NORTHWESTERN COMMAND – Amidst a shower of confetti in the Georgia Dome, on an hastily constructed platform for postgame interviews, Dabo Swinney told a national television audience just before the New year that his program was on the “doorstep of greatness.”
Is Swinney correct? Is Clemson as close to competing for a national title at anytime since the 1980s?
Or was Swinney caught up in the emotion of a win over an SEC team and speaking in hyperbole?
We decided to put his hypothesis to the test over the weekend.
I studied all national champions since 2001 and found they mostly all shared the following criteria … how do you think Clemson measures up?
REQUIRED COMPONENTS TO WIN A TITLE:
*First-round picks: each champion since 2001 had at least two starters who became first-round NFL draft picks.
How does Clemson fare? Sammy Watkins will be a 2014 first-rounder with a rebound….Tajh Boyd could perhaps sneak in the late portions of the first round (though I think his size prevents this) … will a defensive player emerge with a breakout campaign?
Teams need players who present mismatches.
*Preseason Top 10 ranking: Preseason rankings matter as it creates a greater margin for error, like being able to overcome one loss. Clemson is tied for 8th in Bovada.com’s national title odds so I think they’ll be in the top 10.
*Dominant defensive line: Elite defensive line play has been the key in the SEC’s seven straight national titles. Clemson does not have any proven defensive line star but Clemson does have a number of intriguing young players, including defensive tackle D.J. Reader and defensive end Vic Beasley, who registered eight sacks in a part-time role. Freshman tackle Carlos Watkins is talented and figures to be more involved next season.
“I think we are going to be as good in the trenches as we’ve been in a long time,” Swinney said. “It’s the first time, up front, we have a combination of talent, depth and experience, and to me that’s the most exciting thing.”
I think this is the biggest growth area/upside area for Clemson and that is exciting for Clemson coaches and fans.
Third-down efficiency: Six of the last seven BCS champions ranked 21st or better in converting third downs, converting at a rate of at least 44 percent. Clemson ranked fifth in 2012 at 51.7 percent. As long as Chad Morris and Tajh Boyd are around, Clemson will be efficient here.
Elite rushing attack: The last six national champions have finished in the top 20 in rushing offense. Clemson graduates 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington, which makes this area something of a question mark — though Tajh Boyd’s emergence as a dual-threat mitigates that issue to a large degree. I think Boyd could be a 1,000-yard rusher in 2013.
Roderick McDowell will likely top the spring depth chart at tailback. Clemson needs Zac Brooks or a freshman like Tyshon Dye or Wayne Gallman to step up.
Stopping the run: Take away the run and opponents are forced into third-and-long situations and become one-dimensional. Run defense also speaks to the physical nature of a team. Clemson must improve in this area, ranking 59th, though showing improvement against LSU, producing eight straight three-and-outs at one point.
Spencer Shuey seemed to improve this area of the team bringing a more physical nature and more discipline to the field. Clemson needs better tackling at its second- and third-levels… this has been an issue since 2010.
THE TITLE CONTENDER CHECKLIST:
I think Clemson will have …
*A top-10 preseason ranking
*Plus-plus third-down efficiency
*Two first-round picks. I think Watkins will be a 2014 first rounder, Boyd has an outside shot, and I think another player or two will emerge as a potential 2015 early-round picks. (Anthony, Reader, Watkins).
I think Clemson might have ….
*An top 20 rushing attack. I think Boyd’s improved legs give Clemson a pretty effective ground game regardless of how McDowell or the younger options perform.
*A dominant DL. OK, maybe dominant is a stretch, but I see major strides taking place here to give Clemson its best DL since 2010.
I have my doubts Clemson will have …
*A dominant run defense. Yes, there was progress made against LSU, but that was a small sample size. Clemson’s secondary must really improve its tackling along with young LBs like Stephone Anthony. Even an improved DL doesn’t fix missed tackles and assignments and tackles.
Clemson has some of the ingredients it takes to win a national title and it might have the majority of them with some growth, but there’s only two teams that play for a national title team so it seems unlikely Clemson elevates itself that far up the ladder in 2013 … but I think it’s within the realm of possibility.
CHIP KELLY IS GONE TO THE NFL, WILL HE PAVE THE WAY FOR CHAD MORRIS TYPES?
I don’t think we’ll see Chad Morris as a candidate to replace Chip Kelly, it’s reported that Oregon will likely promote its OC. So don’t sweat that, Clemson Nation.
But maybe you should worry about the NFL calling Morris next year.
If Kelly has success at the NFL level I do think it could pave the way for more up-tempo types. I thought this could be a trend as I wrote about back in May.
Could Chad Morris be an NFL coordinator? Sure, it’s a major longshot. But the Dolphins tried to implement the HUNH offense this year, the Patriots, Broncos, Redskins and Packers employ HUNH elements (all playoff teams), and if Kelly has success it will be the new fad to copy in a copy-cat league.