Playoff profile: Clemson's final four bid has strengths, question marks

South Carolina Spur Sharrod Golightly tackles Clemson wide receiver Adam Humphries in the first quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

South Carolina Spur Sharrod Golightly tackles Clemson wide receiver Adam Humphries in the first quarter at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.

Taking a more in-depth look at Clemson and the new college football playoff, pt. 3…

We’ve examined the what-ifs on a playoff last season and the profile of your typical contender over the last four seasons.

Who’s Clemson’s playoff competition in 2014?

ESPN’s final four: 1. Florida State 2. Alabama 3. Oklahoma 4. Oregon

Analysis: Their top-four all finished in the top-11 of the BCS standings last season. One, of course, is the depending champ, which their Football Power Index has as the far and away preseason No. 1. Oklahoma is the shakiest one, pairing what was a mediocre 2013 offense with 9-of-11 starters returning from a top-25 defense.

In the same ESPN series, they give Clemson a two percent chance of making the final four, projecting a disappointing 8-4 campaign (6-2 ACC). Obviously the path through Tallahassee this season presents a problem, but they give the Tigers a 38 percent or less chance at wins over Georgia (30), Florida State (14) and South Carolina (38).

CBS Sports' final four: Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma

Analysis: They have three of the same as ESPN, but swap Ohio State for Oregon. The Buckeyes lose significant contributors on offense and defense, but are also among the top recruiting teams nationally over the last four years.

B/R’s final four: 1. Florida State 2. Alabama 3. UCLA 4. Ohio State

Analysis: U-C-L-A. Yep, and this isn’t the only writer to jump on the Bruins’ bandwagon with one of the more talented QBs in the nation (Brett Hundley), 16 starters back overall and fellow Pac-12 contenders Oregon and Stanford coming to the Rose Bowl. They are 10-3 at home over the last two seasons, making one conference title game.

The 2014 Contenders…and Clemson

Below is an in-depth profile on the playoff contenders outlined by the various media outlets – and where Clemson stands.

The five statistical categories looked to in pt. 2 of the series have Clemson very competitive in the group.

Alabama and Florida State excelled in all five – yards per play, scoring defense, third down defense and field position advantage, while just Clemson (outlier: FPA of 49) and Oregon (outlier: 3rd down D of 68) were top-25 in four of them. Oklahoma and UCLA were top-25 in two and UCLA one.

Comparing to last season, the average returning starter count among the top-six contenders was 13.5, also around the top-12 in recruiting over the last four seasons. Florida State returned just 10 starters last season, taking the title after losing its 2012 leader in passing, rushing, sacks, tackles for loss and pass breakups.

More below…

1. Florida State

2013 Record (Final BCS ranking): 14-0 (1).

Returning starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense).

Blue Chip Ratio: No. 7 (56 percent); Football Power Index (ESPN): No. 1 (32.2).

Stats to watch (2013 ranks): Yards per play: 1. Scoring D: 1. Def. YPP: 2. 3rd down D: 8. Field position advantage: 2.

Returners by the numbers

2,800-yard passer(s): QB Jameis Winston (4,057); 700-yard rushers/receivers returning: WR Rashad Greene (1,128 ReY), RB Karlos Williams (730 RuY); 40 catches or more: WR Rashad Greene (76); 80 carries or more: RB Karlos Williams (91), QB Jameis Winston (88); 5 sacks or more: N/A; 65 tackles or more: N/A; 8 TFL or more: DE Mario Edwards (9.5); 5 PBUs or more: DB P.J. Williams (7); 70% FG rate: K Roberto Aguayo (95.5).

2. Oregon

2013 Record (Final BCS ranking): 11-2 (10).

Returning starters: 15 (9 offense, 6 defense).

Blue Chip Ratio: T-13 (42 percent); Football Power Index (ESPN): No. 2 (28.5).

Stats to watch (2013 ranks): Yards per play: 2. Scoring D: 13. Def. YPP: 7. 3rd down D: 68. Field position advantage: 9.

