What Needs to Happen For the ACC to Become Relevant Again

2016 was a great year for the SEC-haters, and especially for those constantly trying to laud the ACC’s talent in football. Not only did Clemson win the national championship, dethroning Alabama, but the Tide were the only top-10 team in the SEC. The two years prior, the SEC had slipped to just two teams in the top 10, after seeing four of their squads attain such a ranking in each of the previous three seasons. Meanwhile, the ACC had five Top-25 teams, with a pair of top-10 squads. It was the third time in four years they had accomplished that feat, after only doing it once between 1998 and 2013. 

The end of the SEC? The rise of the ACC? Not so much. 

Flash forward three seasons, and the SEC is as dominant as ever, and once again, outside a singularly impressive team, the ACC was more or less a complete joke. The conference championship saw Clemson defeat Virginia by a stunning score of 62-17. While Clemson may be able to challenge the best teams in the country, the SEC offers four or five teams team could give Clemson a very good game and definitely capable of beating them. Against those same four or five teams, I don’t think there’s a single ACC team I trust outside of Clemson to snare a victory on the gridiron. One such example of this? In the Orange Bowl this past season, the Florida Gators, second in their division and the third or fourth best team in the SEC, took on Virginia and won 36-28. The score didn’t reflect the nature of the game, as Florida never trailed and spent most of the contest nursing a two-score lead. A UVA touchdown with 38 seconds left cut the deficit to its final margin. The ACC’s second-best against a fringe top-5 SEC team? No contest. 

So what’s the issue with the ACC? And what needs to happen to get back to 2016, where they were arguably the better conference, or at least closer to the SEC’s equal? Here’s a few things that need to happen. 

Stability in the Coastal Division

In the SEC, the West largely dominates, but when you look at the East, they still have a decent amount of stability. Georgia and Florida have won 9 of the past 12 division titles and consistently are among the top teams in the conference. Between promising stretches from Missouri and South Carolina – and the occasional good year from Tennessee and Kentucky – there have been teams to fill the void when the Gators and Bulldogs falter. The stability in the East has allowed for consistent recruiting that establish top-tier teams in both divisions. In the ACC? No such stability has been created – the last seven years have seen all seven teams win the division once. Nobody has repeated since Virginia Tech in 2010-2011. When there’s no clear dominant team, or even a couple of consistently successful squads, no one gains any kind of significant recruiting edge. Furthermore, the lack of clarity in the division just sends more recruits scrambling for the safety blanket that is Clemson and their pure dominance of the ACC Atlantic, and the conference as a whole. Entering the ACC Coastal right now as a player essentially gives you an even 1-in-7 chance at getting to the title game. Players want to play at the highest level, and no ACC Coastal team is consistently offering that opportunity. 

Not only has no team repeated since Virginia Tech at the turn of the decade, but every single season since then, the ACC Coastal representative in the championship game has come from a team that finished third or worse in the division the year before that. Over the last seven years – the stretch with seven different champions – the Coastal division has had five teams finish in the Top 25 a combined seven times. Virginia Tech and Miami have slotted into the rankings twice, and Georgia Tech, UNC, and Duke have all accomplished the feat once. The last two division champs – Pitt and Virginia – did not finish in the Top 25. The lack of consistency among these programs is frankly astounding, and as long as the ACC Coastal is a complete mess, this conference won’t truly improve. 

A consistent challenger in the Atlantic Division

No recruit who has their eyes on making a CFP goes to a non-Clemson team in the ACC Atlantic if they have the choice. The Tigers are 38-2 over the past five seasons of ACC games. Rather than look forward to a big clash that decides the division, fans and Clemson-haters scour the schedule for a game that looks ‘tricky’ or could qualify as a ‘trap game’. In the SEC, even though Alabama looks like a favorite out of the West nearly every year, every single Bama-LSU game or Iron Bowl clash presents a significant obstacle for the Tide. For Clemson, even if they lose a shocker, no team has been good enough to steal the division crime. Clemson’s dynasty started as FSU faded from relevancy. During the Tigers’ five-year reign, the Seminoles have finished as a ranked team twice, and Louisville, NC State, and Syracuse have done it once apiece. Louisville’s 2nd-place finish in the Atlantic last year made them the first team to have 2 second-place finishes in the division in the past five years. Outside of Clemson, the division is a total toss-up, with nobody becoming consistently relevant. If the ACC wants to ever match the SEC – with 4-5 teams consistently cracking the top 20, and usually 2-3 in the top 10, a consistent challenger must emerge. 

Teams That Need To Improve

In the SEC, for each season of this past decade, at least five teams finished the year ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Outside of 2016, the ACC did not do that once. So which teams need to step it up for the ACC to gain further legitimacy? 

Atlantic: Florida State, Louisville

Florida State was the clear second-best team to Clemson this past decade, winning four division titles to Clemson’s 6. However, the crossing of these two dynasties was thin. Florida State finished 14th and 8th in the country as Clemson took over in 2015-16, but they haven’t sniffed the end-of-season Top 25 since then, going just 17-20 over their last three seasons. Look at the SEC, where, although Alabama has won 7 of the past 12 titles in the SEC West, their three-peat from ‘14-16 was the only time they repeated. We need to see somebody rise and clash with Clemson at the top and Florida State has the pedigree to do it. But their program is in disarray right now, so it’s unclear whether they’re ready to get to a Top-25 level any time soon. One team that is trending back in the right direction is Louisville, who has been very good since joining the ACC, but they haven’t broken the glass ceiling just yet. The Cardinals had a blip in 2018 – finishing in last place in their first year post-Lamar Jackson, but they’ve been very consistently otherwise. Consistency is key – FSU was ranked for two straight years before settling into their three-year reign of the conference, and Clemson had been ranked the prior three seasons before their current stretch of dominance. Louisville bounced back last year with an 8-win season, so if the Cardinals can continue to trend upwards, they may be the best bet at giving Clemson a challenger atop the division. 

Coastal: Miami, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech’s three division titles of the past decade make them one of two programs with multiple (Georgia Tech, 2). They’ve had their off years, but with three #1 finishes, and another three at #2 or #3, the Hokies are close to as consistent as it gets in the Coastal division. That combined with their homefield – Lane Stadium – is one of the more intimidating environments in the conference. If they turn that into a deadly homefield advantage, Virginia Tech could establish some much needed stability atop the division. 

Miami was the second clear and logical choice here. Amidst all the turmoil, the Hurricanes have not finished below fourth in the Coastal Division in the past decade. That being said, they’ve turned those consistent results into just one appearance in the ACC Championship, which ended very poorly. Miami has the most pedigree of any team in this division, and it makes sense that if the ACC is to rise to glory, the Hurricanes need to lead the revolution, or at least be one of the leaders. Their fans say it every year but until The U is Back, the ACC Coastal may struggle to gain any semblance of relevance. 

Georgia Tech, with their two division titles, was an honorable mention here, but their recent switch from the triple option and last-place finish last season cast some doubts on to whether they are entering a rebuilding phase, or whether they’re able to compete. 

SEC apologetics make a lot of claims, but they definitely hit the nail on the head when claiming superiority on the football field. The ACC looked like they might be ready to match that, but the past three seasons have shown they are clearly not ready. It’s years away, but look forward to a time where the ACC may finally be able to rival the SEC – at least in top-tier talent if not in total depth.

College Football Relevancy Rankings: Top 15

What makes a college football team relevant? Is it wins? That would be unfairly biased towards Group of 5 programs with the ability to rack up wins against horrific teams while unfairly punishing teams out of the SEC, Big 10, and other Power-5 conferences that load their schedules with premier competition each year. No offense to Boise State (or maybe a little bit), but the Broncos are not the best team in the country by really any other measure. And beating up on San Jose State, New Mexico, and UNLV does not qualify one for college football supremacy. However, to strictly take playoff berths and national championships seems flawed as well, as that essentially completely discounts UCF, Boise State, and other great but smaller-name programs. What about elite recruiting? Or draft picks and successful NFL careers?

