Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pulling a Clemson: Legit or Not Legit

Let's be honest, no one likes the Woo Hoo. We don't know when it started it or where it began. There are movements to stop it. Yet every fall Saturday is littered with people using it like it's officially part of Tiger Rag (it's not).

The same is true for the term "Pulling a Clemson". No one likes it. No one know who first penned it or where it began. There are movements to stop it. Yet every fall Saturday is littered with the media using it to define this Clemson team.

But does it really exist, and is there a basis to this term? And even if there were, does it still apply?

To answer this question, we put our research hats on and pulled out our old EXST301 text books. Our research begins the same place Clemson's resurgence begins: 1999 with the hiring of Tommy Bowden. Prior to Bowden's hiring Clemson struggled through the land of mediocrity with Hatfield and West, including a 3-8 campaign in West's final season.

The actual definition of "Pulling a Clemson" is vague other than it means failing to live up to expectations. To see if we can somewhat enumerate this phenomenon, we analyzed five categories:
  • Number of wins against Top 25 teams (rank at the time of the game)
  • Number of losses against Unranked teams
  • Validation percentage
  • Winning percentage in a game following a Top 25 win.
    • Game must be against another FBS school and does not carry from year to year. For example, Clemson does not get credit for validating the LSU win since it occurred in the last game of a season. Also, the NC State game counted as validation for the Georgia win, not the SC State game
  • Winning percentage while ranked
  • Back to Back losses
In addition to analyzing Clemson, we chose another 24 teams to create a 25 team sample size. Each of these teams (minus South Carolina) has played in at least one BCS Bowl and has been generally consistent over that 13+ year period.

The data was then divided into two time periods: Tommy Bowden (1999-2008) & Dabo Swinney (2009-Present). For analysis sake, 2008 was credited to Bowden since he began the year and all players and staff were there to coach for Bowden.

The Tommy Bowden Years
When Tommy Bowden took over the Clemson program, they were fresh off a 3-8 season with very little talent for the future. Bowden was able to restart the program and reestablish it as a legit program. The results didn't always end up where Clemson fans had hoped, but they were at least back on the dance floor. In Bowden's tenure, Clemson never had a losing season (in conference and overall), defeated FSU three straight times, and went 7-2 against USC.

Rank Team Top 25 Wins Unranked Losses Validation Win % Ranked Win % B2B Losses Total
1 Texas 17 24 21 22 23 107
2 Oklahoma 23 9.5 20 23 24.5 100
3 Georgia 20 25 19 14 20.5 98.5
4 Florida 25 22.5 18 13 19 97.5
5 LSU 21 16.5 22 19 13.5 92
6 Miami 18 18.5 24 21 10.5 92
7 So Cal 24 11.5 16.5 24.5 13.5 90
8 Ohio St 22 22.5 6.5 15 22 88
9 Boise St 1 6 25 24.5 24.5 81
10 Va Tech 14.5 16.5 11 17 18 77
11 Nebraska 6.5 14.5 23 16 7.5 67.5
12 Tennessee 11.5 18.5 15 5.5 16 66.5
13 Michigan 19 11.5 13 11 12 66.5
14 FSU 14.5 12 11 9 16 62
15 Auburn 16 14.5 16.5 7 7.5 61.5
16 Oregon 13 6 14 8 10.5 51.5
17 TCU 2 2.5 2.5 20 20.5 47.5
18 Louisville 3 4 2.5 18 16 43.5
19 WVU 6.5 6 11 12 7.5 43
20 Penn St 10 8.5 6.5 10 5 40
21 Wisconsin 9 11.5 9 5.5 4 39
22 Alabama 11.5 8.5 6.5 4 2.5 33
23 Notre Dame 8 6 1 3 2.5 20.5
24 Clemson 4 1 4 2 7.5 18.5
25 Scar 5 2.5 6.5 1 1 16

The Case for Clemsoning
During Tommy Bowden's tenure, Clemson finished 24th out of 25 teams (thank God for South Carolina). Of the five categories, Clemson's best finish was T17 (back to back losses). In what could be considered the two most "Clemsoning" categories: losses to unranked teams and ranked win validation, Clemson finished 25th (last) and 24th (next to last).

But more than the numbers, the Bowden tenure contained what most consider the most prominent "Clemsoning" game ever: 2004 at Duke. Following a Clemson win over a Top 10 Miami team on the road, they traveled to Duke to lay a 16-13 egg.

Also, 2007 could be considered the year of "Clemsoning". That year included an ugly 13-3 loss at Georgia Tech and a 20-17 loss to Boston College, a win that would have sent Clemson to their first Atlantic Division crown.

The Case against Clemsoning:
When Bowden took over this program the cupboard was bare, and Tommy Bowden brought Clemson back to relevance. He was the one who brought Whitehurst, Davis, & Spiller to Clemson. He was the one who brought Gameday to Clemson. He was the one who won three straight games against FSU. And he was the one who went 7-2 against USC, including the 63-17 game.

