NCAAF CFP Profiles - Clemson Tiger's Swinney Seeking 2nd Championship

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D.S. Williamson

December 6th, 2018

The Clemson Tigers head to their College Football Playoff Semifinal battle with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish where they started the season - as the second choice to win the National Championship.

At +275, oddsmakers have decided that Dabo Swinney’s squad is the only one that can end Alabama’s reign as the top team in college football. Clemson upset Alabama in the 2016 National Championship for the second title in their history. The 2016 crown was the first for the Tigers since 1981.

However, not even Swinney will argue that the sole reason Clemson beat Bama that year was quarterback Deshaun Watson. Now an NFL starter, Watson passed for 420 yards and threw 3 TDs while also rushing for 43 yards and a touchdown. Clemson had a rematch with Alabama in the semi-finals last season, but were crushed 6-24 with Kelly Bryant at quarterback. The quarterback situation in Clemson has recently improved, but is it enough to take them back to the celebration stage on January 7th?

Check out a profile of the Clemson Tigers to help you answer that significant question.

No. 2 Clemson Tigers Regular Season Recap

Every college football fan in the nation had the feeling that the 2018 Clemson Tigers would go undefeated. The two toughest games on Clemson’s schedule were against Texas A&M, who had changed coaches from Kevin Sumlin to Jimbo Fisher during the offseason, and another team that had changed coaches, Willie Taggart to replace Fisher, in the Florida State Seminoles.

Texas A&M turned out to be a decent football team. The Tigers beat A&M 28-26. By the time Clemson battled rival Florida State, the Seminoles had been exposed as one of the worst teams in the ACC. Clemson dominated FSU 59-10. Other key victories included wins over Syracuse, 27-23, NC State, 41-7, Boston College 27-7, and Pittsburgh 42-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship.

Clemson opened the season ranked #2. Because the rival Alabama Crimson Tide also went undefeated, and put on a dazzling show this entire season, the Tigers ended the regular season ranked second and will battle the Fighting Irish on Dec. 29 as the 2-seed in the College Football Playoff.

Key Moment: Benching Bryant, Going with Lawrence

Coach Dabo Swinney’s goal during the offseason was to play both Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence. Bryant led the Tigers to last year’s College Football Playoff as a freshman. But, Swinney and his staff had done a marvelous job recruiting the top quarterback in the nation in Lawrence. How could Swinney recruit a player of Lawrence’s talents only to put him on the bench?

Although Dabo made it known that he intended to play both quarterbacks, most college football fans knew right away that Lawrence would eventually get the starting nod, which he did after the freshman played great in a 49-21 win over Georgia Tech. Not only that, but since making Trevor Lawrence the official starter, Swinney’s team has gone 6-3 against the spread after starting the season 1-3 ATS. Lawrence has thrown 24 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions while completing 64.5% of his passes.

Looks like Dabo made the right decision by benching Bryant and going with Lawrence.

It is a shame what happened to Bryant, who was never truly in the right system for his talents. But he didn't produce and is on route to play for the Missouri Tigers after leaving Clemson following his demotion. This is Trevor Lawrence's team, and nobody on the Tigers seems to have a problem with that.

Clemson’s Key Players

Trevor Lawrence must put together two unbelievable performances for Clemson to have any shot at beating both Notre Dame and either Alabama or Oklahoma. Lawrence works behind a stout offensive line, which should help him at least pick apart Notre Dame’s secondary.

The rushing attack averages 261 yards per. Travis Etienne leads the way. The sophomore from Louisiana traveled 1,464 yards in 176 attempts this season for a ridiculous 8.3 yards per carry.

On the other side of the football, everything starts with the line where four NFL prospects play. Defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant both posted double-digits in tackles for a loss. Ferrell had an incredible 17.5 tackles for a loss to go along with his 10.5 sacks.

Starting linemen Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are the main reason the Tigers allow 99.5 rushing yards per. Wilkins had 12.5 tackles for a loss while Wilkins recorded 7.

How Clemson Tigers Defeat Notre Dame

Dabo Swinney’s got the better players overall, but he might not have as good chemistry on his defense as Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s got on his offense. The Tigers front four is the best in college football. The linebackers aren’t bad...but the secondary?

Clemson’s secondary doesn’t approach the level from the 2016 team. South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley completed 32-of-50 for over 500 yards and 5 touchdown passes against them despite losing 35-56.

Kelly's likely been rewinding the tape on that game to find out how Bentley could torch one of the top defenses in NCAAF. Kelly will have Notre Dame ready to exploit flaws in Clemson’s back four.

Once that happens, it will be up to Dabo to adapt. Whether Dabo makes those adjustments or not will determine if Clemson beats the Fighting Irish on Dec. 29.

Is Clemson Worth Backing In NCAAF Futures?

At first glance, the +275 odds on Clemson to win the National Championship makes them an underlay. After all, of the 4 teams in the College Football Playoff, the Clemson Tigers seems to have had the easiest overall schedule.

Even Notre Dame had to battle and beat Big Ten runner-up Northwestern. After Texas A&M, Clemson didn’t play or beat anybody of note. When your most important game is against Boston College, it’s usually a sign you had a cakewalk.

You can't blame Clemson for a soft schedule, and there's no doubt that they're the second best football program in the nation. Not only that, Dabo’s one of the few coaches in college football that’s taken down Nick Saban and Alabama in the CFP.

Much respect goes to Clemson in their quest for a second championship in 3 seasons. The Tigers offer fair odds at +275 to accomplish the mission.