Returners by the numbers

2,800-yard passer(s): Marcus Mariota (3,665); 700-yard rushers/receivers returning: RB Byron Marshall (1,038 RuY), QB Marcus Mariota (715 RuY), RB Thomas Tyner (711 RuY), WR Bralon Addison (890 ReY); 40 catches or more: WR Bralon Addison (61); 80 carries or more: RB Byron Marshall (168), RB Thomas Tyner (115), QB Marcus Mariota (96); 5 sacks or more: DE Tony Washington (7.5); 65 tackles or more: LB Derrick Malone (105), DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (84); 8 TFL or more: DE Tony Washington (12); 5 PBUs or more: DB Terrance Mitchell (7); 70% FG rate: Matt Wogan (77.8).

3. Alabama

2013 Record (Final BCS ranking): 11-2 (3).

Returning starters: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense).

Blue Chip Ratio: No. 1 (73 percent); Football Power Index (ESPN): No. 4 (24.1).

Stats to watch (2013 ranks): Yards per play: 5. Scoring D: 4. Def. YPP: 13. 3rd down D: 23. Field position advantage: 4.

Returners by the numbers

2,800-yard passer(s): N/A; 700-yard rushers/receivers returning: RB T.J Yeldon (1,235 RuY), WR Amari Cooper (736 ReY); 40 catches or more: WR Amari Cooper (45); 80 carries or more: RB T.J. Yeldon (207), RB Kenyan Drake (92); 5 sacks or more: DE A’Shawn Robinson (5.5); 65 tackles or more: DB Landon Collins (69), LB Trey DePriest (65); 8 TFL or more: DE A’Shawn Robinson (8); 5 PBUs or more: DB Landon Collins (6); 70% FG rate: N/A.

4. Ohio State

2013 Record (Final BCS ranking): 12-2 (7).

Returning starters: 12 (5 offense, 7 defense).

Blue Chip Ratio: No. 2 (68 percent); Football Power Index (ESPN): No. 6 (21.5).

Stats to watch (2013 ranks): Yards per play: 5. Scoring D: 28. Def. YPP: 39. 3rd down D: 30. Field position advantage: 8.

Returners by the numbers

2,800-yard passer(s): N/A; 700-yard rushers/receivers returning: N/A; 40 catches or more: WR Devin Smith (44); 80 carries or more: N/A; 5 sacks or more: DE Noah Spence (7.5), DE Joey Bosa (7.5), DE Michael Bennett (7); 65 tackles or more: N/A; 8 TFL or more: DE Noah Spence (14), DE Joey Bosa (13.5), DE Michael Bennett (11.5); 5 PBUs or more: DB Doran Grant (10), DB Armani Reeves (7); 70% FG rate: N/A.

5. Oklahoma

2013 Record (Final BCS ranking): 11-2 (11).

Returning starters: 14 (5 offense, 9 defense).

Blue Chip Ratio: T-13 (42 percent); Football Power Index (ESPN): No. 7 (20.3).

Stats to watch (2013 ranks): Yards per play: 51. Scoring D: 22. Def. YPP: 52. 3rd down D: 18. Field position advantage: 27.

Returners by the numbers

2,800-yard passer(s): N/A; 700-yard rushers/receivers returning: N/A; 40 catches or more: WR Sterling Shepard (51); 80 carries or more: N/A; 5 sacks or more: LB Eric Striker (6.5), DE Charles Tapper 5.5; 65 tackles or more: LB Frank Shannon (92), LB Dominique Alexander (80), DB Quentin Hayes (75); 8 TFL or more: LB Eric Striker (10.5), DE Charles Tapper (9), DE Geneo Grissom (8.5); 5 PBUs or more: DB Zack Sanchez (13), DB Quentin Hayes (6); 70% FG rate: Michael Hunnicutt (88.9).

6. UCLA

2013 Record (Final BCS ranking): 10-3 (17).

Returning starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense).

Blue Chip Ratio: No. 17 (40 percent); Football Power Index (ESPN): No. 5 (22.6).

