By John Luke McCord
Dabo Swinney has been building the Clemson program up with 10-win seasons for some time now, but in the previous three seasons he’s taken the Tigers to a new level. One of just two programs to make the College Football Playoff three times in its first four years of existence, Clemson has been part of the last three straight (#1 seed in 2016 & 2018, #2 seed in 2017). The first two trips will mostly be remembered as the teams Deshaun Watson led there – especially their title win over Alabama in 2017, when he played spectacular – but all three trips have been possible, in large part, due to excellent and thorough recruiting by Swinney and staff.
The Hour Glass analytics track teams’ overall talent based on their previous three years of recruiting rankings. However, based on two decades of recruiting rankings, our analytics have also determined two very important cut-off lines as it pertains to recruiting rankings. The cutoff for realistic national championship contenders stops with Miami (who ranks 16th with an 87.44 3-year recruiting stamp), and for realistic CFB playoff contenders it stops with Virginia Tech (who ranks 30th with a 74.62 3-year recruiting stamp). During that time, Clemson sits 9th overall with an Hour Glass 3-year recruiting stamp of 89.74.
At this point, it’s about more than just a run or a few star players, Dabo has built Clemson into a power. In the process he’s become not only one of just four active coaches to have won a national championship, but he’s also become one of the few elite coaches, according to our analytics. Only three FBS coaches have an Hour Glass coaching stamp of 25 or greater. Swinney’s HG stamp is 39, which is six notches higher than Urban Meyer and six below Nick Saba, good enough for second in the FBS.
Three players who rushed for at least 665 yards and seven touchdowns return to the backfield this season. Quarterback Kelly Bryant is among that trio, as he rushed for 665 yards and 11 scores, while throwing it around for another 2,802 yards and 13 TDs. This season he should have an even better stable of receivers to throw to with Hunter Renfrow and Deon Cain returning, while rising sophomores Amari Rodgers and Tee Higgins should make a big jump. Additionally, with both Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster returning to the backfield, Bryan could be even more lethal on the ground and/or selective about when he rushes it. The offensive line isn’t likely to be a concern either, especially considering Mitch Hyatt is returning to lead that group.
Just as the Clemson offense has produced some star quality players in recent years, so has the defensive front seven. Don’t look now, but the defensive line is crowded with star power with Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant returning. That group alone totaled 25 sacks and 45 tackles for loss. The linebackers should be in good shape as well, with Kendall Joseph, JD Davis, Tre Lamar and others returning. The secondary will have plenty of physicality and athleticism in its own right with the likes of Tanner Muse, Trayvon Mullen, Shaq Smith and AJ Terrell back and better.