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The Big Orange Bowl Preview

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Deshaun Watson will be the best player on the field... or will he?

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The Football Power Index (FPI) Ratings are courtesy of ESPN
All other statistics are courtesy of Football Outsiders, home of the F/+ Combined Ratings for college football.
The Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) was created by Brian Fremeau; check out his website BCFToys for other goodies.
The S&P+ rating was created by Bill Connelly; check out his college football analytics blog, Football Study Hall.
Hat tips to Addicted to Quack's kalon and FO's 7th Day Adventure column for the inspiration.

So, what’s next?

The second playoff semifinal preview takes us to Miami, where the top-ranked Clemson Tigers host the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl. The game is on Thursday, December 31st, at 3:00 PM CST / 4:00 PM EST, and will be televised on ESPN and

The Résumé — Clemson

#1 - Clemson Tigers
Team F/+ S&P+ FEI FPI OS&P+ DS&P+
NOTRE DAME 46.8% (5) 19.4 (8) 0.229 (6) 19.8 (9) 42.7 (6) 23.3 (33)
FLORIDA STATE 40.6% (9) 21.4 (5) 0.158 (16) 19.8 (10) 38.7 (19) 17.3 (9)
NORTH CAROLINA 29.9% (21) 10.7 (30) 0.179 (9) 17.6 (15) 38.2 (22) 27.5 (65)
NC STATE 16.5% (41) 11.3 (27) 0.044 (52) 10.0 (36) 34.7 (28) 23.4 (34)
LOUISVILLE 15.2% (43) 10.4 (32) 0.041 (56) 9.6 (39) 31.2 (50) 20.8 (22)
APPALACHIAN ST. 15.1% (45) 7.4 (42) 0.069 (43) 5.7 (57) 32.7 (43) 25.2 (48)
MIAMI 6.4% (61) 6.3 (50) 0.004 (67) 7.4 (49) 33.2 (39) 26.9 (57)
GEORGIA TECH 2.1% (66) 1.8 (69) 0.014 (63) 10.6 (33) 29.6 (59) 27.8 (69)
BOSTON COLLEGE -0.3% (70) 2.7 (66) -0.018 (74) 1.9 (72) 16.1 (123) 13.4 (3)
SYRACUSE -8.2% (82) 0.6 (72) -0.067 (90) 0.3 (81) 28.9 (65) 28.4 (70)
SOUTH CAROLINA -11.7% (88) -4.1 (87) -0.046 (83) 4.1 (62) 28.8 (66) 32.9 (95)
WAKE FOREST -14.6% (90) -4.2 (88) -0.072 (91) -3.1 (86) 23.2 (102) 27.4 (61)
AVERAGE 11.5% 7.0 0.045 8.6 31.5 24.5

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.

  • Average F/+ Opponent: Alabama Poly (F/+ #49)
  • Average S&P+ Opponent: Northwestern (S&P+ #45)
  • Average FEI Opponent: NC State (FEI #52)
  • Average FPI Opponent: Nebraska (FPI #45)
  • Average Offense: Alabama Poly (OS&P+ #47)
  • Average Defense: Mississippi State (DS&P+ #41)
  • Best Win: Notre Dame (F/+ #5)
  • Wins Against F/+ Top-25: 3 (Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina)

While not quite to the level of Alabama’s or Michigan State’s, Clemson (and, as we’ll see momentarily, Oklahoma) played a tough schedule this year, among the toughest in the New Year’s Six field. They also went undefeated against that schedule, which is impressive when you look at where some of their opponents are now. They own the best win among the playoff participants with their rain-soaked victory over the Fighting Irish in October, and actually possess a second win over a New Year’s Six team, courtesy of a hard-fought win over the Seminoles a month later. Aside from their FCS cupcake, the Tigers did not play a single team rated lower than 90th in the F/+ rankings, with six of their FBS opponents residing within the F/+ top-50. Their average opponent falls somewhere around the high-40s in each of the overall metrics — FEI takes the coolest outlook with the closest team being FEI #52 NC State. Solid offensive and defensive slates, best represented by OS&P+ #47 API and DS&P+ #41 Mississippi State, respectively.

