Here we break down the 2016 Clemson Tigers with a look towards their season of redemption after losing the 2015 National Championship Game. Join us for a team preview from expert capper.
The Clemson Tigers return in 2016 after a nearly perfect 2015, which saw them lose in the National Championship game to Alabama 45-40. But more importantly for Clemson fans, the Tigers also return the best quarterback in the country in 2016, Deshaun Watson. Watson put up fine passing numbers last year, posting 4,104 passing yards, a 35/13 TD/INT ratio, and a 67.8% completion rate. Watson was also the Tiger's second leading rusher, putting up 1,187 yards and 12 touchdowns on 6.2 yards per carry. A definitive weapon on offense, Watson should continue to cover up any deficiencies that the rest of his offense might have if he stays healthy. Thing is, there are not many weaknesses on that side of the ball to cover up.
Augmenting Watson is a running back and receiving corps that brings back almost the entire contingent from last year. Not only that, Clemson is getting back starters who were injured in 2015 in 4-star running back Adam Choice and 4-star, 6'4” 220 lb. wide receiver, Mike Williams. The freshman and sophomores from last year return with 15 games of experience in high leverage situations.
The offensive line giving Watson time and running backs lanes could be even better this year. A patchwork group in 2015 that started the year inexperienced returns 3 starters who were ranked in the top ten in advanced stats for running game efficiency and sack prevention. Of course, some of this falls on the shoulders of Watson, who was able to cover up a lot of mistakes and escape pressure masterfully.
Both the punter and place kicker return for Clemson and both were ranked high in the nation in their prospective crafts. This can't be overlooked for both points scored and flipping field position after a failed drive.
Clemson's defense is very deep on the defensive line and at linebacker, which is good because of the heavy rotations that they are forced to use because of their up-tempo offense. Similar to a defense in a Chip Kelly offense, Clemson's defense is forced to stop more drives than most. The defensive line and linebacker corps are stacked with 4 and 5-star recruits, though, which allows them to keep the lines fresh throughout the game.
If there is any unit that is a weakness on this squad it is the defensive secondary. The Clemson defense had a hard time at getting off of the field in 2015, and maybe it was the ‘bend but not break' philosophy, but the secondary allowed a110.9 passer rating on 3rd downs between 4 and 9 yards. Clemson loses both starting safeties from 2015 in T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse, so those holes will have to be filled with new starters. Luckily the pressure from the front seven of Clemson should force opposing QB's to make some unforced errors.
Looking at the 2016 schedule, there are two games that stand out as road blocks to a playoff bound season and they are both on the road. Clemson starts the season at Auburn, where they are projected to be about a 5-point favorite, then they are at Florida State on October 29th in what could be the only game they are an underdog in all year. They haven't won at Florida State in some time, but they also haven't played at Florida State with Deshaun Watson at quarterback either.
Clemson opened at +150 in college betting odds to win the ACC at Bovada, with Florida State just behind them at +225. I like this wager, as I believe the winner of the Clemson vs. Florida State game will win the ACC. Backing either team will result in plus odds versus the line on that game. For the National Champion, Clemson can be found at +750. For this wager, I see no reason to take this bet until after the Florida State game, as I don't foresee much movement below the +750 line with teams such as Alabama, Ohio State, or Michigan with a good shot at being undefeated at that point in the season. But if Clemson gets past Florida State with an unblemished record, they will be double-digit favorites college football pick for the rest of the way until the playoffs, and worth a shot for a wager to redeem themselves from the 2015 National Championship game that they let slip away.