Why SEC fans — or anyone — shouldn't get bent out of shape about Clemson's schedule
If you’ve spent any part of this week arguing about why Clemson’s schedule is a joke, that’s a bummer. You’ll never get that time back. You could have spent that time doing something useful like reading (SDS, of course) while you’re pretending to work.
Instead, too many people spent time piggybacking on this quote, which made the rounds this week:
"Clemson's schedule is so soft. We are talking about one of the easiest schedule in the Power 5. They are 2 TD favorites over everyone on their schedule and the toughest game is at South Carolina" – @SethWalder pic.twitter.com/j3mBz9xCpD
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) April 17, 2019
(Since when is playing at 6-win South Carolina a more difficult matchup than playing against a preseason Top 10 A&M team that gave Clemson its only close game last year?)
I actually think that Clemson’s Playoff chances should be better than 83%. The Tigers have been there 4 consecutive years and they return Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Justyn Ross. There’s not a better QB/RB/WR combo in America and that includes Alabama’s trio.
But that’s a different discussion for a different time. This discussion is why it doesn’t make any sense to complain about how easy Clemson’s schedule is.
First of all, Clemson is a 2-touchdown favorite against everyone on its schedule because it just finished one of the best seasons in college football history and it returns 77% of that offense that tore up Alabama/everyone last year. “Soft” is a relative term. If we were talking about Duke with Clemson’s schedule — which features 2 SEC teams in nonconference play — it would be a completely different story.
Speaking of Duke and nonconference play, that’s Alabama’s only non-league game against a Power 5 team. By the way, that’s a “neutral-site game” in Atlanta, where Nick Saban is essentially immortal.
Clemson, meanwhile, will take on Texas A&M at home and travel to face South Carolina. To recap, that’s a preseason Top 10 team and a road game vs. a Power 5 bowl team.
Clemson didn’t have to schedule 2 nonconference games against Power 5 teams (that gives the Tigers 10 total games vs. Power 5 teams). It could have done what Alabama did and schedule 1 Power 5 team in nonconference play. Unless you’re Arkansas and Tennessee, which don’t have a Power 5 matchup in nonconference play, that’s the bare minimum for ACC and SEC teams with the 8-game conference schedule.
Here’s the list of ACC/SEC teams that scheduled 2 Power 5 opponents for nonconference play in 2019 (including Notre Dame as a P5 team):
- Boston College
- South Carolina
That’s 8 of 28 teams from the ACC and SEC that scheduled multiple Power 5 opponents in nonconference play, and Clemson was one of them. That’s not “soft” at all. That’s going above and beyond to beef up the schedule, and especially to do so with a pair of home-and-home matchups.
What’s “soft” is Ohio State deciding that the Big Ten East is such a gauntlet that it didn’t schedule a Power 5 opponent for nonconference play. “Soft” is Alabama saying, “well, we’ve already got that neutral-site game against Duke on the books, so we covered our Power 5 requirement.”
Oh, but this is about Clemson getting off easy because it has such a favorable conference draw, right? After all, the ACC is weak this year. At least that’s what preseason polls tell me, and as we know, preseason polls determine everything.
Uh, but they don’t.
Just because Syracuse is likely the only preseason Top 25 team from the ACC on Clemson’s schedule doesn’t mean it’ll finish that way. Last year, 11 of the preseason top 25 teams weren’t ranked at season’s end. We should, by no means, pre-determine a Power 5 team’s conference schedule is “soft” before a game is played. If it turns out that the ACC is even worse than its preseason projection and Clemson is beating up on a bunch of 5-6 win teams, then we can revisit that conversation.
But at the same time, like, what do we really need to see from Clemson to prove its legitimacy?
The Tigers are 14-1 against Top 25 teams in the past 3 seasons. They went undefeated last year, and unlike UCF in 2017, they beat 4 ranked opponents by a combined score of 142-33. If the Tigers mow down the ACC again, winning national titles in 2 of the past 3 years is enough to show the selection committee “we’re not just taking advantage of a weak schedule.”
Remember, the selection committee puts a ton of emphasis on nonconference play because that’s what makes their job easier. If Clemson takes care of A&M and South Carolina like it did last year, that’ll cover up any warts of a potentially-weak conference schedule, which it obviously doesn’t have control over. At least Clemson isn’t banking on its conference schedule like Alabama and Ohio State are.
Oh, here’s a fun little exercise looking at these contenders’ 2019 schedules:
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Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Let’s be honest with what’s happening here. Clemson is getting the Alabama treatment. The Tigers were so good last year and they have such high expectations this year that you look at their schedule and say, “nobody is on their level, which means their schedule is soft.”
Maybe it just means that Clemson might not have to face a top 4 team until the Playoff, just like last year. Maybe it also just means that Clemson is really good, and unless that schedule had 8 preseason Top 25 teams (nobody does that), we’d be criticizing it.
I get that a team like A&M looks like it has a more challenging schedule than Clemson. But while I’m not a believer that there should be year-to-year carryover with the selection committee, you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think Clemson throttling Nick Saban-led Alabama like no team ever has will have a lasting impact. The argument that “Clemson wouldn’t be as dominant with an SEC schedule” sort of loses its luster after a drubbing like that.
If you must, continue to argue that Clemson has a soft schedule and that it’ll be getting the benefit of the doubt all year because of it.
Or save your breath for a discussion that’s actually worth having.