Expectations form the benchmark which the season is evaluated against at its conclusion. For example, Boston College finished 7-6, but appear pleased with the progress and direction of the program. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech finished a game better at 8-5, but they are left wondering about the direction of their football program.
To put together some well thought out, reasonable expectations for the 2014 Clemson Tigers, I surveyed SB Nation writers from our site as well as some of our opponents' blogs. I asked them to share their "win likelihood" percentages for each game on Clemson's schedule (i.e., the likelihood that Clemson will defeat that opponent), and have compiled them in the table below. The derived record is simply the sum of those percentages, which is a much more fair and telling way to project records than asking writers to guess the winners of each game in a simple Win/Loss format. Take a look through the table, and then we'll break down the expectations and give some brief thoughts on each game.
First, let's discuss our projections before we get into the details on each game. The aggregate derived record across all the writers was 8.7 wins and 3.3 losses, so we're looking at eight or nine (regular season) wins. Last year, we did a similar expectations exercise and set the over/under right at 10, which was spot on. As you can see for the first column, I am taking the over, predicting exactly 9 wins.
The highest expectations come from our writer Matt Goldin who projects nearly 10 wins, at 9.9-2.1. This is driven by his projection to beat UGA, South Carolina, and confidence in beating UNC. The lowest expectations came from Blogger So Dear (Wake Forest) writer who projects only 7.9 wins. This number is pulled down by low percentages against UGA, FSU, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech.
So, overall we see writers settle on eight or nine wins, so which is it? Over 8.5 wins? Under 8.5 wins? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Clemson managed to begin 2013 with a win over Georgia as they renewed a great Southern football rivalry that had been on hiatus for nine years. In the victory, one of Clemson's all-time great quarterbacks bested one of Georgia's all-time greats at the position when Tajh Boyd accounted for five TDs (three passing, two rushing), while Aaron Murray had none, but passed for 323 yards. The 38-35 Clemson win featured two of the best offenses in college football (when healthy), but this year's rematch will take on a much different look.
Gone are both star quarterbacks. Clemson returns one of the best defensive lines in the country, but loses some major pieces on the offensive line and their top two receivers. Meanwhile Georgia loses three starters on the offensive line, but brings back the vast majority of their defense and has a new defensive coordinator - Jeremy Pruitt - who is widely viewed as an upgrade. This year's game should be much more reminiscent of the classic 80s defensive slugfests this rivalry was once known for.
Georgia will be without Josh Harvey-Clemons and Tray Matthews after both were dismissed from the program due to behavioral issues, but the question will be if Clemson QB Cole Stoudt gets enough time to pick the secondary apart. Clemson's offensive line has two suspensions (David Beasley, Shaq Anthony) and will rely heavily on unproven players we discussed at length in the X-Factors series. If Stoudt has sufficient time, and the running game has holes to run through, Clemson will win this game. However, it's hard to bet against Jeremy Pruitt, home field advantage, and the best running back in college football - Todd Gurley.
The writers who participated in this article average to give Clemson a 40% chance to beat the Dawgs.
South Carolina State
Last year, Clemson paid SC State $275,000 to visit Clemson with no return trip to be made. Because Coastal Carolina decided they wanted to avoid playing FBS teams, SC State got the call once again. Clemson was far from perfect, but still won 52-13 last season. Clemson has never lost a game to an FCS opponent. It is hard to see that changing this season.
Writers gave Clemson a 99% chance to win this game. Hopefully the Marching 101 can earn a win.
at Florida State
Easily the hardest game on Clemson's schedule, Florida State will be seeking their third straight in the series and they'll have the reining Heisman Trophy winner leading the charge. Many thought FSU could take a step back after losing both coordinators and a bevy of NFL talent prior to last season, but they obviously did not. This year, they lose their defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt, and seven players to the NFL draft. With Pruitt and star CB LaMarcus Joyner will their defense regress? Maybe, but we've all learned not to bet against FSU talent, so I won't.
No writer gave Clemson better than a 40% chance to win at Florida State, and only one gave better than a 25% chance. Overall, the aggregate win likelihood was only 19%.
Excluding former Heisman Trophy winners and crab leg lovers, Marquise Williams may be the best QB Clemson faces all season. Additionally, the Heels boast a talented group of running backs that includes Charlotte native and five-star freshman Elijah Hood. Chad Morris and Larry Fedora both utilize a high-tempo offense, which should make a fun game, but the difference may be on defense where Clemson has the more talented defensive line. UNC only held three ACC opponents below 27-points (Clemson held five below) and I'm just not sure I'm ready to take that leap of faith in their defense.
North Carolina is one of those trendy "sleepers" that's gotten so much hype they no longer qualify as a true sleeper. A handful of the "Way Too Early" rankings have the Tar Heels above Clemson in that 15-20 range nationally, but they've only won in Death Valley seven times (7-19) and I don't think they'll improve that on that record this season, though it's not unthinkable.
There was some disagreement over the UNC game as one writer gave Clemson an 88% chance to win while another only gave a 65% chance. In aggregate, writers settled on 74%.
Aside from SC State and Georgia State, this is probably the least interesting home game on the docket. Despite the 2011 upset, Clemson has dominated the Textile Bowl to the tune of 9-1 in the past decade. While I do expect second year head coach Dave Doeren to begin making some progress with NC State, the talent discrepancy is too large for the Wolfpack to pose a serious threat in Death Valley. Of course, it is a conference game and in line with the last decade of results, I gave Clemson a strong nine-in-10 chance to capture the Textile Bowl.
Other writers weren't too far behind, giving an aggregate win percentage of 84%.