We did our best to combine the variety of factors, weighing the success of college alums in the NFL, draft position, bowl appearances – with an emphasis on New Year’s 6 bowls – and CFP appearances. Of course, extra points were awarded for national championships – Group of 5 teams can cry all they want about how biased the CFP committee is, but the reality is they don’t have the ability to consistently defeat high-level programs. In a recent simulation we ran, we expanded the CFP to include the top Group of 5 team from each season, the non Power-5 squads went 1-6 with only 2017 UCF picking up a win. Relevancy or dominance can also not be claimed from one amazing season (LSU fans would have you believe they’re the greatest program in history because Joe Burrow dropped about a million points on everyone), nor can it be claimed by a 1988 national championship (looking at myself and fellow Irish fans on that one). 

So, taking all these factors into consideration, here are the rankings of the top 15 most relevant football programs heading into the 2020 season. For the keyboard warriors, rage type all your angry thoughts to collegetalking@gmail.com, where you can contact any of our writers.

15. Wisconsin 

Wisconsin just exudes hard and tough vibes, and that’s exactly the type of product the Badgers put out on the gridiron year in and year out. Their biggest strengths lie in their backfield and in the trenches. Recent alum of the program and 2017 first-round pick Ryan Ramczyk has already posted 47 starts and garnered All-Pro honors, while 2019 picks Michael Deiter and David Edwards have already combined for 25 starts. Behind their grind-it-out, ground-and-pound style, Wisconsin has won four of six West Division titles since the Big 10 split into East/West divisions. They’ve posted three top-15 finishes in that time period, rising into the top-6 at various points in each of the past four years, along with a 5-1 record in Bowl Games, including an Orange Bowl victory in 2017. However, an 0-4 record in Big 10 championships and struggles on the recruiting class (not in the Top 25 over the past five seasons), keep the Badgers from rising too far up this list. 

14. Washington

The Huskies edged out Wisconsin on the strength of three NY6 bowl appearances, and a spectacular stretch from 2016-2018 that was highlighted by a College Football Playoff berth in 2017. Playoff berths were certainly valued highly in the compilation of these rankings, as were conference championships, both areas where Washington beat out the Badgers, as the Huskies have won a pair of Pac-12 titles. They’ve had success in developing professional prospects in the secondary and at tight end, and they had no losing records in the past decade. However, they were really only elite for a 3-year stretch and went 2-3 in their last five bowl appearances, so Washington stays at #14 here. 

13. Boise State

As much as I like to give grief to the Broncos, they do at least belong on this list. Spoiler Alert: They’re the only Group-of-5 team that cracked the top 15. Boise State has not been the best Group-of-5 squad in recent years, having not been to a New Year’s 6 bowl since 2014, but their remarkable consistency earns them a place here – the Broncos have won at least 8 games in every season since 1998, posting 17 ten-win campaigns in that 21-year stretch. Their easy strength of schedule (not a single above-average SOS in program history) will always present an asterisk to their name that anyone will throw in their face, but Boise State gets Ws, and they have for 25 years, and they’ve been superb since joining the FBS in 2011, cracking the top 25 in every season. Their winning percentage over the last decade ranks fifth in the country at .805, and the Broncos sit fourth with 107 wins during that time. Now, I will throw in this statistic, so whether you’re a Boise State fan ready to brag about breaking the top 15 or insulted that you are put that low ( I truly don’t know what to expect out of that rabid and slightly delusional fanbase) – Since 2012, Boise State is just 1-4 against ranked Power-5 teams, and they don’t have a top-10 win since 2010. So they’re not a top-10 program, but they do deserve recognition for their consistency and sheer quantity of wins. 

12. Florida 

Florida would be a lot higher on this list if we were putting greater emphasis on history. Long gone are the days of Urban Meyer, Tim Tebow,  and the 2008 national championship, and even further gone is the era of Steve Spurrier, accompanied by four consecutive SEC championships and a couple more national titles. However, the Gators haven’t won the SEC title since that ‘08 run, and they haven’t appeared in the championship game since 2016. They’ve continued to recruit well, with their recruiting classes ranked #14 over the past five seasons, and they still pump out solid NFL talent, particularly on the offensive line and at defensive back – the boys in Gainesville are one of many teams to claim DBU. Florida has a pair of losing seasons in the past decades, but they’ve rebounded nicely in the past couple seasons, ending their previous two campaigns with major bowl victories (Peach and Orange Bowls), keeping them in the top 15. 

11. Notre Dame

Yes they’ve struggled in big games recently, and the Irish are still sitting on zero championships in the BCS/CFP era, but Notre Dame’s ability to bring in top level talent and turn that talent into NFL prospects keeps the Irish highly relevant, but I couldn’t justify bringing them into the top 10 without major recent accomplishments. However, the Irish produce some elite professional players, particularly on their offensive line in recent years (Quentin Nelson, Mike McGlinchey, Zack Martin). They have a .713 winning percentage in the past decade, and they’re 4-2 in their past six bowl game appearances, highlighted by a pair of thrilling victories over LSU. They’ve been ranked in the top 12 in four of the past five seasons, and combined with a Playoff appearance, it was enough to put Notre Dame at #11 on the list. 

10. Florida State

One of the most dominant teams in college football in the first half of the decade, Florida State has faded from relevancy, posting just an 18-20 record in their prior three seasons. However, the Seminoles’ 59-9 record in the five years prior was more than enough to earn FSU some consideration for making this list. Ultimately, their BCS national championship and CFP appearance was enough to just barely crack the top 10. The Seminoles have continued to recruit at a high level, despite their recent struggles, as they’ve boasted the 6th-best recruiting classes over the past five years. They’ve had a pair of quarterbacks drafted in the first round, and clearly on-field talent isn’t the issue – if Florida State can sort out some off-field issues, the Seminoles should return to their elite ways. If not? They’ll slip very quickly off this list. 

9. Oregon
Recent first-round pick Justin Herbert has completed the Ducks’ turnaround, after Oregon spent nearly a decade as one of the best teams in the country. From 2008-2014, the Ducks went 80-15, with that stretch of dominance sandwiched by a pair of 9-4 seasons. They also were a consistent presence in major bowl games, winning the Rose Bowl twice, the Fiesta Bowl once, and appearing in two national championship games and the Playoff. Oregon bottomed out in 2016 with a 4-8 record, but they’ve surged once more, with a 21-6 record over the past two years, punctuated by another thrilling Rose Bowl victory in 2020. The Ducks continue one of the premier teams on the West Coast, but they need to break through to get a national title to stay in the top 10. 

8. Auburn

The Tigers started the decade off with the brilliance of Cam Newton and a national championship, so it was certainly tough to match that, but Auburn certainly continues to a premier team in college football. Playing in the SEC, the Tigers constantly face one of the most brutal schedules in the country, and I think they could be trending upwards, with another two seasons of Bo Nix coming and some victories on the recruiting trail. Their record (62-31) over the past seven seasons may not be as flashy as others on this list, but don’t forget that winning two of three in the SEC is far more impressive than winning three of four in most other conferences, and seven straight winning seasons while playing in the toughest division in the toughest conference in college football is worthy of a top-10 appearance. A CFP appearance is needed soon, but that BCS national championship and consistent SEC relevancy slots Auburn at #8. 

7. USC

Look, I get it. This seems way to high for a team that hasn’t won a championship since 2003-2004, and I’m not particularly happy about slotting the Trojans here – I’m a diehard Irish fan and Notre Dame student, and one of my favorite memories of my freshman year was watching the boys in blue and gold dust USC at Notre Dame Stadium. But before a recent slump, USC had posted winning records in every season from 2002 to 2017, including seven straight years of at least 11 wins. Despise some recent struggles, the Trojans have been ranked in the AP Poll at some point for each of the past 19 seasons, including a #3 finish in 2016. In recruiting talent and NFL talent they bring in and pump out, USC deserves to be in the top 10. Notre Dame may lead the series in this rivalry, but USC has been better in big games. This will likely be the most controversial ranking on the list, but I’ll stick with it. USC is such a national brand that with the premier talent they bring in year in and year out, they will always be a story, and if they can get a relatively hapless Clay Helton off the sideline, the Trojans can return to national glory. 

