SUNSET, S.C.— When head coach Dabo Swinney talks about the 2017 Clemson football team one word that will not come up is old—in fact, if a person said that the 2017 Tigers would be one of the least experienced groups statistically you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
According to Phil Steele, the 2017 Tigers come in at T-103 out of 130 FBS teams in his experience rankings with an experience rating of 59—where teams were awarded three points for every senior starter and 2.5 for every additional senior on the two-deep, two points for every junior starter and 1.5 for every additional junior on the two-deep, one-point for every sophomore starter and 0.5 points for every additional sophomore on the two-deep—while subtracting one-point for every freshman starter and taking away 0.5 points for every freshman on the two-deep.
But, even with a lack of power in the “experience rating”—Swinney was quick to remind those that would listen that the 2016 team, a team that won the national championship, was a little on the inexperienced side also.
“We didn’t have a lot of seniors last year. I think it was like 22 juniors and seniors combined last year—hence the small number this year,” Swinney said. “Six scholarship seniors on the whole roster, and I think we have four walk-on seniors. So, 10 total guys that you could say are a senior. We’ve got a couple of juniors that have a chance to graduate in December—I think Christian (Wilkins) got a chance to graduate in December in two-and-a-half years. I think he only needs 10 hours to do that in the fall. So, yeah 27 juniors on scholarship and probably 21 sophomores—so, we’re a big-time junior, sophomore team.”
Regardless of how this year’s team looks to outsiders, like Steele, the fact is that Swinney like the makeup of his team, because though they are few in number the seniors have something to prove.
“I always value the senior, because those are the guys that are usually the most invested and they usually bring a great sense of urgency because they can see the end of the tunnel—quick—coming their way,” Swinney said. “And they just think differently, as opposed to a sophomore, freshman or, sometimes, even a junior if you know you’re going to be back. I love the makeup of our team, because I think we’ve got a bunch of guys that have gotten some great experience over the last couple of years.”
However, the biggest reason that Swinney may not care too much about the formula that Steele used to fill out his “Experience Chart” may be simply he knows his team better than Steele, or any of the other pundits out there trying to downplay the Tigers chances this season.
Because, while Steele only sees a player’s class and subsequent score—Swinney sees players who have a ton of experience in the biggest of games.
“So, a small group, which means we’ve got a lot of guys on this roster that have played a lot of games and that junior class—they are basically like juniors and a half, because they’ve played 30 games in two years,” Swinney said. “So, they’ve got a lot of experience in big-time games. They understand what it takes and there’s a bunch of good players in that group. So, that’ll definitely be the group that’ll have to lead the way—along with those few seniors that we have.
“We have a lot of great guys in that sophomore class, guys that got a ton of great experience like (Clelin Ferrell), but then we’ve got other guys that are chomping at the bit to go prove they can be an elite player—like Tanner Muse for example. Guys that played, guys that made impacts. I mean, Tanner blocked a punt, he had a pick-six last year, he had some moments—but he learned how to play. And he came out of the season with a different mindset. So now, he wants a bigger role—so there’s a hunger.
“Yeah, he was happy he was on a national championship team last year, but he wants to go be a guy. He wants to be every down player. He wants to play more snaps, so I love that sense of urgency that we have scattered all throughout the roster. I think that’s something that will bode well for us.”