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Reviewing our Staff Predictions Including the Sugar Bowl Debacle

The STS staff made a lot of predictions this year. In this article we review our pre-season picks, dissect why we missed the Sugar Bowl pick, and congratulate our Bowl Mania winners.

The shortened version of the Sugar Bowl for your review and analysis.

We start by looking at our pre-season projections for the ACC and Clemson.

ACC 2017 Pre-Season Picks

Name Clemson's Record ACC Champ Atlantic Coastal
Name Clemson's Record ACC Champ Atlantic Coastal
Drew Schneider 11 - 1 Clemson Clemson Miami
Alex Craft 11 - 1 Clemson Clemson Miami
Chris Madden 11 - 1 Clemson Clemson Virginia Tech
Colby Lanham 10 - 2 Clemson Clemson Miami
Ryan Kantor 10 - 2 Clemson Clemson Miami
Patrick Lane 10 - 2 Clemson Clemson Miami
Matt Goldin 12 - 0 Clemson Clemson Miami
Calvin Craft 11 - 1 FSU FSU Miami
Connor Cummings 11 - 1 FSU FSU Virginia Tech
Brian Goodison 10 - 2 FSU FSU Virginia Tech
Jay Ingles 10 - 2 FSU FSU Virginia Tech
John McElhaney 9 - 3 FSU FSU Miami
Revan 9 - 3 FSU FSU Virginia Tech

7/13 STS writers went against the media darling Seminoles and took Clemson to win the Atlantic and the ACC Championship. 8/13 correctly had Miami winning the Coastal and losing in the ACC Championship game. In a year when an FSU vs. Miami matchup was predicted by the media, that’s quite the showing for STS. Of course, we have the benefit of being a bit closer to Clemson than the general media.

As for our Clemson projections, the “exceeded expectations” theme you’ve likely heard rings true. 5/13 correctly projected Clemson’s regular season record (11-1), while 7/13 projected too few wins and only 1/13 projected too many wins.

As has become a tradition, Alex Craft again takes the cake with the best predictions. Fortunately, Drew - the infamous Drew of Hate Week - matched him pick for pick.

Other Conferences Pre-Season Picks

Name National Champion SEC Champ Big 10 Champ Big 12 Champ Pac 12 Champ Writer % Correct
Name National Champion SEC Champ Big 10 Champ Big 12 Champ Pac 12 Champ Writer % Correct
Ryan Kantor Alabama Alabama Ohio State Oklahoma USC 80%
Revan Alabama Alabama Ohio State Oklahoma USC 80%
Alex Craft Alabama Alabama Ohio State Oklahoma State USC 60%
Jay Ingles Alabama Alabama Ohio State Oklahoma State USC 60%
Chris Madden Alabama Alabama Ohio State Oklahoma State USC 60%
John McElhaney Alabama Alabama Penn State Texas USC 40%
Patrick Lane Alabama Alabama Wisconsin Oklahoma State USC 40%
Matt Goldin Clemson Alabama Michigan Oklahoma USC 40%
Connor Cummings FSU Alabama Penn State Oklahoma USC 40%
Brian Goodison Oklahoma Alabama Ohio State Oklahoma Washington 40%
Calvin Craft FSU Alabama Wisconsin Oklahoma State USC 20%
Drew Schneider USC Alabama Michigan Kansas St USC 20%
Colby Lanham USC Alabama Penn State Oklahoma State USC 20%
Staff % Correct 54% 0% 46% 38% 92%

Outside the ACC, 7/13 got two or more of the other conference champion picks correct. Not bad, but coming in a year when Georgia and Clemson were the only conference champions not picked by the media, it’s nothing to brag about. Nevertheless, I’m going to give myself the pat on the back for getting all all the conference champions and the National Champion correct other than the SEC Champion Bulldogs.