6. Georgia

Another great team that has just been completely unable to break through on the national level, as Georgia has returned to national relevance, but they can’t quite get that big win. After finishing every season from 1997-2008 ranked inside the Top 25, the Bulldogs faded slightly, but they stayed near the top of the rankings, appearing in the top 10 in every season since 2012. Under Kirby Smart, Georgia has surged once more, finishing no lower than seventh in the past three seasons, with an SEC Championship, three SEC title game appearances, a CFP and national championship appearance, as well as wins in the Rose and Sugar Bowls. Talent wise, Georgia has absolutely dominated their in-state rivalry, allowing them to dominate the in-state recruiting battles. As such, Georgia has dominated on the recruiting front, and they produce some elite NFL prospects, particularly in the backfield, pushing the Bulldogs to 6th in our 2020 relevancy rankings. 

5. Oklahoma

Since 2000, Oklahoma has consistently been one of the top teams in college football – cracking the top ten in every season in that stretch with appearances in the top 5 in 17 of those 20 seasons. They’ve qualified for four consecutive Playoffs, and while they’ve struggled on that stage, Oklahoma has dominated their conference, been a mainstay in the rankings, featured top-10 talent, had two Heisman winners, and produced highly sought after draft prospects for the NFL. By every standard except Playoff success, Oklahoma is one of the best programs in the country, so don’t let their struggles in the spotlight cloud your judgement of the Sooners. 

4. LSU

Yes LSU is great. No they are not the best team in the nation. The Tigers returned to true national relevance in Joe Burrow’s first season, finishing sixth in the AP Poll – their first top ten finish since 2011. Then, of course, there was last year: one of the greatest seasons and quarterbacking efforts of all-time en route to a 15-0 season. That CFP appearance and national championship bumps the Tigers into the top 5. LSU recruits at a top-five level in most seasons, and they probably have the most legitimate claim to DBU with four All-Pro alums and 2017 first-round pick Jamal Adams on his way to becoming the best safety in the NFL. LSU is always relevant, and they’ve turned the corner after spending much of the decade as an afterthought in the national championship race – now they need to succeed in the post-Burrow era to validate this ranking. 

3. Ohio State

Seemingly always a powerhouse, but rarely on top. The Alabama-Clemson dual-dynasties may have dominated the second half of the decade, but Ohio State was always right in the mix, but, sans the first ever College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes have not been able to break through. Ohio State has been ranked second in the AP Poll in each of the past four years, but they haven’t sat atop the rankings since 2015. However, outside a blip in 2011 when the Buckeyes went 6-7, Ohio State has been one of the most consistent teams in the country, with extended stretches of dominance – you have to go back to 1967 to find the last season that OSU didn’t make an appearance in the AP Poll. However, Ohio State has not been able to punctuate their dynasty with more than the occasional title, meaning their spot at #3 is anything but secure, with LSU’s recent surge and Oklahoma a CFP win or two from being considered a premier program. 

2. Clemson

These rankings were always going to come down to Bama-Clemson at 1 and 2, it was just a matter of who ranked where. Ultimately, while it’s brutally difficult to decide in just the last few years, Alabama’s dynasty has simply been longer (more on that later), so Clemson ranks second. They’ve been incredibly dominant for five seasons now, and their dynasty doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. I believe the Tigers have the biggest claim to WRU, where they’ve produced DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Williams, and their 6-3 record in the CFP  and two national titles are wildly impressive. Had I wrote this article in 2015, I’m not sure Clemson would even be on this list, so it’s safe to say it’s a truly special period of dominance that saw the Tigers skyrocket to the top so fast.

1. Alabama

2007. That was the last time that a season went by and Alabama wasn’t ranked #1 at some point during the season. Toss in five national championships in that era, and the top ranking on this list simply couldn’t go to anyone but the Tide. Last year, they finished eighth in the AP Poll, their first time outside the top 5 since 2013 and their lowest ranking since 2010. As for the other qualifications for this list? Alabama dominates the recruiting landscape virtually every season, and they pump out NFL talent at almost every position. Although I stick with my pick of Clemson, Alabama stake a claim for WRU, and defensively, nobody can top the Tide who boast defensive line and linebacker talent like no other program. Their running backs tear up the NFL (see Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram), and the Tide have been the standard in the best conference in America for over a decade. It’s really not a question who is #1 here. 

Heisman Watchlist: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Since bursting onto the scene as a true freshman, Trevor Lawrence has been considered a Heisman favorite while manning the quarterback position for the Clemson Tigers. Although he wasn’t a finalist last season, in what is almost certainly his final collegiate season, Lawrence is again among the biggest favorites to bring home the hardware. Last year, Lawrence was done in by factors both in and out of his control; he was off to a slow start as Clemson muddled through the opening stages of their schedule, and a lack of high profile games in the ACC gave Lawrence few chances to impress against elite competition. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow put up one of the best seasons in college football history, and Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts also posted huge numbers. Throw in Chase Young’s monster campaign on the defensive side of the ball, and Lawrence was shut out of New York. He finished 7th in voting, also trailing a pair of Big 10 running backs in Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins.

However, entering 2020, five of the six players that garnered more votes than Lawrence last season are off to the NFL, leaving the Clemson signal-caller, with another complete season under his belt, as a natural favorite to contend for the Heisman.

What he needs to improve

To be a legitimate Heisman contender in 2020, Lawrence cannot afford to sleepwalk through an ACC schedule that is loaded with mediocrity that is extremely conducive to sleepwalking. Lawrence is obviously more focused on winning a national title than the Heisman, but even if Clemson doesn’t need him at full strength to run through their conference schedule, Lawrence will need to be locked in to put up stats that keep him on the radar of Heisman voters. Last year, Lawrence posted QB ratings of 63.7 (vs. Georgia Tech), 67.2 (@ UNC), and 58.0 (@ Louisville). Clemson dominated two of those games and escaped the Tar Heels, but Lawrence didn’t throw for more than 233 yards in any of those games against middle-of-the road competition, so despite the unblemished record, Lawrence was quickly discounted from Heisman consideration.

The last two Heisman winners – Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray – were noted for both their outstanding numbers and remarkable consistency. Burrow had one QBR of 73.8, and no other performances that checked in below 85.0. Murray’s worst performance featured a 78.2 rating, and only one other effort under 90.0. If Lawrence is to beat out Justin Fields and other elite competitors for the award, he will need to cut down on his lackluster efforts and simply dominate the inferior competition in the ACC, week in and week out.

Best “Heisman Moment” Opportunity

@ Notre Dame, November 7

This is the only correct answer to this question. Last year, Clemson’s regular season slate did not include a single team that finished the year in the Top 25. This year, barring a collapse beyond even normal Notre Dame standards, that will change, as Clemson’s road trip to South Bend serves as their most difficult game of the year by far. A big performance here combined with a solid showing in ACC play will go a long way towards earning Lawrence a spot in New York in December. If Lawrence posts anything less than great numbers against the Irish, it will be difficult to rebound given the lack of quality opponents on their schedule. Beating Notre Dame on their home field, where the Irish haven’t lost since Week 2 of 2017, would be massive, both for Clemson and for Lawrence’s Heisman hopes.

Game Most Likely To Ruin Heisman Chances

@ Florida State, October 10

If I could simply say “The ACC”, I would. While Fields will get multiple shots at Heisman moments against a loaded Big 10 slate, Lawrence gets his one chance at Notre Dame, and then a bevy of games where he will be tasked with putting up big numbers on bad teams. Florida State is not a legitimate threat for the ACC Championship this year. They’ve really struggled recently, and most projections have them topping out third in their division, behind Clemson and Louisville. Florida State is unlikely to be a ranked team, which makes Clemson’s road trip to Doak Campbell Stadium a real trap game. Clemson is just 5-12 in true road games against FSU in program history, despite winning in their last two trips. Clemson has won the last three clashes between these squads by at least 17 points, but, beyond their trip to Notre Dame, this is Clemson’s toughest road game of the year, and a bad performance, or a loss, here will destroy Lawrence’s chances.

