South Carolina and Clemson are tied as the 13th most likely football teams to win the national championship this season. Both teams have 30-to-1 odds of winning it all, according to oddsmakers at one of the largest sports betting websites in North America.
South Carolina is coming off one of its best seasons in program history. Clemson is fresh off its first ACC title in 20 seasons. Do Clemson and South Carolina have what it takes to contend for a national title this fall?
An analysis of recent national championship teams, including 2012 BCS champion Alabama, indicates traits and characteristics common among most of them. Here’s how the Gamecocks and Tigers stack up based on those factors.
WHAT CHAMPIONS MUST HAVE
Future first-round draft picks
Every national title team since 2001 has had at least two starters who became first-round NFL draft picks. The numbers speak to how critical recruiting and player development are to success and suggests championship teams need at least two players who present physical mismatches.
Alabama had four players selected in the first round in April from its national title team and six starters selected in the first round from its 2009 title team.
Auburn’s Cam Newton and Nick Fairley were each drafted in the first round in 2011. Miami has 15 players selected in the first round from its 2001 team.
Clemson has one sure-fire, future first-rounder on its roster in wide receiver Sammy Watkins. But to be a true title contender Clemson will need some of its young talent — linebacker Stephone Anthony, defensive end Corey Crawford and linebacker Tony Steward — to take major leaps forward, particularly on the defensive front.
South Carolina has an offensive star, running back Marcus Lattimore, and a defensive star, end Jadeveon Clowney, who each are projected as future first-round picks. Defensive end Devin Taylor is also in the first-round mix.
Dominant defensive line play
Nine of the last 11 national title teams produced at least one defensive lineman selected in the first 35 picks of the draft.
After losing two defensive linemen to the second round of the NFL Draft for the second straight year, Clemson is inexperienced along its defensive front and might lack an impact player.
With Clowney and Taylor, South Carolina is talented along its defensive front.
Dominant run defense
Taking away the run means forcing teams into long-yardage situations and making opponents one-dimensional. It also speaks to the physical nature of a team. Nine of the last 11 national champions had top-20 rushing defenses, six ranked in the top 10, and five ranked in the top five nationally, including Alabama’s top-ranked run defense from last season (72 yards per game).
Clemson ranked just 83rd in run defense last season, allowing 176 yards per game. Head coach Dabo Swinney fired defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and hired Brent Venables. But that might not be enough for a dramatic turnaround as the Tigers will be extremely young in the defensive front seven.
South Carolina ranked 45th last season and returns Taylor and Clowney along with plenty of linebacker experience.
Since the NCAA began keeping third-down efficiency as a statistic in 2005, six of the last seven national champions finished 21st or better and converted at least 44 percent of their third downs. Alabama was 19th in the country last season, converting 46 percent.
During its 8-0 start last fall, Clemson converted 50 percent of third downs but finished 35th in the country at 43 percent. South Carolina finished 39th, converting 43.1 percent.
Elite rushing attack
The last five national champions have all finished in the top 20 in rushing offenses.
Florida spread the field to run under Urban Meyer, and Alabama and LSU are noted for pro-style power running games.
Clemson ranked 47th in the country at its high point last season and finished 59th in the country. Clemson wants Tajh Boyd to be more of a factor with his legs and talented running back Andre Ellington has dealt with injuries in each of the last two seasons.
South Carolina ranked 26th in rushing last season (192.1 yards per game) without a full season from Lattimore, who returns this fall following knee surgery (ACL).
Preseason top 25 ranking
Nine of the last 11 national champions began the season in the top 10, and all began the season in the AP Top 25. Clemson rose to the No. 5 ranking in the BCS after being unranked last season. Both South Carolina and Clemson will likely be ranked in the top 25 this season.
HELPFUL BUT NOT REQUIRED
Of the last seven national champions, four — Texas (4th in 2005), Florida (19th in 2006), Alabama (15th in 2009) and Auburn (13th in 2010) — ranked in the 20 of total offensive plays. Up-tempo offenses are en vogue, Clemson uses one but South Carolina does not, and the style of play has proven to be effective though not a pre-requisite for a national title.
While stars like Cam Newton (Auburn), Tim Tebow (Florida), Matt Leinart (Southern Cal) and Vince Young (Texas) led their teams to college football titles and went on to become first-round NFL picks, non-star quarterbacks like Ken Dorsey and Craig Krenzel (Miami), Matt Mauck (LSU), Matt Flynn (LSU), Greg McElroy (Alabama) and Chris Leak (Florida) also quarterbacked teams to championships since 2001. While it doesn’t hurt to have an elite quarterback, unlike the NFL, having a franchise-type quarterback is not a championship prerequisite.
Clemson’s Tajh Boyd put up big numbers in the first half of the season a year ago. South Carolina’s Shaw proved to be a threat on the ground and a solid game-manager.
Elite passing game
Only two BCS title teams over the last decade have had top-20 passing offenses. But Clemson’s strength figures to be its passing game thanks to Boyd and a deep and talented receiving corps. South Carolina figures to be a run-first team.
Positive turnover margin
Six champions since 2001 finished in the top 10 of turnover margin and four have finished in the top four or better. Alabama was 23rd last season.
Clemson finished 66th in turnover margin (-.07). South Carolina finished 30th (+.38).
NOT A FACTOR
A proven coach
Eight of the last 11 national champions won with coaches who had never won a title before. Five coaches (Larry Coker at Miami, Gene Chizik at Auburn, Jim Tressel at Ohio State, Urban Meyer at Florida and Pete Carroll at Southern Cal) had four or fewer years of experience as a head coach in a power conference when they won national titles.
A top-notch kicker
Only four national championship teams over the last decade had kickers in the top 30. Great teams typically finish red zone opportunities with touchdowns, not field goals.
South Carolina looks more like recent national championship teams than Clemson. South Carolina should have a strong rushing attack and a dominant defensive front. But Clemson should be interesting to watch with many key offensive players back from last year’s team that ranked as high as No. 5 in the BCS during the season.