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Clemson Football Season Preview: Expected Wins

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

College football season is almost upon us yet again. You know what that means? Season projection time!

It’s become something of a tradition to get the writers of STS and other members of “the mothership” alongside our devoted readers to present their own thoughts on the upcoming season. This year will be a very interesting one for the Tigers, who, coming off of a national championship, will have new faces a quarterback, running back and tight end.

Despite this, there’s no questioning the talent that remains on this roster. It’s more a matter of which players are able to stand out and assert themselves atop the depth chart. With all of that being said, let’s take a short trip down memory lane before diving into what us experts and our fellow readers think of 2017.

Reviewing 2016 Projections

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

After absolutely missing the mark in projected wins by three games in 2015, it’d be figured that the aggregate win total would be higher than the projected 9.94 (for convenience sake, we’ll round this up to 10). Thanks to a lucky break of a missed field goal (courtesy of NC State), Clemson finished the season at 11 wins for the year. It’s clear that Louisville and Florida State gave much of the experts and readers pause (with plenty of reasons to do so, given that both were in a position to beat the Tigers), with aggregate totals of 69% and 52%, respectively. This no doubt played into the 2016 projections, especially given that Clemson had to play in Tallahassee, where they hadn’t achieved victory in ten years. However, thanks to some big time plays late in the game from Deshaun Watson and Jordan Leggett coupled with some big time stops from its defense, Clemson was able to emerge victorious against both of its main competitors in the Atlantic Division.

The unexpected surprise was the game against Pittsburgh, in which the Tigers suffered a 43-42 upset. That particular game had a respectable aggregate percentage at 82%, as many didn’t expect them to put up the fight they did, especially on offense. Unfortunately, costly turnovers from the Clemson offense combined with Pittsburgh’s arsenal of wheel routes, misdirection plays and shovel passes lead to their downfall (*Note: Venables made sure the defense didn’t have any difficulty stopping shovel passes after that fiasco).

Of course, it managed to become a small bump in the road as Clemson finished with an 11-1 regular season record an ACC Championship and a national championship. Can’t argue with those results.

2017 Projections

2017 Season Projections

2017 Season Projections Ryan Kantor Colby Lanham Nick Tully Brian Lewis Quacking Tiger Alex Craft Chris Stanley - Garnet and Black Attack Co-Manager Riley Johnston- Blogger So Dear Managing Editor Cade Lawson - From The Rumble Seat Co-Manager David Visser: Tomahawk Nation Managing Editor Fan Poll Aggregate
2017 Season Projections Ryan Kantor Colby Lanham Nick Tully Brian Lewis Quacking Tiger Alex Craft Chris Stanley - Garnet and Black Attack Co-Manager Riley Johnston- Blogger So Dear Managing Editor Cade Lawson - From The Rumble Seat Co-Manager David Visser: Tomahawk Nation Managing Editor Fan Poll Aggregate
Kent State 99% 100% 100% 99% 100% 99% 99% 99% 99% 98% 99% 99%
Auburn 60% 75% 58% 60% 60% 63% 52% 70% 64% 60% 65% 62%
at Louisville 70% 60% 60% 65% 56% 67% 48% 55% 49% 55% 58% 59%
Boston College 93% 90% 95% 95% 90% 96% 78% 95% 82% 95% 89% 91%
at Virginia Tech 80% 70% 78% 70% 75% 88% 55% 70% 65% 65% 69% 72%
Wake Forest 93% 95% 95% 95% 90% 98% 89% 90% 76% 90% 92% 91%
at Syracuse 93% 90% 93% 80% 90% 92% 75% 85% 90% 80% 89% 87%
Georgia Tech 87% 90% 83% 75% 90% 93% 62% 80% 67% 85% 81% 81%
at NC State 85% 85% 88% 65% 70% 69% 60% 70% 70% 60% 70% 72%
Florida State 55% 50% 48% 50% 55% 45% 40% 50% 35% 50% 53% 48%
Citadel 100% 100% 100% 99% 100% 100% 99% 99% 99% 99% 99% 100%
at South Carolina 85% 95% 93% 75% 100% 95% 80% 75% 85% 85% 86% 87%
Win Total 10.00 10.00 9.88 9.28 9.76 10.05 8.37 9.38 8.81 9.22 9.49 9.47
(523 completed survey)
Clemson 2017 Season Projections Ryan Kantor

As was the case with the 2016 projections and previous years, the crew is compiled of fellow STS writers and other fellow SB Nation bloggers alongside our fellow readers. The data that has been compiled (courtesy of THE Ryan Kantor) consists of 523 readers (you rock guys and gals, just saying) and is also represented in the table as well. The percentages represent the likelihood of Clemson winning their respective game, with the final expected win total listed at the bottom. The most important projections to take note of is the aggregate column, which factors in both of the projections from the experts and the readers, and is what I’ll focus on here.

