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WRC: Clemson vs. It’s Biggest Rivals

This post is going to take a look at the recent history and trends in recruiting for our biggest rivals. If you have not read the explanation of how this works in the Weighted Recruiting Composite 2019 post, you should do that first.

If you remember in previous posts, I wrote that the original goal of the WRC was to gauge how well programs are overachieving or underachieving based on their talent level from year to year. In order to get that answer, I first had to be able to measure the talent and expected development of the players at any given school. That became the WRC. In previous posts, you have seen how programs stack up against each other heading into 2019. In this post, we’re going to look at our rivals and compare trends, program trajectory, overachievement, and underachievement with the Clemson Program.

I consider our biggest rivals to be South Carolina, Georgia, Florida State, and Alabama: SC being the arch-rival of course, UGA being a traditional rival dating back 50 years, Florida State being the biggest conference rival, and Alabama being the recent addition as the gatekeeper to the National Championship. The charts below will show their WRC ratings from 2006-present.

First though, let’s look at Clemson.

  • In all of the charts, a white background signifies years and recruiting classes when the program was NOT an Elite Program.
  • A “team colors” background indicates years where the program was an Elite Program.
  • Under “Final” is the final AP poll ranking. If the ranking is higher than the WRC ranking, that signifies overachievement and is in green. If it is lower, it signifies underachievement and is in red.

Going back to the later Tommy Bowden years, you can see the uptick in recruiting that most people, including Bowden, will credit to the administration FINALLY investing money in football facilities for the first time in 20 years. You can see the WRC ranking go from 30 to 15 in just two years around that time. This talent ascension, and a 2007 season where we met expectations, raised the bar for the program and resulted in a preseason ranking of #8. The 2008 season was highly disappointing and resulted in Tommy Bowden’s ouster midway through the season.

We all know Dabo got the job and signed his 37/42 ranked “Dandy Dozen” class in 2009. Despite a division championship in a very down ACC, Clemson underachieved based on their talent level in 2009 and things got worse in 2010. Billy Napier became the scapegoat for that and Dabo hired Chad Morris as the OC. The Morris hire ended up giving this program an offensive identity, as well as a foundational scheme that we still rely on today. It was a fantastic hire.

However, the prevailing narrative at the time, what I call “The Morris Miracle of 2011,” was really just more underachievement when seen in the context of the ACC at its lowest point in overall strength. Instead of the OC hire, the offensive resurgence could have simply been chalked up to replacing Kyle Parker, Terrance Ashe, Xavier Dye, and Marquan Jones with Tajh Boyd, Nuk Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Adam Humphries, and Martavis Bryant. This was evidenced by Morris’ offense only out-performing Napier’s 2009 offense by 0.12 yards per play. We ran a lot more plays though, and the counting stats looked great. The defense, however, imploded under the stress of the Nascar-style offense and Kevin Steele was dismissed for Dabo’s most effective hire to date, Brent Venables.

With both Morris and Venables on board in 2012, the overachievement streak began and continues to this day. Beginning in 2015, with DabScElliot taking over for Morris and a healthy Deshaun Watson to boot, the overachievement skyrocketed and hasn’t stopped in the 4 years since. Clemson is the only team to win the Natty with a WRC above #10, and they did it TWICE in three years. Heading into 2019, Clemson will have the highest WRC rating since it began in 2006 at #11. As crazy as it feels writing this, an objective measurement like the WRC agrees with the idea that “the best is yet to come.”

That’s the Clemson story, now let’s look at the perennial gatekeeper to a division and conference championship, Florida State.

As you can see above, the tail end of the Bobby Bowden era is when FSU lost Elite Program status and slipped into mediocrity. FSU fans named this period in FSU football history as “The Lost Decade.” Of course, this is a highly optimistic proclamation when it could just as easily be argued that FSU had a 14-year period of greatness sandwiched by a mediocre-ish football history. Nevertheless, FSU was smart to force Bowden to retire and hire their coach in waiting, Jimbo Fisher, in 2010.

The Fisher hire was lauded as the official end of the Lost Decade, but the underachievement actually continued for three more years. In 2013 though, Fisher put out an absolute beast of a team that demolished everybody but Auburn and won the Natty. We would soon learn that this was a lightning in a bottle situation as the program began a slow decline over the next 4 years. In 2017, the team with the 3rd best talent in college football would finish unranked at 7-6 in a season that looked a lot like the later Bowden years. After the season, Jimbo took A&M’s money and ran. Enter Willie Taggert.