We Simulated Every CFP – But With An 8-Team Field

Every year, as the College Football Playoff committee controversially selects four teams for the Playoff, there are outraged cries for expansion, as many feel that to many elite teams get shafted by the Committee due to one unfortunate result. The four-team CFP has been around for six seasons now, so we decided to look into how much an expanded field would have changed the results we’ve watched play out on the gridiron.

We expanded the playoff in each season to 8 teams. The Power-5 conference champions and top-ranked Group of 5 team were guaranteed a spot, and the other two slots went to at-large teams. We determined the field by the final CFP rankings of each season, seeding them as they were ranked by the Committee. Here’s what we got:

2014:
The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Oregon
  3. Florida State
  4. Ohio State
  5. Baylor
  6. TCU
  7. Mississippi State
  8. Boise State

Quarterfinals

1. Alabama def. 8. Boise State 42-13 
2. Oregon def. 7. Mississippi State 37-17
3. Florida State def. 6. TCU 34-31 (OT)
4. Ohio State def. 5. Baylor 42-24
Semifinals
4. Ohio State def. 1. Alabama 38-35
3. Florida State def. 2. Oregon 40-24

Championship

3. Florida State def. 4. Ohio State 35-30

The Summary

We do get a new champion in our first year with an 8-team playoff, and I really see a distinct reason for that happening. Jameis Winston and his defending champion Seminoles seemed to really coast through an undefeated season and were simply unprepared for Oregon in the semifinals. In this simulation, they get their wakeup call in the quarterfinals, where they are still talented enough to escape with a come-from-behind OT victory. TCU awakens the beast that is FSU, and they thump Oregon in the semis to reach the championship against Ohio State, who replicated their underdog run with Cardale Jones under center. FSU wins a classic, with Winston throwing for three touchdowns and Dalvin Cook rushing for two, leading the Seminoles to back-to-back titles. 

2015

The Field

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Michigan State
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Iowa
  6. Stanford
  7. Ohio State
  8. Houston

Quarterfinals
1. Clemson def. 8. Houston 27-18
2. Alabama def. 7. Ohio State 24-20
6. Stanford def. 3. Michigan State 28-27
4. Oklahoma def. 5. Iowa 28-13

Semifinals

1. Clemson def. 4. Oklahoma 37-28
2. Alabama def. 6. Stanford 35-16

Championship

2. Alabama def. 1. Clemson 30-13

The Summary

Despite the same champion, this was an interesting plug for an expanded playoff. Eighth-seeded Houston led Clemson at halftime and pushed the Tigers for most of the game, while Alabama and Ohio State played an instant-classic in the 2 v. 7 match-up. We also saw our first quarterfinal upset, courtesy of Christian McCaffrey and the Stanford Cardinal, which gave us a different look in the semis, but ultimately, Alabama vs. Clemson (Episode 1) was not to be denied. The championship game was definitely less close than the championship, although the game was actually 16-13 entering the fourth quarter, but Deshaun Watson didn’t have the fourth quarter touch, allowing Jake Coker and the Tide to seal the deal. 

2016

The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Washington
  5. Penn State
  6. Michigan
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Western Michigan

Quarterfinals
1. Alabama def. 8. Western Michigan 45-17
7. Oklahoma def. 2. Clemson 42-31
6. Michigan def. 3. Ohio State 33-24
4. Washington def. 5. Penn State 40-21

Semifinals
1. Alabama def. 4. Washington 37-34 (OT)
6. Michigan def. 7. Oklahoma 30-24

Championship
6. Michigan def. 1. Alabama 29-28 (OT)

The Summary

Wow. What a stunning result in the 2016 simulation. If you remember, Michigan was left out of the CFP due to their gut-wrenching loss to Ohio State that involved the infamous “J.T was short” play. With the extended field, the Wolverines get a rematch of The Game in the quarterfinals, and they break their losing streak against Ohio State. Meanwhile, Oklahoma stuns Clemson in the quarterfinals, ending Deshaun Watson’s championship run before it started, as Baker Mayfield simply torched the Tigers. Alabama returned to the championship game, but even with Clemson out of the way, they couldn’t rise to the top, as Michigan took them to OT, and then shocked the world and went for two and the win after their overtime touchdown – “It’s Speights, rolling right, fires to Chesson and it’s caught! Michigan wins!” (My electric play-by-play call that I had in my head as I typed this article). Michigan stuns everyone and grabs the national championship. 

2017 

The Field

  1. Clemson
  2. Oklahoma
  3. Georgia
  4. Alabama
  5. Ohio State
  6. Wisconsin
  7. USC
  8. UCF


Quarterfinals

8. UCF def. 1. Clemson 37-27
7. USC def. 2. Oklahoma 49-34
3. Georgia def. 6. Wisconsin 30-21
5. Ohio State def. 4. Alabama 24-14

Semifinals
5. Ohio State def. 8. UCF 34-20
3. Georgia def. 7. USC 33-30

Championship
5. Ohio State def. 3. Georgia 31-27

The Summary

Another year, another wild result with our expanded playoff simulation. 2017 Clemson was probably the weakest of their ongoing dynasty, and they ran into probably the best Group of 5 qualifier of the CFP era in unbeaten UCF, resulting in our first 8 over 1 upset. Sam Darnold put seventh-seeded USC into the semifinals, and #5 Ohio State rolled the Tide in the first round to set up a wild second round. A little bit of normalcy was restored in the semis, with #3 Georgia edging USC, and Ohio State thumping UCF to set up a more traditional championship, where the Buckeyes rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a national championship, their first in the CFP era after they lost the 2014 title game. For the second straight year, our national champion is a team that didn’t even qualify for the CFP in reality. 

2018

The Field

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Notre Dame
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Georgia
  6. Ohio State
  7. UCF
  8. Washington

Quarterfinals

1. Alabama def. 8. Washington 38-23
2. Clemson def. 7. UCF 66-24
3. Notre Dame def. 6. Ohio State 28-24
4. Oklahoma def. 5. Georgia 41-35

Semifinals

1. Alabama def. 4. Oklahoma 42-37
2. Clemson def. 3. Notre Dame 45-23

Championship

2. Clemson def. 1. Alabama 40-34

The Summary

There were a few notable storylines, but ultimately there were no upsets and nothing changed from the actual CFP in 2018. We got to see Notre Dame prove they were worthy of a semifinal spot by edging Ohio State, giving the Irish a needed win in a big game. We finally saw a Group-of-5 team get better than an eight seed, only to watch Clemson absolutely unload on UCF in a revenge game, and an instant-classic in the Oklahoma-Georgia quarterfinal. Once we got to the semis, it was pretty much a familiar story; Tua and the Tide edged out Kyler Murray and Oklahoma (by a slightly smaller margin than in reality) and Clemson thumped the Irish. The title game was closer than it was two years ago, but Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers emerged victorious and take home their first title of the CFP era. 

2019

The Field

  1. LSU
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Oklahoma 
  5. Georgia
  6. Oregon
  7. Baylor
  8. Memphis

Quarterfinals

1. LSU def. 8. Memphis 42-33
2. Clemson def. 7. Baylor 42-20
3. Ohio State def. 6. Oregon 30-23
5. Georgia def. 4. Oklahoma 35-20

Semifinals

1. LSU def. 5. Georgia 38-31
2. Clemson def. 3. Ohio State 24-20

Championship

1.  LSU def. 2. Clemson 30-27

The Summary

2019 LSU continued to be a machine, although they survived a few scares in this expanded playoff. They dealt with a feisty Memphis offense that, last season, posted 39 points on Penn State’s elite defense. They had to beat Georgia for a second time, and the Bulldogs proved far more competent, particularly with their second crack at LSU’s defense, but Burrow and Co. still emerged victorious. Ultimately, the only changed result was Georgia walloping Oklahoma in the quarterfinals to keep the lackluster Sooners out of the semis, while we also saw an Ohio State-Oregon thriller in the first round. Clemson edged out the Buckeyes in the semis once again, and they pushed LSU to the edge, leading into the fourth quarter, but Burrow put the Tigers on his shoulders and grinded out the victory. 

