One of the glaring issues that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s Tigers seem to deal with every year is their strength of schedule and it appears that the upcoming season will be no different.
Something that has caused this to be even more scrutinized has been their impressive streak of appearances in the College Football Playoff, which currently sits at six. The only other school with such a streak since this format started is Alabama.
With that being said, ESPN’s Bill Connelly has released the S&P+ metric rankings for the upcoming season and according to the numbers he came up with, teams from the American Athletic Conference (AAC) face more teams in the top 40 than Clemson will this coming season.
Many Tiger fans over the years have taken these numbers personal and while there are those that will use them to question whether or not Clemson is deserving of a spot in the playoff it needs to be taken into account that Connelly is nothing more than the messenger and the numbers don’t lie. The real issue with this situation lies more with the Atlantic Coast Conference’s overall strength or lack thereof.
The only game on the Tigers upcoming schedule that has a lower than 18 point projected win margin is the season opener against an old hated rival, Georgia. Many expect this to be a Top-5 matchup and Clemson is given a 4.5 point margin of victory for that game. After that the Tigers aren’t expected to have any games even remotely close the rest of the regular season.
The next closest is at Pittsburgh where they are projected to win by 18 and their closest divisional game looks like it will be against their Textile Bowl rival, NC State, where the Tigers are expected to win by 18 as well.
According to the numbers Clemson has an 85% or better win probability in all of their regular season games after the opener against the Bulldogs and in all but eight of the Tigers 12 game schedule they are being given an over 90% win probability.
That includes the only other SEC opponent they will face when they travel down to the state capital to renew their in-state rivalry with South Carolina. A team that has a new coaching staff and will be coming off of a 2-8 season a year ago. It’s a game that Clemson is expected to win by 32-points.
So, what does this mean as far as Clemson is concerned? It means that they will enter the season with little to no room for error. Especially once they get past the Georgia game. In other words, it is looking more and more likely that the season opener will be way more important for them than it will be for the Bulldogs who are expected to face a number of ranked opponents throughout their season.
Though the numbers speak volumes the Tigers can’t be blamed for the ACC’s overall strength of schedule, or lack thereof, and the fact that the Gamecocks are so far down right now but the fact is this, one way to help themselves out tremendously will be to go out and do just what they are expected to. Handle their business on the field and leave no doubt. They won’t be able to afford a let down game like the losses at home to Pitt in 2016 or on the road against Syracuse in 2017.