I got mad at a Texas fan who criticized Clemson for not having playmakers. In retrospect he was right.  But the display we saw in the 4th quarter (and particularly on the last drive) with Watson, Renfrow, Williams and Leggett is something I’ll never forget.  Legendary. I’m most happy for Mike Williams and Deon Cain.  Neither played in the playoff last year and Williams played a crucial role on the final drive.  Just a great lesson in perseverance.

CC: Before kickoff I tweeted that I hoped every college football fan would get an opportunity to experience that moment, that kind of feeling. Words can’t describe the emotion involved and to see a program I’ve followed for all 25 years of my life reach the pinnacle of college football was special in every sense of the word. As Deshaun Watson took his final snap to seal the victory I didn’t jump. I didn’t yell. I didn’t even clap my hands. I simply stood in silence, attempting to soak up every second of that moment because I don’t know if it’ll ever come again. In closing, it felt like it was Clemson’s time coming into the game. And when Clemson answered OJ Howard’s long touchdown with a touchdown of their own you could sense what was coming. Hell of a night.

Players of the Game (Offense & Defense)

MW: Deshaun Watson & Ben Boulware

MC: Deshaun Watson & Ben Boulware

CC: Deshaun Watson & Ben Boulware

Play of the Game:

MW: I have to go with the game winner. Watson rollout to the right, Scott pulled down by the defensive back which creates a rub effect, and Hunter Renfrow finds himself open for the touchdown. If that play doesn’t result in a score, either time expires, or Clemson is forced to kick a field goal to force overtime.

MC:  Jordan Leggett’s twisting/diving/almost one handed catch to set Clemson up at the Alabama 9.  If Leggett doesn’t make that catch, it’s 3rd and 10 from the 26 with about 14 seconds to go.

CC: Hunter Renfrow’s tackle on Ryan Anderson to prevent him from a scoop and score. If Alabama scores their 12th defensive touchdown of the year right there then I believe the course of the game changes.

Advanced Metrics: Clemson 35 Alabama 31

Advanced metrics from Clemson’s 35 – 31 win over Alabama in the 2016 National Championship.

Game Day Guide: Clemson vs. Alabama

Get prepared for tonight’s game by diving inside the numbers, film and opinions.

Preview and Prediction

Alabama Film Preview

Win Probabilities (SUR, ESPN, SB Nation, Character34)

Clemson Offensive Success Rates

DW4 Metrics Under Pressure

DW4 by Distance – 14 Games

Clemson Rushing Metrics – 14 Games

Clemson Receiver Metrics – 14 Games

Win Probabilities for the National Championship Game

Last week I was a man on an island and ended up being the lone voice of reason, picking Clemson to defeat Ohio State.

As you may have expected, this week is more of the same with ESPN, SBNation and Character34 all picking the Crimson Tide.

I can’t say that I really “fault” their computers for spitting out Alabama as the Tide has rolled through 2016 and even though my needle points towards Clemson, it’s a very slight point.

My formula likely puts more emphasis on yards than the others and also contains a healthy does of yards per play – two areas I suspect Clemson will have an advantage in, be it ever so slight.

A second consecutive nail biter in the National Championship game? Let’s rock.

Clemson’s Offensive Success Rate

A couple of weeks ago I pointed out that this may be the best Clemson offense in Tiger history and Tony Elliott was roundly lauded for his play calling against Ohio State.

A funny thing happened on the way to the National Championship game – the success rate of the offense has plummeted since the South Carolina game – so much so that it ended up around the level of Auburn and Troy, which were not, uhhhh, offensive showcases.

Of course, when the opponent scores 0, offensive success rates aren’t all that important and this may have zero impact on tomorrow’s game, but it’s still noteworthy when the opponent is the best defense in the nation.

Vegas Confidential – Natty Edition

Clemson continued their neutral site dominance in the desert. Alabama also continued theirs.

Clemson-Alabama Preview & Prediction


The Clemson program has been waiting for this rematch for a full year and here it is. Despite their victory a year ago, several of the Alabama contingent were disappointed in their defensive performance and are looking to send a message this go round. Can Clemson end their 35-year title drought or will Alabama make it back-to-back championships? Read below to get caught up to speed on everything you need to know before Monday’s kickoff…


Win Probabilities – Clemson/Ohio State & Alabama/Washington

I am a man on an island. At least as far as the win probabilities below for the Fiesta Bowl, mine is the lone computer that spit out orange.  But it was close.

The reality is though that a 51% win probability is a pick’em game that can turn on any play.  My friend Chris Scully over at doesn’t see it being quite as close and Bill C. at SB Nation is predicting a 29.4 to 24.5 (to be precise) Ohio State victory.

For what it’s worth, I’m 11-2 on the season on Clemson games, losing Louisville (49.5% win probability, another one play game) and Pittsburgh (everyone in the world was wrong on this one).  Also, as evidenced by my pick in the Louisville game, my computer doesn’t always spit out Clemson.

In the other semi it’s a clean sweep, again with my numbers closer to ESPNs, while SB Nation and Character34 are predicting an easier time for the Tide.

In general, my win probabilities are more conservative than any of the other 3, so I find it “interesting” that I ended up with Clemson while the others chose Ohio State, two of them at over 60%.