Any time you are blazing a new or unmaintained trail, there will be bumps along the way. For every 2-3 steps forward, there will be a few steps backwards. And Bowden's tenure was no different.

Summary:
As much as I'd like to deny or explain away the phenomenon known as "Clemsoning", TB's time produced too much data, and heartache, to prove otherwise. Over Bowden's nearly 10 year span, Clemson never won 10 games, never won their division, had a losing record against Boston College and Georgia Tech,, and had three losses to Wake Forest and one to Duke.

As such, it's hard to argue that there is not legitimate merit to the term and its usage towards those teams.

The question now will be whether Dabo has truly changed the culture and mindset of this Clemson team, or whether the fall is nigh.

The Dabo Swinney Years
Dabo took over a much different Clemson team than Bowden did. When West left, Bowden's cupboard was bare; however, he left it well stocked for Dabo, including prime cuts like Spiller and Ford, But the one rub against Bowden was that he was unable to get Clemson over the mountaintop. They came close many times, but never achieved the greatness they were capable of achieving. And fair or unfair, that would be Dabo's litmus test.

Dabo started his coaching career off with a bang by leading Clemson to their first ever ACC Championship game appearance, followed by winning the ACC two years later. Over the last season plus, Clemson has lost only two games (ranked #4 & #13). Right now Clemson is in the National Championship debate and has a Top 3 Heisman candidate.

This success is spelled out in the numbers as Clemson went from being 24th out of 25 to being 10th out of 25.
Rank Team Top 25 Wins Unranked Losses Validation Win % Ranked Win % B2B Losses Total
1 Alabama 25 25 17 24.5 23 114.5
1 Oregon 23 23.5 16 21 23 106.5
3 LSU 24 23.5 15 19 23 104.5
4 Oklahoma 22 20 22 17 23 104
5 Ohio St 21 18 22 24.5 14 99.5
6 Boise St 5.5 22 22 23 23 95.5
7 TCU 16.5 14.5 11 20 20 82
8 Scar 19.5 18 2 14.5 14 68
9 Florida 9.5 21 6 18 10 64.5
10 Clemson 18 9 8.5 14.5 14 64
11 Wisconsin 14 11 10 10 18 63
12 FSU 14 7 18 6 18 62.5
13 Georgia 9.5 18 14 12 7.5 61
14 Va Tech 14 14.5 12 13 7.5 61
15 Penn St 2.5 11 22 9 14 58.5
16 Auburn 19.5 6.5 8.5 16 5 55.5
17 Nebraska 16.5 11 4 5 18 54.5
18 Michigan 4 14.5 22 11 2 53.5
19 Notre Dame 9.5 4 22 8 5 48.5
20 Texas 9.5 14.5 6 7 3 40
21 Miami 9.5 6.5 3 4 14 37
22 WVU 9.5 2 13 2 10 36.5
23 Louisville 2.5 1 1 22 5 31.5
24 So Cal 5.5 6.5 6 3 10 31
25 Tennessee 1 3 22 1 1 28

The Case for Clemsoning:
While Clemson has reached new heights within the ACC, the problems that plagued Bowden are still present. In 2009, Clemson's first Atlantic Division title, Clemson lost to Maryland, a team with only two total wins on the season.

In 2010, Clemson followed their Atlantic Division title with 7 losses, 4 of which were to unranked teans,

Even during Clemson's 2011 ACC Championship season, they lost three regular season games and were blown out in the Orange Bowl.

For all of Clemson's accomplishments, the Scarlet Letter of "Clemsoning" was still apparent.

The Case against Clemsoning:
In Dabo's four full seasons, Clemson has either won or tied for the Atlantic Division title in three of them, after failing to win one in each of the first four years. Additionally, Dabo led Clemson to their first ACC title since 1991 and their first ever BCS game.

Per Clemson SID Tim Bourrett, Clemson has seemingly exorcised the previous demons. They've had 13 straight double digit wins over unranked opponents (trailing on Alabama's 21), they've watched at least 28 different schools lose to unranked teams since they're last loss, and they've won 10 straight conference games.

Additionally, the analysis shows Clemson performing as the 10th best school under Dabo's tutelage.

Summary:
In the same way the data during Bowden's time validates the "Clemsoning" argument, the data during Dabo's tenure invalidates it. The problems that plagued Clemson during the '90s are in the rearview mirror, but does this mean Clemson will avoid all losses to unranked teams? No. But no team does. And Clemson should be held to no higher standard than every other team.

And since Clemson no longer holds the title, we should test out new names:
  • Pulling a Michigan? Big Bluing?
  • Pulling a Texas? Longhorning?
  • Pulling a Notre Dame? Gone Irish?

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