Stats to watch (2013 ranks): Yards per play: 36. Scoring D: 35. Def. YPP: 25. 3rd down D: 26. Field position advantage: 26.

Returners by the numbers

2,800-yard passer(s): Brett Hundley (3,071); 700-yard rushers/receivers returning: QB Brett Hundley (748 RuY); 40 catches or more: WR Devin Fuller (43); 80 carries or more: QB Brett Hundley (160), Paul Perkins (134), Jordon James (101); 5 sacks or more: N/A; 65 tackles or more: LB Eric Kendricks (105), DB Anthony Jeferson (89), DB Randall Goforth (78), LB Myles Jack (76); 8 TFL or more: N/A; 5 PBUs or more: LB Myles Jack (11), DB Anthony Jefferson (5); 70% FG rate: Ka’imi Fairbaim (70).

Palmetto State contenders

Clemson

2013 Record (Final BCS ranking): 11-2 (12).

Returning starters: 12* (5 offense, 7 defense).

Blue Chip Ratio: No. 15 (42 percent); Football Power Index (ESPN): No. 15 (17.6).

Stats to watch (2013 ranks): Yards per play: 23. Scoring D: 24. Def. YPP: 23. 3rd down D: 5. Field position advantage: 49.

2,800-yard passer(s): N/A; 700-yard rushers/receivers returning: N/A; 40 catches or more: Adam Humphries (41); 80 carries or more: N/A; 5 sacks or more: Vic Beasley (13); 65 tackles or more: Stephone Anthony (86), Robert Smith (71); 8 TFL or more: Vic Beasley (23), Stephone Anthony (15), Corey Crawford (10.5), Grady Jarrett (10.5), Shaq Lawson (10); 5 PBUs or more: Vic Beasley (6); 70% FG rate: N/A.

* Clemson officially lists 13 returning starters (going with Phil Steele's numbers for consistency team-to-team).

South Carolina

2013 Record (Final BCS ranking): 11-2 (9).

Returning starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense).

Blue Chip Ratio: NR (8th in SEC); Football Power Index (ESPN): No. 9 (19.8).

Stats to watch (2013 ranks): Yards per play: 22. Scoring D: 12. Def. YPP: 60. 3rd down D: 46. Field position advantage: 95.

2,800-yard passer(s): N/A; 700-yard rushers/receivers returning: RB Mike Davis (1,183); 40 catches or more: N/A. 80 carries or more: RB Mike Davis (203); 5 sacks or more: N/A; 65 tackles or more: N/A; 8 TFL or more: N/A; 5 PBUs or more: N/A; 70% FG rate: Elliott Fry (83.3).

2014-15 season playoff schedule

Jan. 1: Rose (semifinal), Sugar (semifinal)

Jan. 12: National championship: Arlington, Texas

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Comments » 14

fasttiger44#293363 writes:

According to this stuff, we will be lucky to win a game it looks like.

BrandonRink writes:

in response to fasttiger44#293363:

According to this stuff, we will be lucky to win a game it looks like.

Well, the numbers support they are one of the top teams in the country, but there's a group that appear to be a tier above.

What Clemson has going for it is recruiting well, excelling in some key stats, returning quite a few from a good 'D' and then one of the top OCs in the country on the other side. They aren't far away from challenging for a top-four spot, but like any team, wins in the big games (UGa, USC, FSU) will be the key to being there.

33dtb writes:

When Alabama's O-Line go into their stances, all their buttocks look to be 3 feet across....... can you just imagine C.J. Spiller running with a line like that in college ???????

SoCalTiger writes:

I think Clemson will have to win out to be in the conversation. Along with the Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina games are potential trap games including at Georgia Tech and at Boston College. But, the Tigers are reloading every year instead of rebuilding. They might just do it.

Clemorange writes:

Depending on our quarterback play I can see it happening. As prolific as Boyd was he did as well seem to be the stumbling block in our key losses and at times seemed to be the anchor in key victories...like LSU. If Boyd has stood up in the Fl St and SC games like he did vs LSU then we would of beaten them, hands down. Do y'all even remember the defense Boyd beat at LSU. After that season LSU had 6-8 defensive players declare for the draft.