Similarity — Oklahoma
  • Rushing Offense: North Carolina (Rush OS&P+ #15)
  • Passing Offense: Miami (Pass OS&P+ #12)
  • Rushing Defense: Louisville (Rush DS&P+ #7)
  • Passing Defense: Florida State (Pass DS&P+ #5)

Really great comparisons to work with here as all of the above are within a few ranks of Oklahoma’s actual ratings in the S&P+ components. Louisville was remarkably close to knocking off Clemson, but it wasn’t on the strength of their rush defense, which allowed 200 yards at about 5.1 yards a carry to the Tigers. At first glance, Florida State’s outstanding pass defense would appear to have had similar issues, allowing 297 yards and a touchdown to Deshaun Watson on 65% completion percentage. However, it took Watson 43 attempts to get there, good for a paltry 6.9 yards per attempt and a passer rating of just under 131, his worst output of the season in a game that did not involve hurricane-like conditions.

The outlook is much rosier on the other side of the ball, where the often-overlooked Tigers defense held Miami’s high-flying passing attack to just 93 yards on 32 attempts, three of which were intercepted. The Canes’[1] passer rating of 46.3 was the lowest allowed by the Tigers this season. The rushing comp was less of a shutout, as Clemson allowed just 135 total yards to the Wolfpack, but over 27 attempts, which equates to a decent 5 yard per carry average. The former comparison is probably more relevant here as the Sooners are a pass-centric team this year, but keep your eye on the Oklahoma run game regardless; when accounting for sacks, NC State averaged over 7.5 yards a carry.

1 | Looks like Brad Kaaya only took 10 of those attempts, the balance going to freshman Malik Rosier.

The Résumé — Oklahoma

#4 - Oklahoma Sooners
Team F/+ S&P+ FEI FPI OS&P+ DS&P+
BAYLOR 35.0% (12) 15.8 (14) 0.159 (15) 22.1 (4) 43.0 (4) 27.2 (60)
TCU 32.7% (16) 12.8 (23) 0.175 (10) 21.0 (7) 39.5 (13) 26.6 (56)
THE VILES 30.3% (19) 11.8 (24) 0.164 (12) 19.1 (11) 33.1 (40) 21.3 (25)
OKLAHOMA ST. 24.9% (29) 11.7 (26) 0.112 (30) 15.9 (17) 38.8 (18) 27.1 (58)
WEST VIRGINIA 23.8% (31) 14.4 (18) 0.079 (38) 15.2 (21) 34.7 (29) 20.3 (18)
TEXAS TECH 12.1% (47) 6.0 (55) 0.058 (47) 10.4 (35) 44.8 (1) 38.8 (118)
TEXAS 0.4% (69) 1.0 (70) 0.007 (65) 7.3 (50) 28.8 (67) 27.7 (67)
IOWA STATE -3.6% (73) 2.0 (68) -0.041 (82) 1.2 (79) 29.5 (60) 27.5 (64)
KANSAS STATE -4.3% (77) -1.4 (80) -0.010 (72) 6.3 (52) 27.9 (75) 29.3 (75)
AKRON -9.5% (84) -1.3 (79) -0.058 (88) -6.8 (94) 22.8 (107) 24.1 (40)
TULSA -19.2% (93) -6.4 (95) -0.089 (95) -6.0 (93) 31.0 (51) 37.4 (115)
AVERAGE 11.1% 6.0 0.051 9.6 34.0 27.9

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.

  • Average F/+ Opponent: San Diego State (F/+ #50)
  • Average S&P+ Opponent: Texas Tech (S&P+ #55)
  • Average FEI Opponent: Marshall (FEI #49)
  • Average FPI Opponent: Louisville (FPI #39)
  • Average Offense: Cincinnati (OS&P+ #33)
  • Average Defense: Georgia Tech (DS&P+ #69)
  • Best Win: Baylor (F/+ #12)
  • Wins Against F/+ Top-25: 3 (Baylor, TCU, The Viles)

Oklahoma had the weakest schedule of the four playoff participants, at least in terms of the average opponent’s F/+ rating, but it’s still a quite strong one as the Sooners finished third in FPI’s Strength of Record ratings. You’ll note their game against Kansas is not reflected above; per convention, that was removed to offset Clemson’s game against FCS school Wofford. The only reason Clemson has more teams in their chart than the Sooners do is the Big 12 doesn’t have a championship game.

