As the season finale against the Tennessee Volunteers draws near each team has released depth charts for the contest. As one angle for our Orange Bowl preview content, we’ll take a look at the recruited talent (including transfers) on each team and see how they compare.
We’ve taken the two-deep depth chart and pulled in the 247 recruiting ratings. We count the starters as two-thirds of the average and the reserves as one-third. Blue chip prospects are defined as those who are four or five-star recruits in the 247 Composite. In addition to star ratings, 247 provides a more nuanced four-digit score, so we’ve charted that as well.
Tennessee ranks No. 1 nationally in total offense. They average an astounding 538.3 yards per game. Clemson’s offense has been a middle-of-the-pack unit ranking 53rd with 404.6 yards per game. Despite the production heavily favoring Tennessee, the recruited talent heavily favors Clemson. Looking at the proportion of each offense that was originally a “blue chip” (four or five star recruit), we see the Tigers hold a sizable advantage.
Interestingly, the blue chip ratio for the Vols’ vaunted offense falls below the 50% mark that is generally a good indicator of having enough talent to win a National Championship. Clemson, for all their offensive issues this season, is stocked with blue chip prospects. Their ratio has actually fallen since we last did this exercise for the Notre Dame game as Cole Turner, Drew Swinney, and John Williams have entered the depth chart in replacement of blue chippers EJ Williams (transfer), Beaux Collins (shoulder), and Marcus Tate (knee).
Here we take a more detailed look at the offense:
This supports the previous, simpler look that showed Clemson has more raw talent in their depth chart. So, how do we account for the disparity in talent (favoring Clemson) and offensive production (favoring UT)?
On the Tennessee-side, you can point to QB Hendon Hooker and WR Jalin Hyatt performing at All-American levels. Hooker was a four-star recruit for Virginia Tech that transferred to Tennessee. He has played a huge role in transforming their offense. Jalin Hyatt won the Biletnikoff award as the best wide receiver in the country. He was a four-star from Dutch Fork in Irmo, SC. Clemson has more recently made big recruiting strides there, but failed to land Hyatt. Having a super-human QB-WR duo can help an offense outperform their broader talent level. Clemson fans have enjoyed that many times in the past.
Another factor on the Tennessee-side is the work of Offensive Coordinator Alex Golesh. He was a Broyles Award finalist and one of the best coordinators in the country.
Unfortunately for the Volunteers, Hendon Hooker is out with injury, Jalin Hyatt has opted out for the NFL draft, and Coach Golesh has replaced Jeff Scott as the new Head Coach at South Florida.
Clemson’s issues are a bit harder to decipher. An inexperienced offensive coaching staff and some underperforming former blue chip WRs could be part of the equation, but the most obvious issue is QB-play. DJ Uiagalelei, a former five-star, played very well at times, leading Clemson to wins over Wake Forest and NC State, but also completely cratered against Syracuse, Notre Dame, and South Carolina.
With Uiagalelei in the transfer portal (and likely heading to Oregon State) and Cade Klubnik looking like a major QB upgrade for Clemson, that could be another factor swinging in Clemson’s direction.
Flipping it over to the defense, we have Clemson with the No. 19 scoring defense and Tennessee with the No. 45 scoring defense. In this case, the recruited talent coincides logically with what we see from on-field production.
Tennessee’s starting lineup is comprised of nine 3-stars and two four-stars. Clemson has a major talent advantage on defense. It’s not quite as ugly when you dig deeper into the four-digit 247 metrics, but it is clear that Clemson has a big advantage here.
For the second-straight year, Clemson hasn’t really been a serious threat to win the National Championship. Coach Swinney appears to be doubling-down on his near no-transfer policy and that may make it very difficult to beat a team like Georgia who out-recruits Clemson on the high school scene and then occasionally adds a big hitter through the portal to fill the rare holes. (They just added Dominic Lovett for Missouri who will immediately be their best WR.)
As frustrating as that may be, this data is a stark reminder that Clemson’s high school recruiting is still elite. Holding such a distinctive edge over the second best SEC team is quite the feat.
In addition to the talent advantage, the Vols will be missing some crucial elements to what made them successful all year. They’ll be without their two best offensive weapons (QB Hooker and WR Hyatt) as well as their superstar offensive coordinator.
Clemson will be missing a few pieces too, but they’re far less crucial. The Tigers will be without DE Myles Murphy (opt-out), LB Trenton Simpson (injury), and QB Dj Uiagalelei (transfer). This will give DE Justin Mascoll an opportunity to show he can be a starter next season with Murphy, KJ Henry, and potentially Xavier Thomas departing. I’ve had my concerns about the defensive end position position in 2023 barring a big splash from the transfer portal and this will be an opportunity to prove me wrong.
If this game was in early November I would pick Tennessee by a wide margin, but a lot has changed since then. This isn’t the same Volunteers team and it isn’t the same Clemson team either. Tennessee may struggle without some key pieces while Clemson may be peaking as the Cade Klubnik era has finally begun.
Clemson 35, Tennessee 24