TigerFan95 writes:

in response to SoCalTiger:

I think Clemson will have to win out to be in the conversation. Along with the Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina games are potential trap games including at Georgia Tech and at Boston College. But, the Tigers are reloading every year instead of rebuilding. They might just do it.

I agree, one loss would severely hurt our chances, but depending on the records of other teams out there it may not eliminate us entirely. If we’re the only one-loss team I say we have a very good chance of getting in ahead of any two-loss team. Who we lose to & when we lose will play a big factor. A loss to FSU would hurt us more than UGA or SC because it would likely keep us out of the ACCCG. A loss to SC would hurt a lot more than UGA because it would come later in the season.

You’re right about the GT & BC games. Those two games are definitely potential trap games for us because we never seem to play well at their places. However, the game I’m circling on the calendar that I feel may be the most crucial game of the season is UNC. If we come into that game 1-2….which I think we likely will… it will be imperative for us to win that game. If we win I think we’ll likely win out and finish 10-2. If we lose and start-off 1-3, I see us dropping at least one other game and also the SC game. A 7-5 season and sixth loss to SC would put Dabo firmly in the hot seat.

TigerFan95 writes:

in response to Clemorange:

Depending on our quarterback play I can see it happening. As prolific as Boyd was he did as well seem to be the stumbling block in our key losses and at times seemed to be the anchor in key victories...like LSU. If Boyd has stood up in the Fl St and SC games like he did vs LSU then we would of beaten them, hands down. Do y'all even remember the defense Boyd beat at LSU. After that season LSU had 6-8 defensive players declare for the draft.

Cole Stoudt & definitely Deshuan Watson do not have the frames to stand up to the beating Tahj took in that LSU game. It will be on our O-line to protect our QB’s much better and to run block to establish a true running game with our RB’s. Tahj was our primary “power Back” the last couple years. If we try to do that with Stoudt or Watson, Nick Schuesler will be our starting QB after the third game, if not sooner.

harryD writes:

in response to TigerFan95:

Cole Stoudt & definitely Deshuan Watson do not have the frames to stand up to the beating Tahj took in that LSU game. It will be on our O-line to protect our QB’s much better and to run block to establish a true running game with our RB’s. Tahj was our primary “power Back” the last couple years. If we try to do that with Stoudt or Watson, Nick Schuesler will be our starting QB after the third game, if not sooner.

No doubt. The guys look kinda ....well...fragile.

fasttiger44#293363 writes:

Based on our last years performance as a defensive powerhouse and offensive, also, should we be beat Georgia and even get beaten by FSU we should be in the top 4 by the end of the year. We will not get beat again by SC under any circumstances. I don't care how many turnovers we have we will not lose to them again...not in 2014. An 11 and 1 Clemson team will be a top 4 team. Our defense may be as good as the '81 defensive team and they could play. It was hard to make a first down against that team and I really do feel as though this years defense may be as good. Our offense has plenty of "what ifs" but should be really solid and be able to move the ball on anyone. Time will tell but my fat gut tells me this may be our year to bring back a lot of glory we lost since the '81 National Championship year.

YabbaDaboDooDoo writes:

in response to fasttiger44#293363:

Based on our last years performance as a defensive powerhouse and offensive, also, should we be beat Georgia and even get beaten by FSU we should be in the top 4 by the end of the year. We will not get beat again by SC under any circumstances. I don't care how many turnovers we have we will not lose to them again...not in 2014. An 11 and 1 Clemson team will be a top 4 team. Our defense may be as good as the '81 defensive team and they could play. It was hard to make a first down against that team and I really do feel as though this years defense may be as good. Our offense has plenty of "what ifs" but should be really solid and be able to move the ball on anyone. Time will tell but my fat gut tells me this may be our year to bring back a lot of glory we lost since the '81 National Championship year.