Heading into 2018, my concern was that right when Clemson can walk into every living room in Florida with full superiority, FSU got a reboot with a great recruiter in Willie Taggert. The fact that Taggert landed a recruiting class ranked 10/11 in the year of a head coaching change was very impressive. The only other coaches to come in from outside a program and do that recently were Urban Meyer and Kirby Smart. Scary. Like Smart, Taggert already had high school ties to the area from being at USF from 2013-16.

In 2019, after the debacle that was the 2018 FSU football season, that concern has subsided a good bit. The overall impression of FSU football is that they went even further backwards last year. The way they lost a lot of their games, along with Taggert’s passionless acceptance of those beatings on the sideline, did nothing for a recruit’s confidence in the program. The 2019 class was the lowest ranked class since 2007 for FSU. This sets up a hugely important next couple of years for the FSU program as they try to right the ship before more damage is done. From the Clemson perspective, we want to beat an “up” FSU on a yearly basis to keep our CFP hopes alive even if we should slip up and lose a game. The 2018 version of FSU was the prime catalyst for the national narrative that “the ACC is down this year.”

Let’s look at the three SEC teams now, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

I took a shot at SC in the last post and their underachievement with Muschamp so far. Well, there it is in red above. Muschamp has made improvements in recruiting, just not in the results on the field as of yet. We know this won’t last forever and that eventually the “Spurrier left the cupboard bare” narrative will wear off. In fact, if you go by the WRC rankings above, it never should’ve existed in the first place.

With Kirby Smart and Georgia, we don’t perceive them as underachievers right now. However, in actuality, 2 of the past 3 years have been underachievement seasons for them based on their talent level. The NC runner-up season was the overachievement season and elevated Georgia into Elite Program status. Smart has been able to bring in the #1 recruiting class in both cycles since. The Georgia program has done nothing but get better under Smart, but their signature wins are against the Auburn team that lost to UCF and that they lost to in the regular season and an overtime win against Oklahoma in the 2017 playoff. In between that, they have the two losses to Alabama, as well as LSU and Texas. It’s tough to determine their true program strength because their signature performances were in games they lost (Bama). We should get some clarity next season as they will be heavy favorites to win the SEC East again and face off against the SEC West Champ for the CFP. It’s also worth mentioning that they get Notre Dame and Texas A&M at home.

It’s hard to imagine Alabama with the 15th best talent in the WRC, but there they are back in 2006. After Saban brought in a #1 class in 2008 and also delivered overachievement on the field, they moved up from #11 to #1 in the WRC in just 3 years. The only (very small) blemish perhaps, is that their talent level peaked in 2017. That is not much of a blemish at all though considering they’re still #1 in WRC, played for the Natty 4 straight years, and won 5 of the last 10 Nattys. All good things must come to an end, but I’d be reaching hard if I proposed that was an indicator of future slippage.

Let’s put it together and look at the averages and trends heading into 2019

This chart is in here to show one thing. Clemson and Alabama are the only two teams in this bunch that has not gone down in talent acquisition at some point since 2006. Alabama has a tradition that we don’t have, but the reason for the ascension for both programs is the same: A large financial commitment from the administration, an overachieving coach, and a transition to Eliteness as a program on the field.

This seems like a good place to put the updated Dynasty Tracker from the past couple years. So here it is below.

Dynasty Tracker

  • Step 1: A Commitment to Football From the Administration. CHECK
  • Step 2: Improve Recruiting. CHECK
  • Step 3: Consistently Overachieve beyond our talent level. CHECK
  • Step 4: Relegate State (SC), Division (FSU), Conference (Mia/VT/GT), and Non-Conference (UGA) rival programs beneath us from a perception standpoint. CHECK
  •  Step 5: Ascend to “Dynasty Mode” as a program where it would take 7 straight years on not fielding an elite team to lose Elite Program status and one elite season to get it back. CHECK
  • Step 6: Consistently Recruit classes within the top 5 nationally. NO
  • Step 7: Contend for the College Football Playoff on a bi-yearly basis. CHECK
  • Step 8: Win the National Championship within the past decade. CHECK
  • Step 9: Win Multiple National Championships within the past decade. CHECK
  • Step 10: Become the consensus Top Program in College Football. NO

The next post will compare the ACC with the rest of the conferences.

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