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Florida State at Clemson: Line-up Analysis

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For a data-driven preview of the ACC's premier matchup, we analyzed the Rivals star ratings and the seniority on Clemson and Florida State, which uncovered an interesting story.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Using depth charts from OurLads.com as of November 3rd (see here: ClemsonFSU), I collected the Rivals star rating for each player listed on Clemson and Florida State's first team offense and defense. Rather than subjectively adjusting depth charts as I saw fit, I've left them exactly as they are on the site. That includes Sean Maguire starting. It also means that FSU has a FB while Clemson has a third WR and an additional TE. FSU has an extra defensive player at the STAR position. Nevertheless, these quirks are negligible in the grand story the numbers tell.

In addition to star ratings, we'll also inspect the seniority of each team, since experience is another critical factor in team success. I've counted freshmen as "1," redshirt freshman as "2," and so on up to seniors at "4," and redshirt seniors at "5." These are then averaged to get a glimpse of the seniority of each unit.

Let's begin with the offense:

The bars on the left illustrate recruiting rankings. Obviously, orange is Clemson and garnet is FSU. On average, Clemson is using 3.6 star talent in their starting lineup compared to FSU at 3.7. Consider that Hunter Renfrow was only listed as a two-star while Travis Rudolph was a Rivals five-star. That is where the small gap in the recruiting numbers for the offense is coming from, but even if that weren't the case, this is essentially a tie.

Then look at the bars to the right. Here we see the experience level for players on each unit. Clemson's lineup is comprised of players with an average of three years experience (counting 2015 as a full year) compared to FSU at only 2.5. This is a clear advantage to Clemson, and I think we see this playing out on the field this season, particularly on the offensive line, where Clemson's average seniority is 3.6 (yes, even with Mitch Hyatt) and Florida State's is just 2.4—amazingly young for the position group.

Moving on to defense:

On defense, Clemson's starting lineup is comprised of players with an average star rating of 3.5. This is great, but FSU's lineup is comprised of players with an average star rating of 4.0. This is exceptionally high! This difference is mostly explained by FSU's two five-star freshman, Josh Sweat and Derwin James. Also, Clemson starts TJ Green, a former two-star recruit, who is now a junior.

When we look at the Years in NCAA Football bars, we see a similar story as we saw on offense. Clemson's defense is averaging half a year more experience than Florida State's. FSU's five star-talent hasn't matured yet, and the window is open in the ACC. The Tigers are ranked 5th nationally in total defense; the Seminoles are 24th. You can point to superior coaching and better team cohesion for this, but experience is another factor that we see here favors Clemson.

Finally, let's look at the whole picture (I've added an extra decimal so the average of the previous data makes sense):

Here we see the same story, FSU has a slight talent advantage, but less experience. The moral of the story is, this is our window. Florida State is not on the decline, they're just young. This may be most true on the offensive line where, aside from Mitch Hyatt, Clemson is starting all redshirted players (two seniors, one junior, one sophomore) and FSU starts no seniors and freshmen at each tackle spot (one was redshirted).

Recruiting numbers point to Florida State being back with a vengeance in short order, but right now Clemson is the better team. They should win, they must win, and they will win this game and play for an ACC Championship.