The 6-year Recap

Ultimately, with six years of an 8-team playoff, we saw three different champions crowned (in 2014,2016, and 2017).We saw just two editions of the Bama-Clemson rivalry and a few shocking quarterfinal upsets, including UCF’s stunner over Clemson, and a pair of victories from the #7 seeds. We witnessed a miracle championship run from #6 Michigan in 2016, before ending our simulation with two of the greatest teams of all time triumphing over expanded fields in 2018 and 2019. 

The initial results of the addition of quarterfinals to the Playoff seemed not great on the surface as only 25% (6/24) first-round contests were decided by one possession. However, even if the quarterfinal clashes were somewhat lopsided at times, they led to more competitive semifinals, as 7 of our 12 semifinal games were decided by 8 points or less. To this date, only three of 12 actual CFP semifinals have been decided by a single score. This note, plus the fact that two of our simulated champions were teams that were actually left out of the Playoff, serves as yet another plug for the Playoff to be expanded in the near future.

We Simulated 5 CFB Seasons – With Clemson in the SEC

Last week we ran one of our most popular articles we’ve ever published on this site, simulating Clemson’s 2019 season with LSU’s schedule. One of the main responses we got to the simulation was that Clemson would be very good in the SEC, but the difficulty in becoming and staying the standard is extremely difficult, much more so than in the ACC. That much is evidently very true; beyond Alabama’s three-peat from 2014-2016, no SEC team has repeated as conference champion since Tennessee in ‘97-98. Clemson’s current five-year reign atop the ACC has not been matched by a SEC program since Alabama won eight of nine titles in the 1970s, including five straight from 1971-1975. So the question has to be asked: how would Clemson do in an extended stay in the SEC? As pointed out by certain readers, it’s impossible to completely mimic this situation, as it’s hard to tell if Clemson gets the same recruits, or even builds to their current powerhouse status if they had been playing in the SEC all along, but we are doing our best to simulate how Clemson would fare, if they played their past five seasons in the SEC. 

Now to do this, we decided to replace one SEC team with Clemson, so we utilized a process to decide on which team to choose. To fully mimic the SEC experience, we wanted Clemson to replace a truly middle-of-the road team. Replacing Alabama would take away from the brutally difficult SEC experience, but choosing Arkansas or Vanderbilt unfairly takes away the cupcake conference games that every SEC team gets each year. So we came up with three qualifications for selection our team:
1. No Division Titles in the past five years
2. No last-place finishes in the division in the last five years
3. Did not play Clemson in the last five years

This brought us down to two teams – Mississippi State and Kentucky. We chose Kentucky, simply because Kentucky is in the SEC East, which is where Clemson would likely reside if they actually played in the SEC. Also, the SEC West has a clear top three in Auburn, LSU, and ‘Bama, so adding Clemson to the East gives the conference some more balance. Other than Clemson replacing Kentucky’s games, all other SEC results from each season will hold in order to see where Clemson supposedly would have finished. Alright, enough setup and talk – let’s run the simulation and see how Clemson fares. 

2015
Vs. Louisiana  W 43-24    
@ South Carolina   W 28-21 
Vs. Florida       W 24-10                      
Vs. Missouri    W 27-9   
Vs. Eastern Kentucky W (FCS)
Vs. Auburn       L 24-21              
@ Mississippi State L 40-34
Vs. Tennessee  W 33-24
@ Georgia W 23-17
@ Vanderbilt W 30-10
Vs. Charlotte  W 47-3
Vs. Louisville   W 27-21

SEC Championship
Vs. Alabama L 37-17

Overall, not a bad first year in the SEC for Clemson, as they put up a 10-2 regular season, before getting dismantled by the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship. Beating Florida in Death Valley cements the Tigers’ spot as SEC East champions, but back to back losses to Auburn and Mississippi State kill any CFP hopes. This season probably is good enough for a NY6 bowl game. Solid start, but Clemson has bigger goals moving forward. 

If you’re curious…
We simulated the 2015 CFP with the new field. A 2-loss Clemson team wasn’t a contender, so we bumped all other teams up a notch, bringing Iowa into the field as the #4 seed. We simulated the games the same ways (3 simulations per contest). Stunningly, the Hawkeyes ground and pound style was enough to squeak past the Crimson Tide monster, winning 27-24. Meanwhile, Michigan State didn’t have better luck with a new opponent, losing 40-21. In a bizarre Oklahoma-Iowa title game, Baker Mayfield got his national title, toppling the Hawkeyes 31-20.

2016
Vs. Southern Mississippi W 23-21
@ Florida   W 24-20
Vs. New Mexico State W 41-24
Vs. South Carolina W 37-27
@ Alabama L 41-21
Vs. Vanderbilt  W 33-24
Vs. Mississippi State W 33-23
@ Missouri L 37-20
Vs. Georgia W 37-14
@ Tennessee W 31-24
Vs. Austin Peay W (FCS)
@ Louisville W 34-24 

SEC Championship
Vs. Alabama L 28-20

Clemson won the national championship in 2016, but the SEC grind derails their season in this simulation. A 4-0 start is undone by a trip to Tuscalossa, and Clemson overlooks Missouri, ruining their Playoff hopes. A 10-2 (6-2) record is enough for another SEC Championship appearance, and although they give Alabama more of a game, the Tigers still fall short. It’s another 10-3 season in the SEC East for Clemson, and we’re on to Year 3. 

If you’re curious
With no Clemson in the playoff, it opened the door for our first ever two-loss team in the Playoff, as Penn State earned a match-up with Bama, and Ohio State takes on Washington in the other semifinal. Both games were close, but Alabama and Ohio State emerged victorious into a clash of traditional powerhouses. Alabama had no issues with the Buckeyes, as with no Deshaun Watson in the way, the Tide rolled, 33-17.

2017
@ Southern Miss W 40-20
Vs.  Eastern Kentucky W (FCS)
@ South Carolina W 31-14
Vs. Florida W 34-17
Vs. Eastern Michigan W 35-14
Vs. Missouri W 28-27
@ Mississippi State W 17-12
Vs. Tennessee W 33-14
Vs. Ole Miss W 28-23
@ Vanderbilt W 31-9
@ Georgia L 30-7
Vs. Louisville W 27-17 

A near perfect campaign from Clemson was derailed at the last minute by a trip to Sanford Stadium, where they were tripped up by the Georgia Bulldogs. The loss was a crushing one, as their 7-1 conference mark tied with Georgia, and Kirby Smart’s squad advanced to the SEC Championship on head-to-head tiebreaker. With Georgia and Alabama already in, there’s no chance the CFP committee puts three SEC teams in, so they’d probably go ahead and put the 2-loss Ohio State Buckeyes in the CFP instead. As far as SEC slates go, this was a pretty light one for Clemson, but we’re into the Trevor Lawrence era, with two more chances for the Tigers to make a run. 

If you’re curious…

The biggest benefactor of Clemson’s presence in the SEC may have been Baker Mayfield and the Sooners. Oklahoma became the top seed in the 2017 CFP, squeaking past Ohio State 37-35. Georgia held of an Alabama comeback in the semifinals, but the Sooners edged the Bulldogs for the title.

2018
Vs. Central Michigan W 59-0
@ Florida W 30-24
Vs. Murray State W (FCS)
Vs. Mississippi State W 33-21
Vs. South Carolina W 42-20
@ Texas A&M W 34-31 OT 
Vs. Vanderbilt W 61-13
@ Missouri W 37-23
Vs. Georgia W 43-20
@ Tennessee W 52-21
Vs. Middle Tennessee W 56-10
@ Louisville W 44-20
SEC Championship
Vs. Alabama W 35-31 

That 2018 team may really be one of the best ever. The SEC didn’t stop them in any way. Texas A&M pushed Clemson to overtime, but Georgia couldn’t hold a candle to the Tigers’ dominance, and Clemson capped it off with their first SEC title in Year 4 of our 5-year simulation. It’s time to head to the College Football Playoff. A 1-loss SEC champion is still in it, so we’ve made Alabama the 3 seed in this CFP, as Clemson jumps to #1. Unbeaten Notre Dame slots in at #2, and Oklahoma, per usual, rounds out the field at #4.
College Football Playoff

Clemson vs. Oklahoma L 42-41
And Clemson’s 2018 championship comes to a screeching halt! In my opinion, this goes to prove the genius of Nick Saban. He gameplanned just enough in 2018 to keep Kyler Murray at bay for a quarter and build a huge lead. Dabo couldn’t do that here, and the Heisman winner did what he did all year: put up points. That Oklahoma team was a lot better than people think, and Clemson just couldn’t quite keep up the steam after their undefeated SEC campaign. 

