Why Clemson Has a Shot at the BCS Championship
The BCS National Championship game has had two primary themes since its inception on January 4, 1999. One, the SEC has dominated the game, winning the last 7 BCS title games and 9 overall. (Alabama has won 3, Florida and LSU 2, and Tennessee and Auburn have 1 BCS Championship apiece.)
The other central theme of the BCS Championship has been relative outsiders “crashing the BCS party”. While no “mid-major” schools have reached the title game yet, there have been a good number of teams who started their respective seasons outside the preseason Top 5, and were considered to be longshots by many. Most recently, that list includes Notre Dame in 2012, and the 2010 BCS Champion Auburn Tigers, who started the year ranked #22 in FBS and went on to defeat 6 ranked opponents en route to the National Championship.
So every year, analysts look outside the predictable contenders in an attempt to see who may climb the ranks and vie for a BCS Championship appearance. The world at large may expect the Alabama Crimson Tide to roll to their 3rd straight BCS title game appearance – but even if they do, who will join them?
Today, we make a case for the Clemson Tigers. No, we aren’t Clemson fans; we aren’t even writing this from within 500 miles of South Carolina. But in analyzing all the Top 25 programs from the 2013 preseason based on 5 major categories:
- Quarterback play;
- Returning weapons;
- Recent success vs. the SEC; and
We’ve come to the conclusion that of all the FBS teams ranked outside the preseason Top 5 in the 2013 USA Today Coaches’ Poll, the Clemson Tigers have perhaps the best chance of reaching the 2014 BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
5 reasons why Clemson could reach the BCS Championship Game
1. Quarterback play. More than anything else, the Tigers have Tajh Boyd. While Johnny Manziel gets all the media attention, Boyd may actually be the more dangerous dual threat QB of the two. In 2012, Tajh Boyd completed 67.2% of his passes for 3,896 yards, and 36 TDs against 13 interceptions. He also compiled 514 rushing yards and 10 TDs on the ground.
It’s no surprise that Tajh Boyd is predicted to contend for this year’s Heisman Trophy. In order to do so, the mercurial QB must reserve his biggest performances for the biggest stages. The knock on Boyd in 2012 was that against the stoutest regular season competition he faced – Florida State and South Carolina – he lost. Yes, much of those defeats were also attributable to the Clemson defense, but if Boyd is to be the true face of Clemson football – and its true leader – accountability and big-game performances must be expected.
2. Returning weapons. Although RB Andre Ellington and WR DeAndre Hopkins are both gone to the NFL, Clemson will do its best to fill their shoes with a pair of talented offensive weapons.
Playing behind Hopkins, WR Sammy Watkins still managed to haul in 57 passes for 708 yards, good for a 12.4 per-catch average. That included a 61-yard TD strike from Boyd. Watkins was even better in 2011, catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 TDs. Considered an NFL prospect heading into his junior year at Clemson, Watkins returns to Memorial Stadium with a chip on his shoulder.
RB Roderick McDowell takes over the rushing duties from Andre Ellington. In a backup role last season, McDowell toted the ball 83 times for 450 yards, a 5.4 average per carry. McDowell packs a punch in a small package, listed at 5’9″ and 195 pounds. Scout.com notes “Hot Rod” for his acceleration and vision in a zone blocking scheme.
3. Coaching. Dabo Swinney enters his fifth full season as head coach of the Clemson Tigers, and the team has trended upwards during his tenure. After a rebuilding year in 2010, Clemson burst out with a 10-4 record in 2011 and an 11-2 record in 2012, jumping from #22 in the nation in 2011 to #9 in the coaches’ poll (#11 AP) in 2012. And Swinney’s not satisfied.
Swinney’s thirst for success should not come as a surprise; he began his coaching career as WR/TE coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide from 1995-2001. He served as assistant head coach at Clemson from 2003-2008 before taking over for the departing Tommy Bowden mid-season. Since then, Swinney’s confidence, optimism and youth (Dabo is 43) have become infectious at Clemson. He doesn’t want the Tigers to win – he expects them to.
4. Recent success vs. the SEC. Last year, the Clemson Tigers beat Auburn to begin the season, 26-19. However, that paled in comparison to their defeat of the LSU Tigers, 25-24, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. With that win, the team exorcised the recent demons of losing to in-state rival South Carolina to end the regular season. Tajh Boyd was immaculate in the win, throwing for 346 yards, 2 touchdowns and zero picks.
With the win, Clemson reached 11 victories for the first time since the 1981 season, when the Tigers won the national championship. Head coach Dabo Swinney said it best: ”You can’t win a national championship until you learn how to win games like this. This was a landmark win.” If that is indeed the case, then Clemson has learned two things:
One, they can win major bowl games. And two, they can beat premier SEC competition. (And in 2013, they’ll need to.)
5. Schedule. Here’s how the Clemson Tigers’ football schedule breaks down for 2013:
Home: Georgia, South Carolina State, Wake Forest, Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Citadel
Away: NC State, Syracuse, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina
The three toughest games on the slate for Clemson are, unquestionably, Georgia (Game 1), Florida State (Game 7), and South Carolina (Game 12). While none of them will be a cakewalk, there are two mitigating factors when considering these games: they’re well spread apart, and two of the 3 will be played at home in Memorial Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the rest of their schedule just doesn’t match up with the strength of schedule in the SEC – and to be fair, not even the Pac-12. The only game on the schedule they can potentially lose and still make a run at the BCS title game is their first against Georgia. Still, with the list of teams above them in the pecking order – Clemson begins the year ranked #8 in the country – they can’t really stand to lose at all.
Then again, let’s look at the teams above them. Oregon and Stanford play each other (and Stanford has UCLA and USC). Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina all have to play in the vicious SEC – and two of those teams play Clemson, which (obviously) can vault past them with victories. Ohio State…well, it’s hard to say. The Big Ten may suck.
Should the Tigers survive the Georgia Bulldogs to open the season in primetime on ABC, then the debate will really start about how far Clemson can go in 2013. We’re just starting the conversation a few weeks early.