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2016 Clemson Football Season Preview: Calculating Expected Wins

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We review our projections from 2015, gather our expert panel (which includes you, our loyal readers) and then forecast Clemson's chances of winning each game on their schedule for 2016.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Before we delve into the 2016 schedule, let's see how we did in 2015.

Reviewing our 2015 Projections

Opponent
R. Kantor
(CU)
A. Craft
(CU)
Dr. QT
(CU)
J. Ingles
(CU)

The Kraken
(CU)

J. Weaver
(GT)

D. Rubin
(BC)
Juan M.
(FSU)
R. Reinhard
(WF)
Aggregate
Wofford 100% 100% 100% 99% 98% 100% 100% 99% 100% 100%
Appalachian State 95% 99% 100% 95% 93% 95% 100% 99% 100% 97%
at Louisville (TH) 54% 60% 52% 55% 50% 55% 60% 50% 50% 54%
Notre Dame 52% 69% 55% 65% 53% 65% 40% 50% 65% 57%
Georgia Tech 58% 55% 60% 55% 55% 65% 70% 55% 55% 59%
Boston College 85% 85% 85% 85% 78% 80% 75% 80% 75% 81%
at Miami 75% 75% 70% 65% 48% 65% 80% 65% 55% 66%
at NC State 85% 80% 80% 70% 64% 80% 90% 80% 60% 77%
Florida State 50% 55% 51% 60% 70% 60% 50% 50% 45% 55%
at Syracuse 92% 100% 90% 90% 88% 90% 95% 85% 90% 91%
Wake Forest 97% 95% 95% 95% 85% 95% 85% 90% 100% 93%
at South Carolina 70% 63.17% 75% 70% 73% 65% 60% 65% 60% 67%
Derived Wins 9.1 9.4 9.1 9.0 8.6 9.2 9.1 8.7 8.6 9.0

After absolutely nailing our predictions in 2014 (an aggregate projection of 8.7 wins vs. 9 actual wins), SB Nation bloggers missed the mark by a full three games in 2015. Why were we so far off the mark? The answer largely lies in trying to accommodate for the Deshaun Watson injury factor. After a injury plagued 2014, it was unclear how healthy he would be early in the season and how long he'd avoid another injury. A year ago, we said:

"With Deshaun Watson's health playing such a big role in how the season will go, it made for a difficult variable to factor in. Nevertheless, there was mostly consensus that nine wins was about right."

Of course he got healthy, stayed healthy, and led Clemson to a perfect 12-0 regular season.

2016 Projections

After the mistake of trying to factor in the possibility of injury to our Heisman hopeful a year ago, the projections below come with the preface "assuming Deshaun Watson starts 12 games this season." This may not be totally pure optimism as offseason reports from David Hood are that he's added good weight while maintaining his speed.

We reassembled a similar crew, and have once again gone through the exercise of projecting Clemson's win likelihood for each game. With the accuracy-in-crowds theory, especially an "expert" crowd of SB Nation bloggers, if you're willing to call us that, the aggregate column is most important and includes the STS Readers column, a the compilation of over 220 readers who completed our poll. Percentages represent the likelihood that Clemson wins the game:

Ryan Kantor
(STS)

Brian Goodison
(STS)

Quacking

Tiger
(STS)

Alex Craft
(STS)

Jay Ingles
(STS)

Joey Weaver
(Ga. Tech)

Dan Rubin
(BC)

Juan M.
(FSU)

Mike Rutherford
(Louisville)

STS Readers

Aggregate

at Auburn 83% 75% 85% 86% 75% 90% 75% 80% 70% 74% 79%
Troy 99% 99% 100% 100% 95% 100% 100% 99% 95% 97% 98%
SC State 100% 99% 100% 100% 99% 100% 100% 99% 99% 99% 100%
at Georgia Tech 83% 60% 78% 90% 65% 80% 75% 70% 77% 74% 75%
Louisville 75% 55% 74% 80% 60% 70% 65% 70% 71% 71% 69%
at Boston College 91% 75% 95% 96% 80% 90% 80% 77% 91% 85% 86%
NC State 94% 70% 94% 94% 85% 90% 65% 80% 81% 85% 84%
at Florida State 49% 40% 50% 60% 50% 50% 65% 50% 51% 54% 52%
Syracuse 95% 95% 91% 99% 90% 90% 90% 85% 90% 91% 92%
Pittsburgh 86% 85% 92% 94% 65% 90% 75% 75% 77% 83% 82%
at Wake Forest 94% 90% 98% 100% 95% 100% 90% 90% 90% 94% 94%
South Carolina 88% 65% 98% 95% 85% 80% 75% 80% 80% 87% 83%
Expected Win Total 10.37 9.08 10.55 10.94 9.44 10.30 9.55 9.55 9.72 9.94 9.94

Two games stand out as the most challenging to me, to our readers, and to all but one of our experts (ironically, a humble Louisville writer). Those two are the home contest against the Louisville Cardinals, and of course the road game at Florida State.

The most dangerous game according to our panel is the FSU game, coming in as a 52% win likelihood for Clemson. Two panelists gave the Tigers below a 50% chance to win, four put them right at 50%, while three panelists and the readers gave the Tigers just a shade over a 50% chance to beat the Seminoles.

This projection largely comes down to question marks with Florida State more than Clemson. It's at the QB position in particular. If Deondre Francois (or Sean Maguire) can provide the 'Noles consistently strong QB play, their overall talent (Travis Rudolph at WR, Dalvin Cook at RB, excellent talent on defense including Derwin James at S) could make them the best overall team in the country. Fortunately for the Tigers, QB is still a big question mark.