If you’re curious…

I went ahead and simulated the rest of the CFP…same rules – 3 simulations for each game to determine the result. Alabama defeated Notre Dame 38-28, setting up a Tua-Kyler rematch in the national championship. The simulation was an absolute classic, with two of the three games going to multiple overtimes, with each team scoring over 40 points in every game. Ultimately Tua picks up another natty, taking down the Sooners 59-56 (OT).

2019
Vs. Toledo W 49-10
Vs. Eastern Michigan W 49-13
Vs. Florida W 40-31
@ Mississippi State W 42-20
@ South Carolina W 37-27
Vs. Arkansas W 55-14
@ Georgia L 30-27
Vs. Missouri W 38-24
Vs. Tennessee W 41-17
@ Vanderbilt W 56-13
Vs. UT Martin W (FCS)
Vs. Louisville W 52-6 


Another great season for Clemson, but a heartbreaker at Sanford Stadium ends their campaign for another berth in the SEC Championship. However, the story isn’t ending there. Remember, LSU and Ohio State still finished the year undefeated, and Oklahoma was a 1-loss Big 12 champion, but there was nobody else with zero or one losses. So Clemson sneaks into the back door, and we are back in the CFP. LSU stays at #1, Ohio State and Oklahoma climb to 2 and 3, and Clemson checks in at #4. Trevor Lawrence vs. Joe Burrow once more – virtual edition. 

The College Football Playoff
LSU vs. Clemson L 33-28

It was closer this time around. Far more battle-tested than in their actual season, Clemson was more prepared for Burrow and the LSU offense, but the Tigers still emerged victorious, and Clemson head home. 

If you’re curious
Nobody stopped LSU.
Ohio State handled Oklahoma 35-24, setting up the Ohio State vs. LSU national title contest most everyone wanted to see. LSU had no issues with the Buckeyes either, manhandling the undefeated Big 10 champions 41-17 in a game that was never close. So there’s that question answered as well – nobody could beat Burrow and the Tigahs. 

Summary

SEC Record: 34-6
Regular Season Record: 54-6
SEC Championship Record: 1-2
CFP Record: 0-2

In reality, Clemson has gone 58-2 in the past five regular seasons in the ACC, going 5-0 in ACC Championship games and 6-3 in the CFP. Undoubtedly, five years in the SEC would have made it far tougher to attain this standing, and in this simulation, the Tigers are unable to bring home a national championship. There’s something to be said for reaching the CFP after the grind of an SEC season – even Clemson’s 2018 team didn’t have enough to reach the finish line. In the end, it can be concluded (to whatever degree you want to trust this simulation) that Clemson is undoubtedly an elite program – their 34-6 mark in SEC games over the past five seasons would have been second behind Alabama (36-4) in those years, making it clear that Clemson belongs near the top of the rankings every season. No they might not cruise like they do in the ACC, but stop spinning the “Clemson is a mediocre team in a bad conference” crap. It’s an overused mantra preached by the SEC that’s old and incorrect.

Also, let’s say thank you that this never happened. Can you imagine the absolutely ridiculous number of Baker Mayfield endorsements we’d have to see if he was a two-time national champion as well? Makes me shiver just thinking about it.

What simulation should we do next? Let us know your thoughts on this one at collegetalking@gmail.com

Top 5 CFP QuarterBack Performances

The College Football Playoff has been one of the best things to happen to college sports, giving fans extra postseason football of the highest quality each year. Such contests give way to some legendary performances, and so, today, we are ranking the top 5 performances by signal-callers in the six-year era of the Playoff.

Honorable Mentions

Kyler Murray vs. Alabama, 2018-19 semifinals: 19-37, 308 yds, 17 carries, 109 yds, 3 Total TD

Deshaun Watson vs. Alabama, 2016-17 national championship: 36-56, 420 yds, 21 carries, 43 yds, 4 Total TD

Trevor Lawrence vs. Ohio State, 2019-20 semifinals: 18-33, 259 yds, 16 carries, 107 yds, 3 Total TD

#5 – Deshaun Watson vs. Alabama, 2015-2016 National Championship

The top five kicks off with Watson’s national championship debut, as I believe he actually played slightly better in their defeat to the Crimson Tide. Watson fueled Clemson all game long, tossing for 405 yards and running for 73, accounting for the majority of Clemson’s 550 yards of offense. He tossed a pair of first-quarter touchdowns to Hunter Renfrow, and he kept the Tigers charging after the Tide all night, firing another couple of TDs in the final 5 minutes, before a last-ditch onside kick doomed Clemson. Easily the most impressive performance by a QB in a losing effort in CFP history.

#4 – Tua Tagovailoa vs. Oklahoma: 2018-2019 CFP Semifinals

This was possibly the most well-quarterbacked game from both sides in any CFP game ever, as we already saw Kyler Murray’s effort slotted into our Honorable Mentions. However, unfortunately for the Heisman winner and eventual #1 pick, he was outdueled by Alabama’s Tagovailoa. Although not much of a dual-threat, the Heisman runner-up was lethally precise, completing 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns. He helped Alabama out to a 28-0 lead before the Tide held off a Kyler Murray charge, with Tua staving off the Sooners by hitting DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy for fourth-quarter scores.

#3 – Joe Burrow vs. Clemson: 2019-20 National Championship

You already knew Burrow would be on this list (spoiler: more than once), and he slots in at #3 for his performance in the national championship this past season. Clemson was a stiff defense, and they largely shut down Ohio State after a tough start, yet Burrow made it seem effortless in slapping 42 points on the Tigers, including the last 14 points after Clemson drew within three. Burrow capped off one of the greatest seasons ever by a college quarterback with five touchdowns through the air and another on the ground. He was 31-49 for 463 yards and churned out another 54 with his legs. For the LSU fans – here’s 2:42 of Burreaux dicing the Clemson defense.

#2 – Trevor Lawrence vs. Alabama, 2018-19 National Championship

The last two seasons have culminated in legendary QB performances, so we can only imagine what 2021 will bring. In 2019, Lawrence capped off the first 15-0 season in college football history. After his strong semifinal performance versus Notre Dame that was largely chalked up to an overrated Irish defense, Lawrence came out on a mission in the title game, feasting on the Crimson Tide defense to the tune of 347 yards and three touchdowns. The difference between Burrow at #3 and Lawrence at #2 was razor-thin at most, with the deciding factor being that Clemson largely put away the Tide in the first half, meaning Lawrence wasn’t really in a situation to put up more gaudy statistics as the Tigers closed out Alabama in their 44-16 victory. Also, Lawrence was in his first year of collegiate football, while Burrow was in his fifth. After the run game and defense got Clemson going, Lawrence iced the contest in the second and third quarters. His TD pass with under five minutes to play in the half extended the Clemson lead to 28-16, and his two scoring tosses in the third quarter sent the Tide packing. Incredible peformance from a true freshman with the lights shining brightest.

#1 – Joe Burrow vs. Oklahoma, 2019-2020 CFP Semifinals

Coming into this game, Burrow had to answer a few questions, largely about his health after he suffered from a well-publicized case of the flu in the week leading up to the Oklahoma game. Could the Heisman winner do what he had done all season long? The answer was a resounding yes, as Burrow began smashing CFP records in the first half alone, throwing an astounding 7 touchdown passes. Literally no words can actually describe this performance – far and away the greatest in CFP history. Watching Burrow this game felt like he was being controlled by someone playing Madden (or NCAA Football 2014) on Rookie mode. He made it look that easy.

