Advanced outlook: Midseason playoff projections for Clemson

by - Staff Writer -
Can Clemson's explosiveness on offense get off the ground versus Syracuse? That could decide how comfortable a win is.

An Alabama-Clemson rematch in the Playoff will likely stay the talk of college football into December.

Advanced metrics, however, see a couple teams more likely than Clemson to finish the regular season undefeated.

SB Nation’s data projects a group of five Power Five teams likely to make the CFP at this point, where in order of undefeated chances, Alabama leads (38 percent), then there’s Washington (25), Wisconsin (23), Clemson (22) and Georgia (20).

Alabama is given an 81 percent shot at reaching conference championship weekend with a loss or less, followed by Washington (65), Clemson (62), Georgia (62) and Wisconsin (62). The next-nearest P5 team is Penn State at 44 percent.

No. 11 Miami, at 4-0, is only given a seven percent chance of finishing undefeated and a 38 percent shot of losing three or more games. Football Study Hall says they have a 70 percent or better win probability in five of their seven remaining games. Their two toughest contests before a potential ACC Championship appearance are at home, with Virginia Tech (68 percent) and Notre Dame (58).

Crunching the numbers, SBN projects an Alabama/Georgia SEC title game winner, Washington, Clemson and Wisconsin as the likely football final four at this point.

By the numbers this week, Clemson is a heavy favorite Friday night. But you already knew that.

Football Study Hall projects the host Orange to cover the Vegas line that’s moved up to 22.5 this week – pegging a 34-18 Clemson win. ESPN gives Syracuse an 8.5 percent chance of pulling the upset, which is the second-lowest of any Power 5 team versus the Tigers this season (Boston College, 1.5).

Why is Clemson such a huge favorite? Well, outside of a decided talent advantage (Clemson, No. 9 in 247Sports’ team talent composite; Syracuse, 62nd), Syracuse’s focus on offense meets Clemson’s strength on defense, and an improved Orange ‘D’ still falls short in measuring up versus the Tigers’ attack.

Syracuse runs a pass-heavy (second-most attempts in Power Five), tempo-driven scheme (No. 17 in pace), which looks impressive in yardage totals but is pretty average in efficiency.

They rank 60th passing success rate* (42.5) and 107th in passing explosiveness**, facing a Clemson defense that is second in opposing pass success rate (25.7) and 17th in containing those explosive plays.

Backed into passing down*** situations, which Clemson excels in forcing, the Orange are actually worse than Dino Babers’ debut season with a 27.3 success rate (101st nationally; 28.8 percent, 92nd last season). Clemson’s defense ranks sixth nationally in containing success rate on passing downs (19.8 percent) and second in containing explosiveness.

That’s all not to say Syracuse can’t present issues at points in the game. Orange QB Eric Dungey is coming off grading the best of any ACC signal-caller last week, and averaging double-digit targets a game, Steve Ishmael and Ervin Philips are both at 50 percent or better in success rate (50 for Ishmael, 50.7 for Philips). The group as a whole is just up against it in sustained success against an elite Clemson defense.

On the other side of the ball, the Syracuse defense has improved a bunch against the pass season-to-season, jumping from 96th in success rate (44) to 46th (37.9). Overall, they’ve cut down on opposing success rate by six percent, moving from 102nd to 48th.

Clemson passed for 370 yards on Syracuse last season with four different quarterbacks. Deshaun Watson left early due to injury (13-16-169, 2 TDs) and third-string QB then, Kelly Bryant, got in a couple throws (2-4 for 21 yards).

Bryant is expected to play after rolling his ankle last week. He leads an offense that's 21st in the nation in success rate (47.5) thanks to a top-15 rushing attack (14th) and passing efficiency just outside the top-40 (41st, 44.2).

Clemson is looking to break out in the explosiveness area, where they are 97th on the run and 101st in the passing game. The fast track of the Carrier Dome has been a recipe for success in big passing plays, and Syracuse ranks 99th in containing opponent pass explosiveness.

On special teams, ESPN and Football Study Hall disagree quite a bit on the ‘Cuse, as ESPN’s metric has them rated 100th and FSH, 8th. FSH breaks them down with the third-best punt success rate (82.1), 15th-best kick return success rate (62.5) and also top-60 in field goal value (47th) and kickoff success rate (57).

After Alex Spence’s miss dropped Clemson to 1-of-5 on 40-yarders, the Tigers fell from 120th to 124th in FSH’s special teams ranking. Efficient in other areas last week, ESPN moved them up seven spots to 101st.

* Success rate is determined by gaining 50 percent of the necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down and 100 percent on third and fourth down.
** IsoPPP metric, which Football Outsiders defines as looking at only the per-play value of a team's successful plays to separate the explosiveness component from the efficiency component.
*** Passing downs are defined as second down with eight or more yards to go or third or fourth down with five or more yards to go. All other situations are “standard” downs.

Advanced metrics profile

ESPN efficiency rank: Offense – 15. Defense – 3. Special teams – 101. Overall – 7.
Football Outsiders efficiency rank (S&P+): Offense – 30. Defense – 2. Special teams – 124.
Success rate: Offense – 21 (47.5). Defense – 3 (29.2).

ESPN efficiency rank: Offense – 80. Defense – 51. Special teams – 100. Overall – 82.
Football Outsiders efficiency rank (S&P+): Offense – 65. Defense – 62. Special teams – 8.
Success rate: Offense – 98 (39.3). Defense – 48 (39.2).
(Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics figures are from Football Study Hall/Football Outsiders)

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