It wasn’t the smooth ride that many Clemson fans had hoped for in 2016. There was an unexpected stumble against Pittsburgh and a few other close calls, including one last night in the ACC Championship Game against Virginia Tech.
But still, Dabo Swinney's Tigers are back in the College Football Playoff thanks to a 12-1 record that featured big wins over Auburn, Louisville and Florida State. Plus, they may be playing their best football of the season, giving Clemson fans hope that perhaps this year will wind up being one game better than last season.
Playoff Teams: No. 1 Alabama I No. 2 Clemson I No. 3 Ohio State I No. 4 Washington
5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Win the 2016 College Football Playoff
1. The Quarterback
It’s not just the talent of Deshaun Watson, though that helps. It’s also where he has been. The Gainesville, Ga., star knows the terrain of this College Football Playoff landscape and has seen success performing at this time of year. He, like the rest of the Tigers, is coming in on a bit of a roll. It’s hard to argue that Watson isn’t the best quarterback still standing. He’s also the most experienced in true high-leverage situations. That is a good starting point for Clemson going into the playoff.
2. The Re-Emergence of the Rushing Attack
If the first two playoffs have shown us anything, it’s that a running game is vital at this time of the year. Ohio State and Alabama were the first two playoff era champions and those teams rode the running of Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry to their titles. This fall, Clemson’s ground game has been up and down, but in the last three weeks it has come around, averaging 229 rushing yards per game. The offensive line has improved in run blocking, Wayne Gallman has rediscovered his 2015-like tenacity, and the Clemson staff is running Watson quarterback more often. The Tigers’ passing game becomes even more dangerous when the running game is effective.
3. Offensive Options
One defensive theory when going against good offenses is to take away the most dangerous threat. That’s hard to do versus Clemson because the Tigers have so many guys that make big plays. As mentioned, Gallman has come on and is now over 1,000 rushing yards on the year. Mike Williams leads the team in all the receiving categories. But Artavis Scott, Ray-Ray McCloud, Deon Cain, Jordan Leggett and Hunter Renfrow all have at least 29 catches on the season. Watson has faith in all of his targets and his ability to spread the wealth around is a huge asset. Plus, when everything else breaks down, No. 4 will run for what he can get. For those reasons, this offense has the highest ceiling of the four playoff teams.
4. The Defensive Front
Each of the four remaining teams plays very good defense and it starts with the guys closest to the line of scrimmage. When it comes to sheer talent, Clemson doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone… except perhaps the guys from Tuscaloosa. But then again, Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are physical specimens that would star for any program in America. They have that kind of physical ability and Ben Boulware, Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel have been more than solid on the second level. Winning the line of scrimmage is imperative at this time of year and Clemson has NFL bodies in it defensive front.
5. Not Scared of Alabama
To become champions, Clemson has to win two games and the odds are pretty good that Alabama will be there waiting on Jan. 9 just like last year. If a rematch of last season’s national title game occurs, Clemson will believe that it can play with the Crimson Tide because of what happened this past January. Had it not been for a couple of big Alabama special teams plays, the big trophy may have been headed to South Carolina. The two teams are different in 2016 and Clemson has not been as consistent as last fall. But the Tigers believe that it is more about the way they play rather than how their opponent plays, even if that opponent is Alabama.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.