Kent State (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 99%)

Of course, this isn’t a knock against Kent State (who finished last season at 3-9), but there’s little worry of the MAC team making noise against the Tigers. This game will be more intriguing to see Clemson’s quarterbacks in live-game action. Kelly Bryant is likely to walk on the field first and see most of the snaps. It will be the first time we see what he looks orchestrating the offense and just how much he’s progressed as a passer. Clemson will need plenty of confidence from its quarterback in the next two weeks, which could become defining points in shaping the Tigers’ season.

Auburn (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 62%)

Clemson narrowly defeated Auburn last season in Jordan-Hare Stadium as the Plainsmen shuffled QBs to no avail. This year, Auburn appears set with a quarterback in Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham, who should be an instant upgrade over the plethora of passers the Tigers plugged in last year. While he hasn’t seen significant game action since November 21, 2015, head coach Gus Malzahn has worked wonders with the last couple of JUCO transfers to put on Auburn helmets (Cam Newton, Nick Marshall). Clemson’s defense will no doubt give Stidham all he can handle.

Clemson fans concerns for this game center around how the new starting quarterback handles his first stout defensive test in Auburn. Even with the benefit of home-field advantage, the experts and fans gave an overall aggregate chance of Clemson’s victory of 62%.

at Louisville (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 59%)

Next up is the road game against Louisville, who, despite returning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, isn’t getting a ton of media attention as the season looms closer. Having lost three of their primary receiving threats from last season along with their leading rusher, the Cards are flying under the radar. While there are certainly concerns about their offensive line (which gave up 47 sacks in 2016) heading into 2017, they still have one guy that is more than enough cause for concern: Lamar Jackson.

Readers and experts seem to be of the same mind, as aggregate numbers pegged this at 59%, which is just a touch lower than the Tigers’ chance against Auburn, who they play at home. Jackson put on a great show in Death Valley last season, and this time he’ll the luxury of playing in his own stadium. The last three games in this series have been decided by six points or less, and one can likely expect the same to happen here.

Boston College (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 91%)

Known for their stout defense, Boston College has usually been shredded by the Tigers 56-10. Since Matt Ryan’s departure after a stellar 2007 win in Death Valley, Clemson is 8-1 (4-0 at home) against the Eagles. BC is usually bolstered by solid linebacker and offensive line play, but their lack of offensive playmakers and inability to slow down multiple spread offenses like Clemson’s often leave them behind. With an aggregate percentage of 91%, we are confident the streak of dominance will continue, especially since with the game in Death Valley.

Of course, this is a perfect hangover game Clemson could get caught sleeping in, especially coming off of high impact games against Auburn and Louisville. Being back in Death Valley, however, should bode well for avoiding the hangover game.

at Virginia Tech (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 72%)

Giving them an unexpected fight in last year’s ACC Championship, Virginia Tech likely would have been picked at the top of the Coastal Division had former quarterback Jerod Evans not made a very unexpected (and ill-advised) jump to the NFL Draft (he’s currently a free agent). With Justin Fuente in his second year as head coach, the Hokies will look to take advantage of a division where it's only threat towards a return to the ACC Championship is the Miami Hurricanes.

Playing in Blacksburg is never easy for any team, and Clemson will be doing so for the first time since 2011. However, like the Tigers and most of the ACC, Virginia Tech is in the midst of its own quarterback transition. Experts and readers pegged this game at 72%, which is a show of confidence, but it’s by no means a guarantee or slight on Virginia Tech’s ability. The big question for the Hokies will be just how productive their offense can be in the passing game as it replaces its two main targets in Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges.

Wake Forest (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 91%)

What is left to say about Wake Forest? The Tigers are 64-17-1, which is the best record against any team and most total wins against any opponent other than South Carolina. Not only that, but the Tigers get them at home. With an aggregate projection of 91%, it is tied for the third-highest rated score alongside BC. Both experts and readers alike expect them to take care of business here before getting on the road for an oddly scheduled Friday night game.

at Syracuse (Fri.) (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 87%)

The last time the Tigers played in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse gave Clemson a pretty big scare with its up-tempo spread option attack. Of course, that was under then-head coach Scott Shafer. The Orange will be looking to avenge their 54-0 shutout loss and the Ben Boulware suplex, both of which they suffered at Clemson last year.

