Advanced Outlook: Clemson-Florida State projections

by - Staff Writer -
Clemson is a five-touchdown favorite over the once perennial division contenders.
Clemson is a five-touchdown favorite over the once perennial division contenders.

How the mighty Clemson-Florida State game has fallen.

For a fourth-straight season, the Seminoles are not even close to a factor in the ACC race and head into another matchup with Clemson after losing the last three in the series by an average of 32 points per game.

The last time Clemson walked on Bobby Bowden Field, it left handing FSU its worst home loss (49 points) and tied for the worst in the school’s history (with a 49-0 loss at Florida State).

The No. 4-ranked Tigers enter this Tallahassee trip as a 35-point favorite, which is the biggest spread FSU has faced in its modern history. While Clemson has had its fair share of injuries, the Seminoles have been absolutely depleted down the stretch on both sides of the ball -- where they haven’t been efficient anyway in a 1-6 ACC campaign.

Here’s how they match up:

Efficiency ranks: Offense | Defense | Special teams

CU SP+ ranks (No. 4 overall): 6 | 9 | 13

FSU SP+ ranks (No. 89): 82 | 88 | 64

CU ESPN ranks (No. 4 FPI rank): 11 | 6 | 78

FSU ESPN ranks (No. 90): 99 | 108 | 15

(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. ESPN’s own measure follows a similar formula to measure team efficiency and is tied to the ESPN Football Power Index.)

Three players to watch: Florida State

CB Asante Samuel Jr.

Samuel (5-10 184) has largely lived up to his preseason first-team All-ACC billing with a Seminole-leading defensive grade by Pro Football Focus (81.6; 82.6 on coverage). He's been targeted 32 times and allowed only 19 catches, with six pass breakups and three interceptions.

RB trio

FSU has a trio of running backs, of varying health statuses at this point, who are in the top-4 grades offensively for the Seminoles. With the other two limited or out the last two games, redshirt sophomore Jashaun Corbin (6-0 220) carried the ball 14 times for 77 yards and a TD in the 38-22 loss at NC State last week. FSU’s highest-graded RB is Lawrance Toafili (6-0 180; 83.1), who missed the game last week, followed by La’Damian Webb (5-8 190; 78.4), who carried the ball five times and fumbled once in Raleigh.

QB Jordan Travis

Travis (6-1 200) is another to watch on the health front after a concussion held him out at NC State, but Travis played a big role in the upset of UNC, grading out at 88.2 and was especially effective on the ground (92 rushing yards on designed runs; 18 on scrambles with 2 TDs). While drawing Lamar Jackson comparisons from Clemson’s coaches this week for that running threat, Travis hasn’t been as strong through the air, completing 52.2% of passes at a 7.6 yards per attempt clip with four touchdowns to five interceptions. FSU coach Mike Norvell said he was back in practice this week.

(Grades and advanced stats per Pro Football Focus

Extra point

Is this the week Clemson can get something going on the ground?

The Tigers sit in 80th nationally in rushing yards per game, tallying one game of 200-plus rushing yards this season (258 vs. Miami) after a whopping 10 in 2019.

A myriad of factors have been involved, from major turnover in the O-line rotation to defenses loading the box to running backs missing some opportunities. If there's going to be any momentum in the running game this season, it will come in the next three scheduled games.

Florida State ranks 91st in rushing defense (193.5 YPG) and 100th in yards per carry surrendered (5.18). ACC finale opponent Virginia Tech is 92nd in rushing defense (193.88) and 91st in yards per carry allowed (4.8). A significant test is sandwiched in between those two in Pittsburgh, however, with the second-ranked rushing defense coming to Death Valley next week (78.75).

With a RB corps that hasn’t exactly flashed quality depth this year, all eyes are on Travis Etienne down the stretch.

He averaged a rush of 20-plus yards every 12 carries last season, ranking sixth in total nationally (17). That’s bumped up to 20 rushes for every 20-yard-plus dash this season and he ranks 19th in the stat overall (6). Clemson’s running game is missing those chunk plays to move drives and put TDs on the board.

(Situational stats per CFBStats)

The Projections

Here’s another week where the gigantic spread is a bridge too far for the metrics, which likely can’t quite configure all of the FSU injury and personnel woes (although Clemson’s injury issues are a factor in there too). FEI picks Clemson by four touchdowns (28.1) and the SP+ is right there (29). ESPN’s FPI is the most bullish on the Tigers here, projecting around where the Vegas line started (31).

Clemson dropped to 2-5 against the spread versus FBS teams last time out, after going 11-4 overall ATS in 2019.

Metrics outlook | Prediction

SP+ projection: 95% Clemson (Clemson by 29)

FEI: 97.3% Clemson (Clemson by 28.1)

ESPN FPI: 97.6% Clemson (Clemson by 31.2)*

* Point spread from the FPI rankings, which project a margin based on a neutral field.

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