Clemson entered the 2019 campaign as the No. 1 team in America. They proceeded to win all 13 of their games with only one victory coming by less than 14 points and just one other by less than 31. But the Tigers enter the College Football Playoff as the No. 3 seed, which allows head coach Dabo Swinney to continue his ROY Bus motivational tactics.
The reality is, however, that Clemson is a very dangerous team going forward; perhaps the most dangerous team in the field. Here are five reasons why the Tigers will hoist their third championship trophy in four years on Jan. 13.
5 Reasons Why Clemson Will Win the College Football Playoffs
1. They are peaking at the right time
In the months of August and September, Clemson won five games by an average score of 38-12. In October, the Tigers won three times by an average score of 50-10. It was hard to imagine that they could do better than that in November, but alas Clemson won their four November games at a 51-8 clip before beating Virginia by 45 in the ACC Championship Game. Of course, this is a team led by a coach that knows how to prepare for the College Football Playoff. Clemson's last November loss came to Pittsburgh in 2016 and since then the only games after Halloween that they have won by fewer than 17 points prior to the playoff were seven-point victories over NC State in 2017 and Virginia Tech in the '16 ACC title game. This is Clemson's time of year.
2. Big-play passing attack led by Trevor Lawrence
Lawrence will not win the Heisman Trophy, but if he was eligible for the NFL draft, No. 16 would be selected No. 1. After the first five games, that would not necessarily have been true. But since the 21-20 win at North Carolina, Lawrence did not have a game where he completed less than 68 percent of his passes and he threw 26 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. The main beneficiaries have been receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. Lawrence has not only been more efficient but he has also hit more big plays down the field. And the sophomore's gaudy stats would be even more impressive if he hadn't been on the bench for most of those lopsided second halves.
3. Travis Etienne
It's not a surprise that Lawrence really took off when the All-ACC running back started piling up yardage. A big-play threat himself, the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Etienne can also put his head down and get the tough yards when it is needed. He became a much more dangerous option as a pass catcher this season with 29 receptions for 297 yards and two scores entering the playoff. Opposing defenses can't stop everything and there is no good choice when picking between Lawrence and Etienne as the main focus.
4. The dominant defense
Last year's Clemson defense got all the headlines thanks to the star power up front. But in 2018, the Tiger defense surrendered 13.1 points and 286 yards per game. This year the numbers are 10.6 and 255. Obviously, those may climb as Brent Venables' unit plays more explosive offenses in the playoff, starting with Ryan Day's Ohio State Buckeyes, whose offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields and dynamic running back J.K. Dobbins. But those stats tell the story: this is still a nasty defense. Since that final North Carolina touchdown in the last game of September, Clemson has allowed just two first-half touchdowns: one to Virginia on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game and another to Boston College with the Tigers leading 17-0 in a game that ended up 59-7. By the third quarter, the Tigers have been up big and have substituted freely, making the seven touchdowns surrendered in those moments significantly less important.
With Alabama out of the hunt, the Tigers are the most experienced team left standing. Virtually the entire offense played key roles in the national championship run last January. While the defense had more turnover, many of this year's starters played a role last year. Moreover, the coaching staff has been intact for this entire five-year run and they know what buttons to push. None of the other head coaches have won a playoff game and that has to give Dabo Swinney's team confidence going forward.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.