Clemson will host Louisville in Week 5 and despite being at home, our panel only gives Clemson a 69% chance to win. This is the lowest win likelihood awarded to Clemson outside of the game in Tallahassee.

Louisville returns 18 starters. Ten of them are on an offensive unit that returns QB Lamar Jackson who secured the QB job toward the end of the season, and used his legs to power the offense down the stretch. His dual threat ability makes the Cardinals a threat to beat anyone. Fortunately for the Tigers, this game is in Death Valley and the Tigers get two extra days to prepare following a Thursday night game. Louisville is 0-4 versus Clemson and FSU since joining the ACC, but I sense this is the year they steal one from one of the ACC's preeminent powers.

Georgia Tech is next on the list, as we forecast a 75% chance of a Tiger win. The Yellow Jackets were just 3-9 a season ago, but had some tough luck, particularly with injuries, and should have an opportunity to fight for a bowl berth this season.

The primary reason our panel is giving the Yellow Jackets a better chance to beat Clemson than some potentially better opponents (Auburn and Pittsburgh, in particular) is because they've had the Tigers' number (at least in Atlanta) for over a decade.

The Tigers will go to Bobby Dodd stadium on a Thursday night following a short week, and will be breaking in two first-year starters at defensive end (a situation that could be exasperating if Austin Bryant isn't fully recovered from his foot injury, which happened after predictions were submitted).. The Tigers haven't won in Bobby Dodd since 2003, so the concern is merited. On top of that, GT managed to upset a 10-win Seminole team last season - of course in Atlanta - so we've seen even bad GT teams do big things in that little stadium.

All that said, Georgia Tech's defense returns only five starters from a unit that ranked just 63rd in S&P+ last season. That won't be good enough to slow Clemson's offense, and the Tigers' defensive front won't allow them to play keep away too long. This is the year the Tigers break through in Atlanta.

Auburn, Pittsburgh, and South Carolina come in as the next biggest challenges for Clemson at 79%, 82%, and 83% respectively. Auburn is scary because of the brand name and the venue. Jordan-Hare is a great stadium with a loud atmosphere. It wasn't to long ago that Auburn was the only team to stand up to Jameis Winston's unbelievably unlikable juggernaut and nearly beat them in the National Championship game, not to mention winning the title with Cam Newton in 2010. A look at the recruiting ratings of their starting lineup shows they are recruiting on par with Clemson, something nobody in the ACC (save FSU) can say. Along with Auburn's mediocre 7-win 2015 season, uncertainty at QB and attrition at RB make this less scary than it looked when it was originally scheduled.

Hosting Pittsburgh is interesting if for no other reason than we haven't played them since they joined the ACC. Last season former Michigan State DC, Pat Narduzzi, took the helm and guided the Panthers to a 8-5 season with wins at Virginia Tech, at Duke, and versus Louisville. They return 15 starters including QB Nathan Peterman and RB James Connor - the latter returns from a knee injury and a battle with cancer. They lose their star player, WR Tyler Boyd, but will be able to run their ground-and-pound attack behind an offensive line that returns four starters and could be the best in the ACC.

While they are a very solid team and will compete in the Coastal Division, I like the way Clemson matches up with them. If Connor is healthy, they'll lean heavily on a ground attack that should further improve from 16th in the S&P+ a year ago. The problem is, their passing attack was average with Tyler Boyd and now could be worse. Clemson is elite up the middle and really has to be challenged through the air. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh only had the 50th best defense (S&P+). Barring major improvement, they won't slow down the Tigers' offense. While I respect them and would worry about a trip to Pittsburgh, I don't see them beating Clemson in Death Valley. Barring injuries, the only team I can realistically see beating the Tigers at home is Louisville.

Next down the list is the home game on Thanksgiving weekend against South Carolina. Our panel gives the Tigers a solid 83% chance to win this game and honestly, this number may even be depressed by the "anything can happen in a rivalry game" sentiment. The Cocks lose their star player on each side of the ball with Pharoh Cooper off to the NFL and Skai Moore out with injury. The Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast has predicted SC to finish last in the weak SEC East. A lot can change between now and November, which makes a win likelihood in the 80s feel about right, but if this game were sooner I might even increase that number.

The remaining teams on the list comprise the weaker half of the very unbalanced ACC Atlantic, one Sun Belt team, and one FCS opponent. NC State, coming in at 84%, will break in a new QB and offensive coordinator and has lost 11 of 12 to Clemson.

Boston College appears above Syracuse due to the Friday night game's coming on the road. BC has a new OC and transfer QB (from UK), and should be at least passable on offense. Coupled with their defense, they should have a decent chance at a bowl game, but only a small chance to beat Clemson. The Tigers have an 86% chance to beat the Eagles.

Syracuse made a nice hire and should begin moving in the right direction, but they don't have the guns to win in Death Valley. Our panel gives the Tigers a 92% to beat Syracuse. Wake Forest should be improved and will begin showing progress under Dave Clawson this year, however their offensive line simply won't hold up against Watkins, Wilkins, and Lawrence in the middle. The Tigers get a 94% forecast for a victory in Winston-Salem.

Last are the Tigers cupcakes against Troy, who did not excel in the Sun Belt last year at 98%, and SC State which after rounding comes in at 100!

In aggregate, our panel projects 9.94 wins for Clemson. The lowest projection came in at 9.08 Clemson wins, while our highest was 10.94. Injuries can change a lot, and we'll learn much more about our opponents as the season progresses, but we hope this helps you assess our schedule and form realistic hopes and expectations. We also hope this reminds you to celebrate every win, as victory is never guaranteed (ok fine, maybe over SC State)!

I hope you enjoyed this assessment. Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.