Now where we all owe you an apology is on our Sugar Bowl picks. All of the STS writers who previewed and picked that game missed the mark. In a contest that was never really in question, we all picked Clemson and whiffed. I can only speak for myself, but I’ll explain what where I went wrong.

I felt most confident in my analysis of the matchup between Clemson’s defense and Alabama’s offense. I argued that Jalen Hurts is not a good passer and they’re predictably run heavy (66% of their plays are runs). Additionally, their passing game in extremely focused on Calvin Ridley and not overly inventive without Lane Kiffin. On all accounts...nailed it. Hurts threw for just 120 yards and 39 were to Calvin Ridley as were four of his 12 completions and his only TD pass. Meanwhile, Harris and Scarbrough averaged just 3.3 YPC. The Clemson defense was spectacular. They deserve all the credit in the world. It was this portion of the analysis that led me to pick Clemson.

Obviously, the miscalculation was on the matchup between Clemson’s offense and Alabama’s defense. I got arrogant. I am sorry. I foolishly thought, Clemson would be able to “out-Bama Alabama.” This was always a foolish notion, but there was some evidence from their last game that it was feasible to run the ball against them. Sure, linebackers were returning, but they also lost Dylan Moses to injury and it didn’t sound like the guys coming back were going to be 100% and rust-free. Nevertheless, foolish!

It wasn’t just Alabama’s defense though. I also over-estimated our own passing attack. Great performances in the previous two games led me to believe it was a trend and not just the two best performances we’d see. Kelly Bryant wasn’t terrible and doesn’t deserve the brunt of the blame for the loss, but he certainly didn’t play as well as he had in the past two games. The pass blocking, which graded out well for most of the season, had a whopper of a game. Additionally, it was obvious that Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, and Jordan Leggett were sorely missed.

Even with all that, there were still a handful of huge plays that if they had gone the other way, could have changed the game.

The first was the egregious drop by Deon Cain. On third-and-long on an early drive, he managed to get open for the first down only to drop a perfect pass. Is it a guaranteed touchdown? No, but it may have led to points and early on, could have boosted confidence and poise for Kelly Bryant and the offense.

Another big moment came when Tee Higgins went up for a deep ball only to be yanked down, injure his ankle, and still not get a pass interference call. He left the came, which took a huge X-factor out for Clemson. The third and biggest game-changing play was the Da’Ron Payne interception caused by the hit to Bryant as he was throwing. Clemson coaches say they were taking a deep shot to McCloud and that he had opened up. So not only did it result in a turnover and a long return (aided by a questionable horse-collar penalty), but it also may have cost Clemson 7 points. Just those three plays likely account for a 7-21 point swing in what ended up being an 18-point loss. This isn’t to say Clemson should have won, but it wasn’t are brutal as it felt.

There’s one other factor, a totally qualitative one, which I also missed. Alabama wanted that win bad! They wanted it to an outrageous extent. Here’s Tony Brown calling Hunter Renfrow a liar based on his misunderstanding of a story that he admits he didn’t fully read.

The Crimson Tide burned for revenge and they got it. Alabama proved to be unstoppable for Georgia too. Even after Jalen Hurts was completely stone-walled in a scoreless first half (because he can’t pass, as we said), Saban pulled off one of the boldest coaching most in the Playoff’s short history by switching to an untested freshman QB. Alabama won the second half 20-7 and overtime 6-3 to claim their fifth title in nine years. If not for the incredible Deshaun Watson and Zeke Elliott it easily could be 7/9.

On to happier thoughts. Some of you performed exceedingly well in our Bowl Mania pool. Four of our pool participants finished in the top 10% nationally (against hundreds of thousands of pick sets) and six defeated me. Kudos!

Congratulations to Redwood Forrest 1, SportsTeamFan 1, and damedsz. Reach out to me on Twitter or in the comments for your free Clemson Season Preview Magazine.

Be on the lookout for our season review articles that analyze each position. Mine on the running backs is coming soon!