Daily Headlines: USC lands 2nd Top-50 Quarterback

USC didn’t waste too much time thinking about the loss of J.T. Daniels, as they reeled in their second quarterback ranked in the ESPN top 40 recruits for the Class of 2021. After landing 19th-ranked Jake Garcia, the Trojans got a commitment from #37 Miller Moss, who picked USC over Alabama, LSU, and UCLA. Moss said throughout his recruitment that staying in or close to Los Angeles, so UCLA was a top competitor for his services, but Moss said he wasn’t shyng away from the competition under center, and USC now have the luxury of picking from two of the top signal-callers of the 2021 class. 

Clemson’s Justyn Ross out for the season, career in danger

Clemson’s title hopes took a bit of a hit on Monday, as it was announced that projected #1 wide receiver Justyn Ross will miss the 2020 season. It might be even more serious than that, as head coach Dabo Swinney said it’s not a certainty Ross can play football again after it was announced he would undergo surgery for a congenital fusion in the neck and spine area. It was a birth defect discovered this past spring, and anyone can only hope that Ross’s career isn’t over. Clemson will hope to replace Ross’s production as they eye another run at the College Football Playoff. 

Clemson gets leading scorer back for another season on the hardwood

Clemson became known for their wacky, upset-crazed basketball team last season, as the Tigers were only in NCAA Tournament bubble discussions due to their various stunning upsets, with three top-6 upsets over Duke, Florida State, and Louisville. Their team got a big boost for their NCAA Tournament hopes next season, as leading scorer Aamir Simms announced he is withdrawing from the NBA Draft and returning to Clemson. He averaged 13 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest last season. 

LSU schedules historic games

LSU’s football program took a historic step on Monday, scheduling their first-ever contests with Southern and Grambling, two Louisiana football teams they have never played. Grambling and Southern are fierce FCS rivals, and Southern is 10 miles from LSU’s campus, yet despite 92 years of shared history, the teams have never met. Both schools are historically black colleges, so it’s a good statement by LSU at the current time of turmoil. LSU will host both games, welcoming Southern on September 10, 2022, and Grambling on September 9, 2023.

We Simulated Clemson’s 2019 Season, but with LSU’s Schedule

Clemson got a lot of grief for their quality of competition last season, going 12-0 in the ACC en route to a College Football Playoff berth – Clemson dominated the ACC, but they wouldn’t have stood a chance in the SEC – or so the rabid fans down south would like you to believe. Yes, Clemson has dominated the ACC, but last year, only one other team put up a nine-win season, and that was Virginia, who lost by 45 points to Clemson in the ACC title game – not exactly elite by any stretch. However, there’s no question Dabo Swinney runs an excellent program, and you only have to go back two years to recall Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers dismantling Alabama by 28 points in the title game. Was last year’s championship loss another mere reflection of LSU’s dominance, or did it symbolize that Clemson simply wouldn’t be as good as they are in a different conference. To answer this question, we simulated Clemson’s 2019 season, except we stacked them up against LSU’s schedule, to see how the Tigers may have fared. Granted, this is only one simulation, but it’s curious to see if LSU, and the SEC as a whole, has some merit in their constant berating of Dabo’s team. Let’s see if Clemson can shut them up. 

Week 1 vs. Georgia Southern
Win 38-6 (LSU Result: Win 55-3)
Maybe LSU had a little more dominance, but this one wasn’t ever close. No questions are answered after this game. 

Week 2 @ Texas
Loss 20-17 (LSU Result: Win 45-38)
Ouch. A Week 2 loss already in the books for Clemson. They had much better defensive success against Sam Ehlinger, but a 32-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left dooms them. This game wasn’t a cakewalk for LSU either though, and a three-point non-conference loss hardly dooms Clemson’s playoff hopes (if they run the table in the SEC). 

Week 3 vs. Northwestern State
COULD NOT SIM
Our simulator does not allow us to clash with FCS opponents, but we know this one would have been a blowout win for Clemson either way. It was never going to tell us anything we didn’t already know. 

Week 4 @ Vanderbilt
Win 44-19 (LSU Result: Win 66-38)
In their first SEC clash, Clemson answers the bell with ease, dominating the hapless Commodores. Travis Etienne – he’s dominant in any conference – puts up over 250 yards of offense as Clemson opens up a 34-6 halftime lead. LSU’s margin of victory is slightly bigger, but nothing jaw-dropping here. 

Week 5 vs. Utah State
Win 62-13 (LSU Result: Win 42-3)
The only thing we learned from this one is that Jordan Love can’t do anything against LSU or Clemson – wouldn’t be too confident if I’m a Packers fan right now. Clemson wins by 10 more than LSU did, with Trevor Lawrence tossing six touchdowns, but both teams cruise.

Week 6 vs. Florida
Win 31-26 (LSU Result: Win 42-28)
What a game! People forget that Kyle Trask and the Gators were the only team all season to lead LSU in the second half. They never actually lead Clemson in this one, but they’re very close all game, and Clemson can’t breathe easy until Trask tosses an interception at the Clemson 38 with under a minute to play. Still a very solid SEC win for the Tigers, however. 

Week 7 @ Mississippi State
Win 42-21 (LSU Result: Win 36-13)
Nothing much to see here – Clemson cruises on the road against an inferior team that was barely bowl-eligible. It wasn’t even as close as the score indicated, as the Bulldogs scored in the final minutes to pull within 21. The next few weeks have some bigger tests in store.

Week 8 vs. Auburn
Win 58-10 (LSU Result: Win 23-20)
Wow, absolute dominance by Clemson. Auburn rarely struggles like this on defense, but Clemson was simply all over them from the start. A rare time that the Clemson offense did far more than LSU did, as Trevor Lawrence (389 yards, four touchdowns) and Travis Ettienne (213 all-purpose yards) were simply finding gaping holes in the defense. Is this a testament to who has the real Death Valley as well? Bo Nix looked horrific here, but he almost led the Tigers to a big upset at LSU..

Week 9 @ Alabama
Loss 47-7 (LSU Result: Win 46-41)

That’s a tough look right there. Clemson went into Tuscaloosa, but unlike Joe Burrow, they didn’t pull the upset. Not only that, but the Crimson Tide laughed Clemson out of town, as the Tigers failed to score until 1:37 left in the third quarter. Alabama had the offense to go toe-to-toe with anyone, and Clemson’s offense was simply not up to the task. Since the rest of the SEC results will hold, this means Alabama finishes the season 7-1 in SEC play, and thus Clemson will not play in the SEC title game. The Playoff  is a distant memory at this point, and they can only hope to play for a potential New Years’ 6 Bowl Game. (Apologies, there were some issues with the boxscore link on this game).

Week 10 @ Ole Miss
Win 28-18 (LSU Result: Win 58-37)
It’s been a pretty consistent trend (sans the Alabama debacle) – Clemson fared much better defensively against the Rebels than LSU, while their offense suffered considerably more struggles. Ole Miss led for much of the first half, but Clemson seizes control late in the second quarter and pulls away.
Week 11 vs Arkansas
Win 54-17 (LSU Result: Win 56-20)
Arkansas is exactly the same thing to Clemson that they were to LSU: SEC punching bags. The Razorbacks never had a chance. Clemson unleashes some of their frustration from their horrific loss and frustratingly close win against Ole Miss. 

Week 12 vs. Texas A&M
Win 33-3 (LSU Result: Win 50-7)
The Aggies are a good, not great, SEC team. It’s a useful measuring stick to see how Clemson sizes up against a team that is certainly in the upper half of the conference. They proved clear superiority in this one, much like they did in their actual game against Texas A&M this past season (albeit much earlier in the season). The Aggies are held to three points, as they were on the actual gridiron, and Clemson tacks on a few more field goals in this virtual contest, wrapping up their regular season. At 10-2, with ranked victories over Florida and Auburn, Clemson has a decent chance at swinging a New Years’ 6 game, but nothing more than that, as Alabama takes on Georgia in the SEC championship. 