Unfortunately, for all of the Orange’s potential talent on offense, their defense has been their main problem, unable to really stop much of anything. One prime example: losing 76-61 against Pittsburgh last season. They’ll be looking to improve on their 4-8 record from last season with Dino Babers coming into his second year, though just how much they can make remains to be seen. With an aggregate projection of 87%, most are fairly certain the Tigers emerge from their Friday game victorious with a nice bye week to prep for Paul Johnson’s option attack. And who knows, perhaps Tanner Muse can claim another pick six against the Orange.

Georgia Tech (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 81%)

Paul Johnson is always a tricky week to prepare for given the option offense he runs, But, as long as Venables has been at the helm, the defense has all but learned how to successfully contain the Yellow Jackets on the ground.

As the option’s mystique has dwindled over the years, Clemson’s confidence against it has risen. Coming in with an aggregated projection of 81%, it’s clear that Georgia Tech has gradually fallen off the radar again, especially given its last few lackluster seasons. Further, the 81% projection was collection prior to the dismissal of the Jacket’s star offensive player B-back Dedrick Mills. It would likely be higher if the experts and readers were polled again today.

Of course, if Pittsburgh taught Clemson anything last year, it’s not to get caught sleeping on anyone, especially Johnson, whose biggest asset lies in limiting possessions on offense and ball control.

at NC State (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 72%)

The Wolfpack who wind up giving the Tigers their biggest scare seemingly every year. Were it not for a missed field goal at the end of regulation, the Tigers would have lost to them last year. Nevertheless, the Tigers have won 12/13 against the ‘Pack.

NC State is receiving a great deal of offseason hype, particularly around their defensive line and the Tigers make the trip to Raleigh with the FSU game looming. In their last visit to Carter-Finley Stadium, the two teams engaged in an offensive shootout, which the Tigers won 56-41.

It’s always hard to predict the Textile Bowl because NC State always seem to bring their best against Clemson. With an aggregated score of 72%, this was tied (with at VT) for the fourth-lowest win likelihood, so it’s clear that the Wolfpack have our attention. Considering the history of these games, Clemson knows this is a team they can never afford to look past.

Florida State (Aggregated Projection of Victory: 42%)

Of course, one can never talk about Clemson’s regular season without mention of the Florida State Seminoles. The rivalry contest has served as the division championship game in four of the last five seasons, and the winner of this game has won the Atlantic Division each of the last six seasons. With the November matchup, this one will have the feel of a postseason battle.

While Dalvin Cook isn’t around, Deondre Francois is a year older, and their offensive line play will no doubt exceed their performance from last year. Coming in at just 53%, aggregate confidence in this game is the lowest of any this season. Were this being played in Tallahassee, there’s no doubt this would be even lower.

The positives (if there are any) is that Clemson gets the Seminoles in Death Valley this time around in what will likely be yet another night game, and the offense should (hopefully) have a fully established identity with a more settled situation at quarterback and running back by this time. Given the last decade of football between these two, there’s no doubting this should be another hard fought battle between both teams.

Citadel (Aggregated Percentage of Victory: 100%)

Remember that time The Citadel beat South Carolina at Columbia in Williams-Brice? Yea, that’s not happening here. With an aggregate score of 100%, our experts and readers agree on one thing: Victory here is assured, with the primary goal putting the game out of reach as soon as possible and heading into rivalry week as healthy as possible.

at South Carolina (Aggregated Percentage of Victory: 87%)

The high days of a five-year winning losing streak to their rivals were quickly washed away by a three-year winning streak and consecutive trips to the College Football Playoffs. South Carolina will be more confident with Jake Bentley having had a full year as the starting quarterback, and he’ll have the task of making up for their 56-7 defeat in Death Valley.

No doubt South Carolina fans will bring the enthusiasm for this game. The question becomes whether the Gamecocks will have come far enough in Muschamp’s second year. With an aggregate projection of 87%, it seems that the experts and readers think that the talent gap between the two teams is still wide enough that the Tigers can get their fourth straight against the Gamecocks. Of course, it’s rivalry week on the road, so Clemson’s going to get South Carolina’s best shot.

Overall, the aggregate total projects 9.47 wins for Clemson in 2017. The lowest projection came in at 8.37, while the highest came in at 10.00. With questions at a couple of key positions on offense, there’s a lot of uncertainty as to what kind of identity Clemson could have on offense. However, nothing is ever set in stone, and the same team that walks on the field in August could be different from the one that comes out in October and November. If there’s one thing Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff has done, it’s put together solid teams that exceed everyone’s expectations. It will be interesting to see how this new-look Clemson team fares in the wake of its national championship season.

Do you agree with these projections? How do you think Clemson will fare in 2017? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.