Advanced Outlook: Clemson-Wake Forest projections

by - Staff Writer -
Travis Etienne and the Tigers will have their opportunities to score Saturday night.
Travis Etienne and the Tigers will have their opportunities to score Saturday night.

Predicting outcomes in games involving 18-to-20-plus-year-old individuals was difficult enough without throwing in all that 2020 has brought with it.

Some games may not benefit at all from advanced-stat analysis in this campaign, but without any contests played on either side, it’s as useful a tool as any in seeing just how the opener could unfold Saturday night in Winston-Salem.

The No. 1-ranked Tigers enter the weekend favored by 32.5 points and there are more than a few reasons for the big road margin.

Ahead of top target Sage Surratt opting out, Wake Forest was already 125th in returning production back on offense and 111th overall according to ESPN. With Surratt out due to injury in last year’s game, the Deacs were particularly punchless in a 52-3 defeat, totaling only 105 yards and five first downs.

And to add to all that, they rank outside the top-60 in average recruiting class ranking over the last five years (247Sports Composite).

Only two Power 5 (3 now?) conference teams slotted lower than Wake Forest in ESPN’s SP+ preseason rankings (Vanderbilt and Kansas), where Clemson only trails Alabama among teams still playing. The updated SP+ metric accounts for opt-outs and injuries through the end of August.

ESPN’s Football Power Index has had Clemson ranked No. 1 all offseason and is a little higher on the Deacs (43).

Efficiency ranks (preseason): Offense | Defense

CU SP+ ranks* (No. 2 overall): 3 | 8

WF SP+ ranks* (No. 57 overall): 66 | 38

(SP+ is a metric from ESPN's Bill Connelly, formerly of Football Outsiders and SB Nation, that combines ratings for the five factors of efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives and turnovers. *SP+ preseason rankings had all 130 teams so these are adjusted for the conferences not scheduled to play yet out of 76 teams playing something close to full schedules.)

After an 8-win season, Wake finished 57th in the SP+ efficiency rankings with a 61st-best offense and 69th-best defense and top-40 special teams (34) last year. Clemson finished below its final rankings in traditional polls but were top-5 in efficiency on offense (5) and defense (4) with a No. 84 ranking on special teams.

Late August Action Network ratings had Clemson atop college football and Wake Forest 54th, with the Tigers a 35.5-point favorite on a neutral field.

Clemson has had a pretty good hit rate on covering big spreads during its Playoff era:

The metrics we’ve used for tracking here in recent years have the Deacs covering the spread Saturday, however. FEI, which was high on Clemson last year with a 35-point margin predicted over Wake, has the Demon Deacons almost keeping it within three touchdowns (23 points). SP+ is right around the number with a 31-point win predicted.

Clemson finished with an impressive 11-4 record against the spread last year (fifth-highest cover rate) and that included besting a 36.5-point mark with a 52-14 opener win over Georgia Tech. If Clemson is full-strength or close to it, their best looks to be a lot better than what Wake Forest can counter with.

Metrics outlook | Prediction

SP+ projection: 96% Clemson (Tigers by 30.9)

ESPN FPI: 97% Clemson (Tigers by 30.2)

FEI: 94.6% Clemson (Tigers by 23)

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