For the more than half of the College Football Playoff’s existence as a four-team format, few teams were as consistently present as the Clemson Tigers. Coach Dabo Swinney’s ascent with the program he first joined in 2003, and later took over as the full-time coach in 2009, coincided with the sport’s evolution into a new era. First came snapping a 20-year ACC championship drought in 2011; then, in 2013, came the program’s first top-10 finish in the AP poll.
Recruiting was improving, and Swinney had sparked real change on the field thanks to the hires of offensive coordinator Chad Morris and defensive coordinator Brent Venables. When the playoff era began, the Tigers were peaking as a program. Clemson won six straight ACC championships from 2015-2020, appearing in the CFP in each of those seasons. The Tigers reached the national championship four times, twice winning it all against Nick Saban and Alabama. At points during a 29-game winning streak that spanned the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Clemson’s status at the top of the sport seemed unshakeable.
But then the razor-thin margin for high-level success in college football was revealed. After losing just three regular-season games combined from 2015-2020, the Tigers lost five times across 2021 and 2022. After six straight top-four finishes in the AP poll, Clemson found itself finishing the year outside of the CFP and outside of the top 10.
The causes for this stumble came from many places, including a devastating series of injuries in 2021. However, the one area where fans and analysts alike could easily focus their criticism was the offensive side of the ball. Clemson ranked dead last in the ACC and No. 103 nationally in yards per play in 2021, with a slight improvement to 8th in the league and No….