An 11-1 team is not definitely a top-4 team especially if the 1 loss is to FSU. You play a 3-game schedule. Unless Louisville or UNC have a really good season, I don't see enough quality on your schedule to put Clemson ahead of 1-loss teams from other conferences or even a 2-loss SEC team.

TigerNE writes:

in response to TigerFan95:

Cole Stoudt & definitely Deshuan Watson do not have the frames to stand up to the beating Tahj took in that LSU game. It will be on our O-line to protect our QB’s much better and to run block to establish a true running game with our RB’s. Tahj was our primary “power Back” the last couple years. If we try to do that with Stoudt or Watson, Nick Schuesler will be our starting QB after the third game, if not sooner.

Stepping up the level of running back recruits is deliberate. I'm pretty sure Morris never wanted Boyd to be the power back, as you call him. And now he's got two great arms in Stoudt and Watson with a deeper running core than he's ever had (at Clemson). We'll see soon who comes out as the go to guys.

TigerFan95 writes:

in response to YabbaDaboDooDoo:

An 11-1 team is not definitely a top-4 team especially if the 1 loss is to FSU. You play a 3-game schedule. Unless Louisville or UNC have a really good season, I don't see enough quality on your schedule to put Clemson ahead of 1-loss teams from other conferences or even a 2-loss SEC team.

We have four teams on our schedule that will likely start the season in the AP top 15..FSU, SC, UGA & UNC. With a very similar schedule in 2011 we started the season unranked and worked our way to #6 before losing late in the season to GT. After that loss we worked our way back up to #7 before losing to NC ST and then to SC. It's very likely had we not lost those last two games we would have finished the regular season in the top 4. I wouldn't say it's a lock that we would be in the top 4 with one loss this year because they're too varables to consider, but I will say that we would be a serious contender and would be selected over any 2 loss SEC school.

TheTruth46 writes:

in response to fasttiger44#293363:

Based on our last years performance as a defensive powerhouse and offensive, also, should we be beat Georgia and even get beaten by FSU we should be in the top 4 by the end of the year. We will not get beat again by SC under any circumstances. I don't care how many turnovers we have we will not lose to them again...not in 2014. An 11 and 1 Clemson team will be a top 4 team. Our defense may be as good as the '81 defensive team and they could play. It was hard to make a first down against that team and I really do feel as though this years defense may be as good. Our offense has plenty of "what ifs" but should be really solid and be able to move the ball on anyone. Time will tell but my fat gut tells me this may be our year to bring back a lot of glory we lost since the '81 National Championship year.

Lofty predictions Fats. It is evident your knowledge of football is limited. If you turn the ball over 6 times against any good team...chances are very high you will be beaten...to include SC. Be very careful on what you bloviate about. It might not taste so good in late November.

YabbaDaboDooDoo writes:

in response to TigerFan95:

We have four teams on our schedule that will likely start the season in the AP top 15..FSU, SC, UGA & UNC. With a very similar schedule in 2011 we started the season unranked and worked our way to #6 before losing late in the season to GT. After that loss we worked our way back up to #7 before losing to NC ST and then to SC. It's very likely had we not lost those last two games we would have finished the regular season in the top 4. I wouldn't say it's a lock that we would be in the top 4 with one loss this year because they're too varables to consider, but I will say that we would be a serious contender and would be selected over any 2 loss SEC school.

Yeah we've heard this same tune before about UNC. They're always poised for a big year and then end up 6-6. How are they a top 15 team? AWFUL doesn't even begin to describe how bad their defense was last year. And they still haven't named a starting QB yet. This supposed top-15 team will likely be rolling into Death Valley fresh off a loss at East Carolina, the same team that put 55 points on them in Chapel Hill last year.

If you lose to FSU and FSU wins the conference, you're not going to the playoff... period. The conference and your schedule does not justify putting 2 ACC teams in a playoff. If 2 spots go to the ACC then the SEC would get 1. And that means either the PAC12 champ or the Big12 champ would be left out even though they play in a tougher conference than the ACC. And you do get the irony in claiming you would deserve a playoff spot over an SEC team (who plays 8 SEC games) b/c you played 2 SEC teams, right?

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