You’ll also note after these adjustments how similar the schedules for these two schools shook out, with identical numbers of wins against the F/+ top-25 and games against the F/+ top-50, at three and six respectively. Oklahoma’s weakest opponent after the adjustment falls just outside the F/+ top-90 with #93 Tulsa, but aside from that the spread is very similar. The Texas loss remains one of the more puzzling results from this season, as the Sooners more or less crushed the remainder of their schedule.[2] That game lent a lot of credence to the adage of “throwing out the records” for rivalry games, as Texas fell short of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010 and only the second time this millennium. It’s easy to see why the Sooners snuck in ahead of Iowa and Ohio State given their résumés, but Northwestern’s early win over Stanford is probably the only reason the Cardinal’s not in this slot.

2 | Tight contests at Tennessee, at Baylor, and against TCU notwithstanding.

Similarity — Clemson
  • Rushing Offense: West Virginia (Rush OS&P+ #32)
  • Passing Offense: Baylor (Pass OS&P+ #6)
  • Rushing Defense: Akron (Rush DS&P+ #9)
  • Passing Defense: West Virginia (Pass DS&P+ #14, but not really)

Oklahoma has not seen a pass defense as good as Clemson’s third-ranked unit, but the closest they played was the 14th-ranked Mountaineers, and Baker Mayfield did nasty, nasty things to that group. They made it tough, allowing just 14 completions on 25 attempts (56%), but Mayfield and his receivers turned those 14 catches into a whopping 320 yards, nearly 23 yards a completion. That’s good enough for 12.8 yards an attempt, which is how you win games with a sub-60% completion percentage. The Akron comparison is less favorable, as the Sooners managed just 100 yards on 33 carries.

West Virginia’s rushing offense picked up 196 yards in their game against Oklahoma, which sounds great until you note it came on 53 carries; averaging 3.7 yards a carry is a great way to lose a football game. On further inspection, however, seven of those carries were sacks, good for -56 yards — adjusting for this, the Mountaineers’ ground output was actually 252 yards on 46 carries, which is a much more respectable 5.5 yards a carry. Finally, Oklahoma got a slightly-reduced version of Baylor’s offense, but Jarrett Stidham is at least a real, actual quarterback, and not a hastily-converted wide receiver. Stidham managed a decent enough effort, putting up 257 yards on 27 attempts for a 9.5 yards-per-attempt average, but well below Baylor’s typical output.

The Goods

Overall Quality
F/+ 59.0% (2) F/+ 55.7% (3) PUSH
FPI 21.3 (6) FPI 27.8 (1) PUSH
FEI 0.26 (2) FEI 0.249 (3) PUSH
S&P+ 26.4 (2) S&P+ 24.6 (3) PUSH
Home Spread 4 OKLAHOMA

The Matchup on Offense
OFEI 0.78 (12) DFEI 0.95 (3) PUSH
OS&P+ 41.3 (10) DS&P+ 18.7 (12) PUSH
Rush OS&P+ 112.0 (28) Rush DS&P+ 124.7 (6) OKLAHOMA
Pass OS&P+ 143.4 (3) Pass DS&P+ 131.8 (6) PUSH
SD OS&P+ 124.7 (6) SD DS&P+ 127.4 (3) PUSH
PD OS&P+ 127.5 (13) PD DS&P+ 126.9 (12) PUSH
OALY 116.7 (9) DALY 116.3 (12) PUSH
OASR 291.9 (4) DASR 108.4 (47) CLEMSON

The Matchup on Defense
DFEI 0.85 (7) OFEI 0.74 (15) PUSH
DS&P+ 15.0 (6) OS&P+ 43.4 (3) PUSH
Rush DS&P+ 119.6 (13) Rush OS&P+ 115.3 (18) PUSH
Pass DS&P+ 141.2 (3) Pass OS&P+ 127.2 (10) PUSH
SD DS&P+ 145.8 (2) SD OS&P+ 127.5 (3) PUSH
PD DS&P+ 104.6 (59) PD OS&P+ 102.4 (61) PUSH
DALY 128.0 (4) OALY 111.2 (23) CLEMSON
DASR 142.0 (14) OASR 76.5 (105) CLEMSON

The Matchup on Special Teams
FVE -0.12 (111) FVE 0.08 (27) OKLAHOMA
STE -0.03 (89) STE -0.01 (75) OKLAHOMA
FGE 0.44 (12) FGE -0.01 (76) CLEMSON
KE 0.17 (119) KRE -0.03 (84) OKLAHOMA
PE 0.05 (79) PRE -0.14 (110) CLEMSON
PRE -0.17 (117) PE -0.12 (23) OKLAHOMA
KRE 0.03 (51) KE -0.01 (55) PUSH

(Bold) numbers indicate national ranking.
Statistics current as of December 29th, 2015.