The Verdict
Clearly, Clemson was not the power that LSU was, but we already knew that from their championship game clash. The Tigers went 10-2, with a 7-1 SEC mark, proving that they would be right there with the best of them in the conference. The biggest bragging right the SEC can hold over Clemson is much tougher road atmospheres. Clemson went 3-1 in SEC road games, struggling to do much against Ole Miss and getting absolutely blown out by Alabama. Throw in their Texas loss, and the Tigers went 3-2 in true road games, with a point differential of just +13. Maybe Clemson is in for a bit more trouble than people think when they visit Notre Dame, who hasn’t lost at home since 2017, in the upcoming season. The ACC doesn’t provide intimidating road environments – not exactly surprising for a basketball-dominated conference – and Clemson clearly struggled in hostile environments in this simulation. However, nobody, regardless of conference, touches Clemson at Death Valley (real or not).

It’s completely unfair to say Clemson is not a great team that benefits from a bad conference. Yes, their ACC schedule is easy, but Clemson would be extremely competitive and near the top of the SEC, even if they weren’t a near-lock for 12-0 every season. Their mauling in Tuscaloosa does raise some questions abut their physicality, and emphasizes the difference in a full-season grind in the SEC versus the ACC – however don’t mistake that for mediocrity. Clemson is a premier program and would still compete for a Playoff spot against a much tougher schedule.

Daily Headlines: Jalen Kitna Commits to Florida

The Florida Gators may be leaning on Kyle Trask this season for their College Football Playoff hopes, but their quarterback room of the future got a big upgrade on Tuesday, as four-star Jalen Kitna expressed his verbal commitment to the Gators. The Texas product had seven major offers on the table, and BC, Arizona, and Georgia Tech were also heavy players in his recruitment. Although he checks in as a pro-style quarterback, several scouts have lauded his ability to make plays with his legs. Kitna currently clocks in with a 4.7 40-yard dash, and he threw for over 1500 yards last season – he’s an intriguing addition to the Florida quarterback room.

Pac-12 makes call on return of athletes, Clemson and Oklahoma also make decisions

In a big decision, the Pac-12 announced they would allow athletes to return to campus for voluntary workouts. It’s unclear how this works with California’s plan to host online classes. But, at least the Pac-12 is open to the possibility of sports returning – so keep your fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, Clemson announced that they are authorizing their athletes to return to campus June 8, although Oklahoma is staying a little more cautious, announcing they will be waiting until July 1. However, these timelines still keep the college football schedule on pace for an on-time start, so hopefully July 1 is at late as it gets.

Coleman-Lands transfers to Iowa State

Jalen Coleman-Lands announced his intention to transfer to Iowa State, where he will complete his sixth and final collegiate season with his third team. Coleman-Lands spent two seasons with Illinois, sat out the 2017-2018 season due to transfer, then red-shirted a year due to injury in his first year with DePaul. Last season, Coleman-Lands put up 11.1 points per game in the Big East, and he’s headed back to the Big 12, where he will play for the Iowa State Cyclones. Iowa State struggled last season, putting up a 5-13 record in a top-heavy Big 12, but the addition of Coleman-Lands gives them a solid player who has lots of experience playing big games will give them a nice asset as they try to surge back to Big 12 relevancy.

College Kids Talking College Sports Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

Keep your fingers crossed, but we are now under 100 days until the scheduled start of the college football season, so 7 members of our team each cast a ballot for the top 10 teams heading into 2020. Here are the rankings, along with two honorable mentions that got multiple votes, but didn’t quite crack the official rankings. As always, feel free to contact us at collegetalking@gmail.com to present your take.

Honorable Mention (Received multiple top-10 votes)

  • Texas
  • Notre Dame

The Rankings

10. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks lost their four-year starter in Justin Herbert, who went sixth overall in the NFL Draft, but there are still very high expectations for the reigning Pac-12 champions this year. Expect them to transition to a more ground-based offense, a system they are very comfortable with. With Penei Sewell, the best tackle in the nation, leading the charge in the trenches, Oregon should be the team to beat in the Pac-12, although the Playoff may be a bit of a longshot. 

9. Florida Gators
The Gators are a trendy pick to make it out of the SEC East, and for good reason. With Kyle Trask returning under center and a very solid defense, Florida seems just as competitive as most other teams in the conference. If they can break through and beat Georgia, then it will be their division to lose. 

8. Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State very quietly put up a very impressive 11-2 campaign. A badly timed upset loss to Minnesota took them out of the Playoff conversation, as many forgot about the Nittany Lions. But they were very impressive all season, putting up stiff resistance against Ohio State, and winning the Cotton Bowl. Led by darkhorse Heisman contender Sean Clifford, Penn State is clearly the second-best team in the Big 10 West, and if they pull a shocker against the Buckeyes, this team could find themselves knocking at the door of the College Football Playoff. 

7. LSU Tigers
They may have been the best team in college football history last year (we’ll discuss that debate another time), but LSU lost massive amounts of production. With the largely unproven Myles Brennan taking the snaps, their top receiver and running back gone, along with their two tight ends, and a defense that lost a few of its premier playmakers, LSU has serious question marks, and despite the coaching ingenuity of Ed Orgeron, LSU may not be the team to beat in the SEC West this season. 

6. Oklahoma Sooners

Is Spencer Rattler the next in a lengthening line of great Oklahoma quarterbacks? Lincoln Riley has produced Heisman finalists in four straight seasons, so expect the Oklahoma offense to be up there with the best of them again. Their defense will be good by Big 12 standards, but as has been the question the past few years, is a good Big 12 defense able to compete against the SEC or other major conferences. Oklahoma will be in the Playoff conversation again, as they are favorites to win a relatively weak Big 12.

5. Auburn Tigers

Auburn has arguably the best quarterback in the SEC with Bo Nix – although Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman may want to dispute that. Regardless, Nix is coming off an excellent true freshman season, and although there is reason to worry about his ability to perform away from home, Auburn also boasts a quickly-improving ground game, as well as a defense that held LSU to just 23 points last season. Only one other team held Burrow and Co. under 40 points, so the defense was legit, and with Nix gaining experience, Auburn is likely an Iron Bowl win away from competing in the SEC Championship. 

4. Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia is essentially the de facto favorite out of the SEC East, until somebody proves them otherwise. They’ve won three straight division titles, although their performance in the championship game has gotten worse each season. With Newman under center, Georgia hopes they can rebound from some devastating draft-day losses and compete for a Playoff spot again in 2020. Can Kirby Smart finally win the big one? 

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

There was a clear top-3 in our way-too-early preseason Top 25, and Alabama missed out on second by a hair. Out of seven voters, six had Alabama in the top 3, but one surprising sixth-place vote cost them a critical couple of points, relegating them to third in these rankings. Alabama no doubt lost a great college quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, but as heard in our latest episode, one can argue that Mac Jones will help lead the Tide back to their balanced/favor-run style that led to Alabama’s dynasty. With Najee Harris returning in the backfield, the Crimson Tide will be a force this season, and ready to return to the Playoff after their first-ever absence last season. 

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (1 first-place vote)
Justin Fields is a top-2 quarterback in college football for this upcoming season. He led an extremely explosive Ohio State offense last season, and much of that was due to his play under center. The loss of J.K. Dobbins hurts, but Ohio State always has plenty of talent in the backfield, so expect the Buckeyes to be there with the best of them once more. Road games against Oregon and Penn State loom large, but the Buckeyes are betting favorites for another unbeaten season and Big 10 championship.

1. Clemson Tigers (6 first-place votes)

Was it going to be anyone else? Returning Trevor Lawrence alone makes the Tigers dangerous, but when you throw in Travis Etienne, Justyn Ross, plus their usual great defense and outstanding coaching, Clemson is quite simply the clear team to beat this season. It took one of the most historic seasons of all-time by LSU for Trevor Lawrence to lose a college football game. Clemson’s toughest game is a road contest at Notre Dame, but they’re given an 87% chance to win that. The danger is that if they slip up, a one-loss ACC champion may not make it given the weak conference, but regardless, Clemson is an overwhelming favorite to be back in the Playoff this season.