Clemson has never played the Louisville Cardinals which brings a little extra intrigue into 2014's maiden matchup. While both team's lose program greats at QB, they should still be two of the better teams in the ACC and give Clemson one of their bigger home games this season.
Will Gardner replaces Teddy Bridgewater at QB, and while there will likely be some drop off at the position, he is expected to take the helm and run with it. DeVante Parker, one of the conference's better wide receivers, will give him some talent to work with. Note that Parker is currently out indefinitely with an undisclosed, and possibly severe, foot injury. The Cardinals should be a challenging opponent and a great addition to the ACC. We're certainly thrilled to have them to upgrade the conference and their fans to talk ACC sports with. That said, they have not recruited up to or even near Clemson's level over the past four years. With their new association with the ACC, that may change (though the class of 2015 isn't showing it), but Clemson is more talented, at home, and should win.
I gave Clemson a 74% chance to win this one, but aside from FSU, UGA, and South Carolina, this was the only other game to receive a relatively low aggregate win likelihood, 68%.
at Boston College
Steve Addazio treated BC fans to a five win jump from two to seven victories in his first season, but the Eagles may take a step back before continuing to progress positively. That's because QB Chase Rettig (Packers) and RB Andre Williams (NYG) are now in the NFL while star receiver Alex Amidon is on to even bigger things as a United States Navy Seal. One would think BC does not have the depth to replace those players without some drop off.
Writers were confident Clemson could take this win on the road, giving an 87% win likelihood.
Syracuse will travel to Death Valley for the first time when they visit this season. After all the hoopla before last year's game (to create what I call an artificial rivalry), this is one Clemson fans should be looking forward to. Syracuse returns a good number of starters, including four on the offensive line, but were not on the same tier last year when Clemson routed them in New York. Even if Clemson takes a small step back and Syracuse takes a small step forward, they still have a limited opportunity to win in Death Valley.
Hopefully Syracuse talks plenty of trash before their visit to Death Valley, because writers gave Clemson a 90% win likelihood against their new "artificial rival."
at Wake Forest
Dave Clawson accepted the tall task of rebuilding Wake Forest back to their short-lived success from 2006-08. Unfortunately, Grobe - for all he did right - left the cupboard pretty bare. The Deacons may have to start a freshman at QB, and they're not exactly bringing Jameis Winston level talent into Winston-Salem. They also lost Michael Campanaro at WR - by far their best offensive player - and Nikita Whitlock - their star DL. Their secondary should be surprisingly solid, but Clemson should ploy through their offensive line and Cole Stoudt should have time to pick apart even a good secondary. Even with the game being played on a Thursday, this would be a tremendous upset if the Tigers didn't leave with a victory.
Other writers agreed, giving Clemson a strong 93% chance to win the weekday bout in Camel City.
at Georgia Tech
Clemson hasn't won in Atlanta since a 39-3 triumph in 2003 and Georgia Tech leads the all-time series by 22 games, however the tide is turning. Clemson has won three of the last four games (all three were played in Death Valley). Meanwhile, Georgia Tech has only been a total of three games above .500 since 2009, when they won the ACC Championship (now vacated).
This past offseason, starting QB Vad Lee announced he would transfer to James Madison University. Redshirt freshman Justin Thomas is expected to take the helm, though it is not a lock. Their star defensive player Jeremiah Attachao was drafted by the Detroit Lions and only five starters on defense return. Comparing the current conference members, Georgia Tech's recruiting over the past four cycles has been lackluster:
2011: 9th / 14
2012: 11th / 14
2013: 13th / 14
2014: 11th / 14
To be frank, Clemson is the more talented team and the better program.
There is no reason they shouldn't go win in Atlanta, however a lifetime of bad experiences has our panel showing cautious optimism, so you see a handful of our writers were hesitant to give 80%+. Of the five Clemson writers that participated, only two gave Clemson better than a three-in-four chance to win. Overall, all writers netted out at a win likelihood of 76%.
I'll have been working just a stone's throw from Georgia State's campus, just South of the Westin for six month before the Panthers make a trip up to Clemson, SC to see the most beautiful campus in the South. Georgia State is a FBS program, which is always preferable to a second FCS opponent, but they are one of the worst in the nation. It's all but a sure win and will get Clemson a few mentions in the local Atlanta papers.
Writers came to a strong consensus here, giving Clemson a 99% chance in this pre-Gamecock warmup.
So many stars departed the Palmetto State after last season: Tajh Boyd, Connor Shaw, Spencer Shuey, Jadeveon Clowney, Bashaud Breeland, Victor Hampton, Sammy Watkins, Bruce Ellington, Martavis Bryant, Kelcy Quarles, Chandler Catanzaro, and the list goes on. Although that list has quite a few Tiger greats, South Carolina lost some of their best players as well.
In some respects, it is a bit of a restart and from the core that lost to the Gamecocks so many times. Maybe that's what has our writers so positive about this game. No STS writer gave Clemson less than a 50% chance to win this one, despite recent history. Our guests from across the SB Nation network weren't as optimistic, though so maybe we're just unable to fathom losing to the Chickens again.
The game will be played in Death Valley, talent levels are fairly equitable, and both teams want it bad, so a lot will be determined by turnovers and the inevitable tricks Spurrier pulls out of his visor.
This was the only game where there was a noticeable disagreement between the Clemson STS writers and the guest writers from across the SB Nation network that contributed to this article. STS writers gave Clemson between a 50-63% chance to beat the Gamecocks, while the other writers only gave Clemson between a 35-40% chance. Across all writers, the aggregate win likelihood came out to 48%.
So what did we get wrong share your thoughts in the comments and vote in the poll below.