Wondering what all these terms are?

Overall Quality

F/+: The F/+ combined ratings combine FEI and S&P+ into one metric that serves as Football Outsiders' official rankings for college football. For a more detailed discussion of F/+, check out this section of the PTN Football Primer.

FPI: The Football Power Index, an overall team quality metric produced by ESPN. Presented as a scoring margin, FPI weights factors such as offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiencies, as well as turnovers and big plays, and also includes opponent adjustments.

FEI: The Fremeau Efficiency Index, an overall team quality metric that is drive-based and opponent-adjusted. For a more detailed discussion of FEI, check out this section of the PTN Football Primer.

S&P+: Another overall quality metric constructed primarily from a play-by-play perspective, the S&P+ rating underwent big changes prior to the 2015 season. Check out the primer article for more details.

Offensive Metrics

Off. F/+: The offensive component of F/+.

OFEI: The offensive component of FEI.

OS&P+: The offensive component of S&P+.

Rush OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at running the ball.

Pass OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the offense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at throwing the ball.

PD: Passing Downs, defined as later downs with medium yardage or more to go (3rd, 4th downs in excess of 5 yards to go), as well as 2nd down with more than 8 yards to go.

SD: Standard Downs, defined as all downs that are not Passing Downs.

SD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.

PD OS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the offense — a good measure of a team's offensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.

Defensive Metrics

Def. F/+: The defensive component of F/+.

DFEI: The defensive component of FEI.

DS&P+: The defensive component of S&P+.

Rush DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on rushing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at stopping the run.

Pass DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing plays for the defense — a good measure of a team's effectiveness at defending the pass.

SD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on standard downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on earlier downs and short yardage.

PD DS&P+: S&P+ calculated on passing downs for the defense — a good measure of a team's defensive effectiveness on later downs and long yardage.

Special Teams Metrics

FVE: FEI Field Value Efficiency, a measure of how much field position value a team earned against its opponents.

Fremeau Special Teams Efficiency Components - The special teams component of F/+ is based on Brian Fremeau’s Special Teams Efficiency, which is made up of the following five components of special teams play (per FootballOutsiders):
FGEField Goal Efficiency, the scoring value per field goal attempt earned by the field goal unit as measured against national success rates.
PREPunt Return Efficiency, the scoring value per opponent punt earned by the receiving team as measured against national return rates.
KREKickoff Return Efficiency, the scoring value per opponent kickoff earned by the receiving team as measured against national return rates.
PEPunt Efficiency, the scoring value per punt earned by the opponent's receiving team as measured against national return rates.
KEKickoff Efficiency, the scoring value per kickoff earned by the opponent's receiving team as measured against national return rates.

Line-Specific Metrics

ASRAdjusted Sack Rate, which is a version of sack rate (defined as sacks / [sacks + passing attempts] ) that has been opponent-adjusted. The metric is scaled based on an average rate of 100; the higher the rate the better. ASR is calculated for both the offense (OASR) and defense (DASR).

ALYAdjusted Line Yards, which is a measure of success in the running game specific to the line. This is accomplished by taking each carry by running backs only and weighting the yardage as follows:

  • Runs for a loss are weighted 120%.
  • Runs for 0-4 yards are unweighted.
  • Runs for 5-10 yards are weighted 50%.
  • Runs for 11 or more yards are not included.

After the weighting process, the runs are further adjusted for game situation and opponent, and then averaged out per carry, resulting in adjusted line yards — a more detailed explanation of the entire process is available here. ALY is calculated for both the offensive line (OASR) and the defensive front seven (DASR).

The Swanson Giddiness Index

Easily the most accurate predictor of success in college football, the Swanson Giddiness Index is a qualitative, completely unsupportable metric that is presented via the tone of that week's image/animated gif of Ron Swanson — beloved Parks and Recreation character and official spirit animal of Processing the Numbers.

Wondering what all of this means? Check out the PTN Primer!

