Using depth charts from OurLads.com, I collected the Rivals star rating for each player listed on the first team offense and defense for the Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners. I have left Clemson's metrics unchanged from the last iteration of this series (FSU preview) rather than replacing Tyrone Crowder with Maverick Morris since it seems likely Crowder will be healthy and get plenty of snaps in the Orange Bowl. They're both redshirt sophomores, but Crowder was a four-star recruit, while Morris was a three-star.
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:
What we find here is a pleasant surprise. Okalahoma's S&P+ offense ranks 3rd (Clemson #10), but the Tigers average a 3.58* on offense compared to the Sooners at 3.33*. That's about the difference between LSU's and Ole Miss's or Virginia Tech's and Georgia Tech's 2014 recruiting classes. Before you get too carried away, it's worth pointing out this difference gets mostly washed away when you remove quarterbacks, as Watson was a 5* recruit and Baker Mayfield was a 3* recruit (transfer) who is certainly playing like a 5*.
What surprised me even more was distribution of top recruits. Oklahoma has three 4* WRs and a 4* RB listed in the line-up, but when we look at the offensive lines, Clemson has the clear advantage. Again, this is with Tyrone Crowder assumed to be healthy.
Clemson's 3.60* on the offense line is 0.40* better than OU's 3.20*. Given the Tigers' struggles with this unit in year's past, your mind should be blown right now! Again, for comparison sake, that 0.40* gap is the same as the average star rating difference between LSU and Washington's 2014 recruiting classes. Not only that, but Clemson's O-line is dramatically more experienced. The Sooners have a true freshman, a redshirt freshman, and a true sophomore listed. With the obvious exception of Mitch Hyatt, the Tigers don't start any offensive lineman who hasn't been in the program at least three years.
The Tigers have faced two S&P+ Top 10 defenses (BC #3 and Florida State #9) as well as Louisville (#22), while the Sooners have only faced #18 (WVU) and #25 (Tennessee). Their high-powered offense will have their toughest test of the season on New Year's Eve.
With stars like Mac Alexander, Jayron Kearse, and Shaq Lawson, the defensive side of the ball is where we expected an advantage, and well, there's a notable one. Not only are the Tigers more talented, but they're also more experienced. Bear in mind that we're looking at starting lineups, so while Clemson's depth is young, the starters have the experience edge. DE Eric Striker and SS Steven Parker are the only 4* starters on defense for the Sooners. They're still 12th in S&P+ defense, and unlike Texas A&M which is much better against the pass or Florida which is much better against the run, they're solid against both the pass and the run.
Clemson's starting line-up is more talented and more experienced. Of course, this overlooks the depth issues that have led to the defensive fatigue down the stretch, however this analysis inspects the players that will have the biggest impact on the Orange Bowl and Clemson has the clear advantage.
Both teams have some solid wins on their resumes'. The Tigers have beaten three top 10 teams, four 10 wins teams, and the #5, #8, #27, #30, and #32 teams in the S&P+. The Sooners' have nice wins against Baylor, West Virginia, TCU, and Oklahoma State. The Oklahoma Sooners are hot, but with four weeks (no championship game) to cool off and three weeks for the Tigers' fatigued defense to rest, I believe we'll see the talent and experience gaps explained above help lead to the Tigers to the National Championship game.
Graphics Courtesy Heath Gregory