When those credentials are combined with the return of two of the most electrifying players in college football, quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, public expectations are sure to be as high as ever for Clemson in 2013.
The Tigers Against-the-Spread (ATS)
Predicting any team’s ATS success or their college football odds in the off-season is challenging, but we have discovered some correlations worth examining. In general, a team’s ATS season record usually stems from the difference between expectations and actual results. Those expectations can be measured by their variation in SU wins (from the previous season), their preseason ranking, and an extreme (either very good or very bad) ATS season immediately prior to the one in question. Clemson of 2012 had 11 SU wins, giving them (a tie for) the second best win total in school history, and the most wins in the BCS era. It would be a remarkable feat for Clemson to exceed that total in 2013. Beginning the year with SEC powerhouse Georgia, facing conference nemesis Florida State, battling unconventional Georgia Tech (against whom, head coach Dabo Swinney is 2-4 SU), and finishing the season in the SEC at archrival South Carolina, does not suggest an easy path to an increase in SU wins. Over the past 10 years, every time the Tigers had the same or fewer SU wins in a season (compared to the previous one), their season was unprofitable ATS.
Clemson has been ranked in the top-25 of the Associated Press (AP) Preseason Poll five times in the past 10 years. Three of those five years of college football picks were unprofitable ATS seasons for those backing the Tigers. The Preseason AP Poll will not be released until next month, but Clemson is guaranteed to be in the preseason top-25 for 2013.
Clemson had five profitable ATS seasons in the last ten. All but one profitable year was followed by an unprofitable one, and the Tigers are coming off of their most profitable ATS season (2012) in more than a decade. Putting together the difficulty in increasing their SU wins, the likelihood of season profitability when entering as a ranked team, and their extremely profitable 2012 ATS season, suggests an unprofitable 2013.
Clemson’s ‘Death Valley’ is considered one of the toughest places to play in all of college football. Consistent with stadiums renowned for having great home field advantages, the public perception leads to “shaded” (i.e. deliberately inflated) point spreads for Clemson at their Home games. Dabo Swinney emphasized the need to win at Home before anything else, but he was not talking about beating the spread. Bettors should know that Swinney is just 51.52% ATS in Death Valley, but a very profitable 60.71% ATS in games played away from Clemson. Due to the public’s perception of Death Valley, the Tigers under Swinney have not done well at Home ATS when the public is really backing them: They are a poor 4-9 (30.77%) when getting at least 70% of the public betting (0-2 in 2012). When Swinney’s Tigers are Away and getting less than 50% of the public betting, they are 6-2 (75%) ATS. One final cautionary trend is Clemson’s ATS record of 2-7 (22.22%) under Swinney when favored by 21 points or more.
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2014 BCS National Championship Futures Betting
As this is being written, Bovada has Clemson at 28-to-1 to win the 2014 BCS National Championship, giving them the 12th shortest odds on the board. In a previous article we outlined our 60% Rule, where all BCS National Champions had at least three of the following five criteria before starting their championship seasons:
1) an upperclassman quarterback;
2) a top-20 scoring defense one year prior;
3) a preseason top-10 ranking;
4) membership in the Southeastern Conference (the SEC);
5) a head coach who had been at the school for two to four years.
Clemson has an upperclassman quarterback in senior Tajh Boyd, so they meet the first criterion of the 60% Rule. Needless to say, Boyd is an outstanding quarterback who plays in a powerful offensive system (ranked 9th in total and 6th in scoring offense in 2012). By QB rating, Boyd is one of the five best returning QB’s in the country. In 2012, only he and Baylor’s Nick Florence ran for over 500 yards while passing for over 3,800 yards (and Florence has graduated). While Clemson’s backup QB spot is ably manned by Cole Stoudt, his expected challenger for that backup role, Chad Kelly, has been lost for the 2013 season. That leaves just one scholarship QB behind Stoudt on the roster- a former walk-on. Tajh Boyd is the key to Clemson’s offensive success, but he ran the ball more than (an average of) 14 times per game in 2012. One has to wonder if, for his protection, Boyd will be asked to stay in the pocket and run less in 2013, thus detracting from his athletic dynamism. If that is the case, bettors should be especially wary of those games where the Tigers are favored by three touchdowns or more.
Of the 15 previous BCS Champions, 13 (86.67%) had top-10 scoring defenses, and 6 out of 15 had top-2 scoring defenses the year they won it all. Those statistics speak to the importance of having an exceptional scoring defense. As a predictive criterion, 12 out of 15 teams (80%) had top-20 scoring defenses the year before winning the BCS. In 2012, Clemson’s scoring defense was ranked 46th in the country, and 5th in the Atlantic Coast Conference (the ACC).
There is a correlation between offensive time of possession (TOP) and defensive success. Obviously, if an offense gets off the field fast, that puts more strain on that team’s defense. Clemson is particularly good at scoring fast. In 2012, Clemson was 92nd in offensive TOP while ranking 6th in the country in scoring offense. The Tigers were 4th in the FBS for most offensive plays gaining 20 yards or more. That is great news for the offense, but rough going for Clemson’s defense. The last time Clemson had a top-10 scoring defense was 2007, which was also the last time that Clemson’s offensive TOP was ranked any better than 82nd.
The weakness of Clemson’s 2013 defense appears to be the secondary. The Tigers lack seasoned experience at every position in the defensive backfield, and last year’s group- although far more experienced entering 2012- gave up big plays on a consistent basis. In 2012, Clemson’s defense ranked 110th in preventing plays where the opposing offense gained 30 yards or more. If Clemson’s 2013 spring scrimmage game is any indicator, there were seven TD’s scored on plays longer than 30 yards, and that was a shortened game played without Tajh Boyd!
The third criterion of the 60% Rule is having a preseason top-10 ranking. With the Preseason AP Poll yet to be released, current projections have Clemson ranking in the top-10 in four out of five major preseason publications. Staying with the majority, we will assume Clemson is ranked in the Preseason AP top-10.
The final two criteria require membership in the SEC and a coach who has held that position for two to four years. Despite being located in SEC country and playing South Carolina and Georgia, Clemson is not a part of the SEC (for now...). Since Dabo Swinney enters his sixth season as Clemson’s head coach, the Tigers do not meet that final criterion. In total, Clemson meets just two of the five predictive criteria of the 60% Rule, disqualifying them for consideration as 2014 BCS National Champions.
Early Preseason Conclusions
In general, Clemson has built the public’s expectations high enough that 2013 should not be a particularly good year for them ATS. Betting against the public and against Clemson when they are three-touchdown favorites should help guide bettors through the Tigers’ 2013 season. As for the 2014 BCS National Championship, Clemson does not meet enough predictive criteria of the 60% Rule to justify backing them with a 2014 BCS National Championship futures bet.