Advanced outlook: Clemson heavy favorites for BC, beyond


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ESPN ranks Clemson's offense and defense inside the top-11 nationally.
ESPN ranks Clemson's offense and defense inside the top-11 nationally.

Any rankings this early are just that, this early.

A look at college football advanced metrics proves that more than anywhere.

ESPN’s Football Power Index and Football Outsiders’ rankings are geared strictly to efficiency in all but the one that matters most ultimately, the win-loss record. They are a gauge in what kind of game your team played to get there – and how that measures up to the rest of college football.

Through three full weeks, Football Outsiders’ combined efficiency ranking has Clemson sixth (96.7 percentile), behind Alabama (99.5), 0-1 Florida State (98.3), one-loss Ohio State (97.8), Penn State (97.2) and Oklahoma (96.8).

ESPN’s ranking has Oklahoma No. 1 (27.2 FPI), one-loss Ohio State No. 2 (27.1), Alabama No. 3 (25.1) and Clemson No. 4 (24.9). Ohio State started the season No. 1 in the metric with a 34.8 percent chance of going undefeated, while Clemson started sixth with a 2.8 percent chance. That percentage has gone up in-season to 25.1 for the Tigers.

Per ESPN, the FPI is better as a predictor than a straight ranking. From 2005-16, the FPI favorite won 75.1 percent of the games, outperforming Vegas lines in that area. This week, the heavy-favorite Tigers are given a 98.5 percent chance of coming out on top, and over the course of the season, no team on Clemson’s schedule is given more than a 28 percent chance in giving them a loss (Florida State the toughest test, 27.6).

Football Study Hall, an SB Nation offshoot of Football Outsiders, takes Clemson over BC by a 37.1-8.7 average score, but still has Florida State as a slight favorite come Nov. 11 (26.3-25.8 average score).

No matter where Clemson falls overall, the Tigers rate well early in the metrics, especially on defense.

Per FSH, Clemson ranks No. 1 in sack rate on standard downs* (24.2) and third on passing downs (17.2), second in containing big plays and No. 8 in passing downs success rate**. Thanks to its special teams unit, Clemson is seventh nationally in opposing average field position (23.5).

This weekend's opponent, Boston College, isn't particularly impressive anywhere statistically except special teams, where Football Outsiders has them in the top-10 (7th).

* 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.
** 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.

Advanced metrics profile

Clemson
ESPN efficiency rank: Offense – 11. Defense – 4. Special teams – 98. Overall – 7.
Football outsiders efficiency rank (S&P+): Offense – 25. Defense – 3. Special teams – 81.
Success rate (Per Football Study Hall): Offense – 35 (47.4). Defense – 18 (30.7).

Boston College
ESPN efficiency rank: Offense – 113. Defense – 54. Special teams – 34. Overall – 90.
Football outsiders efficiency rank (S&P+): Offense – 124. Defense – 27. Special teams – 7.
Success rate (Per Football Study Hall): Offense – 122 (32.1). Defense – 54 (38.4).

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