For even more advanced statistics goodness, check out the Advanced Stats Profile Index, the Clemson Profile, and the Oklahoma Profile.

So, what do we know?

Overall Quality

Here we have a matchup of the consensus #2 and #3 teams in the country among the advanced metrics, with only FPI taking a slightly different viewpoint on these two teams — it has Oklahoma as the #1 team in the country, with Clemson at #6. Regardless, the metrics are close enough to make this a complete push in overall quality. Vegas has the Sooners as a four point favorite the day before the game, and that’s up at least a half point from the early betting lines, suggesting the money is flowing in the Sooners’ direction.

When Clemson Has the Ball

Unlike most of the other New Year’s Six matchups, this one is a tale of two quarterbacks, starting with Watson, an early Heisman favorite and an eventual finalist for Clemson. It looks like the Tigers will need one of his better efforts of the season here, as the Oklahoma defense has forced a push in just about every respect. As far as FEI is concerned, they are the better unit overall, with their nine spot advantage in the rankings falling just short of significance. Much of that stems from a big field position advantage for the Sooners, which is not a strength of the Tigers overall as we’ll discuss in a moment. As far as S&P+ is concerned, however, they are as close as can be.

The one area Oklahoma has a significant advantage is in the run game, where they have a 22 rank advantage over the Tigers. Oddly enough, the front seven is not exactly brimming with elite talent, as Charles Tapper, Matthew Romar, Charles Walker, Matt Dimon,[3] Eric Striker, Jordan Evans, and Dominique Alexander were all three-star recruits coming out of high school. They are all third or fourth year players, however, and that experience has translated to a nasty, effective unit that’s only given up more than 200 rushing yards once this season. Unsurprisingly that was Texas, who dropped 313 yards on the Sooners in their only loss of the year. It’s unlikely Watson and fellow sophomore Wayne Gallman, the Tigers’ two primary running threats, are able to replicate that output, but even their average output would be a tremendous boon in this game.

3 | Dimon did receive a four-star grade from Rivals.

Watson’s more likely to have a significant impact as a passer, although the matchup’s not particularly favorable there either. Oklahoma’s secondary, much like its front seven, is not stocked with blue chip recruits — sophomore Steven Parker is the only member to get at least a four-star grade — but it’s experienced, particularly at cornerback where Zack Sanchez has started almost every game since his redshirt freshman year in 2013. These four — Sanchez, Parker, Ahmad Thomas, and Jordan Thomas — were locked in as the starting lineup by the end of last season, and have a significant amount of time playing with one another. On top of that, Clemson is likely without one of their top targets — more on this in a moment — and as such any aerial success will rest almost entirely on Watson and receiver Artavis Scott, who led the Tigers with 84 receptions and 831 yards on the year. Receiver Charone Peake and tight end Jordan Leggett are also frequent targets, but the somewhat undersized Scott is the main guy. On a related note, the Tigers do have the edge in pass protection, as Watson is among the least-sacked quarterbacks in college football with only 12 sacks accrued in 413 pass attempts.

When Oklahoma Has the Ball

The last time these two teams met was actually a little over a year ago in the 2014 Orange Bowl, a game Clemson dominated 40-6. The aftermath of that loss saw the end of Josh Heupel’s 10 years as a coach in Norman, the last four of which was as co-offensive coordinator with Jay Norvell. In their place stepped Lincoln Riley, yet another Mike Leach Air Raid disciple who was the coaching punch behind East Carolina’s productive offenses of the last few years. Along with Riley came Mayfield, a lightly-regarded transfer from Texas Tech who walked on in Lubbock, supplanted injured starter Michael Brewer[4] before the season started, and proceeded to win the Big 12’s Freshman Offensive Player of the Year award. Miscommunication issues with the coaching staff followed, and Mayfield decided to go to Norman. After beating out yet another presumed starter in Trevor Knight, Mayfield went on to have a season for the ages, one that saw him voted to a fourth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting, named a 2nd team AP All-America, and awarded as the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year — this time, without the qualifier.

4 | Now at Virginia Tech.

That influx of coaching and quarterbacking talent did wonders for Oklahoma’s offense, which went from a good unit on the cusp of greatness to one of the best in college football, at least as far as S&P+ is concerned. Unfortunately for them, they’ve drawn a defense that forces a push in most categories and has significant advantages in the line metrics. In fact, the only area the Sooners are rated higher is in S&P+, where Clemson’s susceptibility to big plays is the culprit. The Tigers are bad in that regard through the air — 55th nationally in Passing IsoPPP, just a few ticks better than the national average — but they are among the very worst in college football in Rushing IsoPPP with the #127 ranking. They are still very stingy on the ground — ranked 5th and 13th in rushing success rate and opportunity rate, respectively — but the big yardage is there if you can shake loose.

That’s good news for Joe Mixon, the leaner, fleeter freshman half of Oklahoma’s running back tandem with sophomore bruiser (and all-time single game rushing record holder) Samaje Perine. Mixon is averaging 7 highlight yards per opportunity this season, which in conjunction with his 46% opportunity rate means about half of his carries have gone for pretty serious yardage. Perine will spend most of the afternoon banging into piles, as Clemson is outstanding at stopping big runs before they happen, but if Mixon is able to get free there’s a lot of yardage to be had in Clemson’s secondary.

But, this incarnation of Oklahoma is mainly a passing team, and that’s where most of their yardage will be gained. Mayfield spreads it around quite a bit — six different receivers have received at least 20 targets, including Mixon with 30 — but the primary target is senior Sterling Shepard, who leads the team with 1201 yards on 79 catches. Shepard hasn’t been quite as explosive as he was a year ago when he averaged 19 yards a catch, but he has turned more of his catches into touchdowns, nearly doubling his career total coming into the season. He will likely be the assignment of Mackensie Alexander, a former five-star cornerback from Clemson’s 2013 class.

Also from that class was the nation’s #1 JUCO player,[5] defensive end and freshly-minted All-American Shaq Lawson. Lawson led the Tigers in sacks with 9.5, part of 38 they accrued on the year, and this is worth mentioning as Oklahoma’s offensive line has been a sieve to pass rushers this season. Rated 105th in ASR, they’ve allowed Mayfield to be sacked 34 times this season in only 354 attempts[6] — contrast that with Watson’s numbers above and you can see the significant difference. With the matchup as tight as it is, Oklahoma can ill afford giving up a bunch of sacks to the Tigers.

5 | He spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy between graduating high school and coming to Clemson.

6 | Knight, in backup duty, picked up another two in 40 attempts.

Special Teams

Neither of these teams are particularly great on special teams, but you can see here the tremendous advantage Oklahoma has in field position, as Clemson is 84 spots behind them in FEI’s Field Value Efficiency rankings. That’s largely due to the excellence of their coverage units, which rank 23rd on punts and 55th on kickoffs. Clemson’s been ok returning kickoffs, but really bad on punts, where they’ve accrued 27 total return yards in 19 opportunities. They do have an advantage in field goal kicking, but aside from that and the field position edge to Oklahoma this is pretty much a wash.

Any intangibles to consider?

The Orange Bowl is now played at Miami’s Sun-Life Stadium,[7] which is an open-air venue as you would expect. Tomorrow’s forecast is in the high 70s / low 80s, sunny with little chance of significant wind or rain. These two teams have met four times before and are split at 2-2, with the latter two both bowl games won by the Tigers.

7 | AKA Dolphins Stadium, AKA Pro Player Stadium, AKA Joe Robbie Stadium.

Clemson was in great shape personnel-wise heading into the game, but word recently came down that Deon Cain, Ammon Lakip, and Jay Jay McCullough were all suspended for the bowl game, reportedly because of failed drug tests. Lakip and McCullough are both backups, but Cain is the Tigers’ primary deep threat, averaging 17.1 yards a reception this season. The Tigers already lost a primary receiver at the beginning of the season in Mike Williams, who led the team in receiving a year ago, and are basically down to Scott and Peake on the outside with Cain’s suspension. To make matters worse, that suspension came down yesterday, and the fact he traveled with the team to Miami indicates he was part of the game plan. The timing wasn’t great, in other words. Oklahoma will be without several players because of injury or suspension, but none were significant contributors this season.

The Picks

This is perhaps the hardest pick of the New Year’s Six, because both teams are talented, well-coached, and balanced on offense and defense. Both teams played extremely well against tough schedules, controlling games better than almost anyone else in the country. Oklahoma will likely have the field position advantage, if seasonal trends bear out, but this feels like Clemson’s year, and their defense will end up making the difference.

STRAIGHT UP:      Clemson Tigers
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