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Eye on the Nation: Clemson and hindsight

Hindsight is 20/20 when you’re building a title contender.

Syracuse v Clemson Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Hindsight bias is a helluva thing. It’s called the knew-it-all-along phenomenon for a reason. An example of the hindsight bias in action: Alabama rolls to a national title win, and people say it was bound to happen because they were the favorite. The caveat to this is the outcome isn’t dependent; just because ‘Bama is the favorite to win it all doesn’t mean they’ll actually win it. (Cough cough 2014 cough cough).

The Clemson Tigers right now are going through their own version of hindsight bias. Of course, the decision to bench Kelly Bryant in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence was going to result in the senior transferring in order to extend his playing career.

However, with Lawrence suffering an injury against Syracuse, the Tigers could be down two quarterbacks because of this past week’s move. Now, you have to trust that head coach Dabo Swinney knows what’s best for his team, and that’s why he made the move to Lawrence, but he probably should have foreseen this happening. For Clemson fans, it had to almost feel inevitable that Lawrence would get hurt as soon as Bryant’s transfer was announced. If Dabo would have stuck with his senior, he almost certainly would have at least one of his top two quarterbacks ready to go against Wake Forest on Saturday.

Regardless of what side of the Clemson QB hindsight debate you fall on, the vision of the top of the ACC mountain got a little foggier. If the Tigers are dealing with a less than 90 percent Lawrence, then all bets are off on what happens in the conference. Or, if he gets hurt again, or even performs unsatisfactory, their No. 2 option from a week ago in Bryant is currently unavailable. Syracuse nearly nipped the then-No. 3 team in the land before combusting in Death Valley. A tiger waltz to the College Football Playoff isn’t as clear as it seems. In fact, there are landmines all around that could not only doom their playoff chance, but could drop the ACC out of the picture entirely.

Wake Forest shouldn’t be a problem next week, and fortunately for Swinney’s team, they’ll have a bye before having to face NC State on Oct. 20. The Wolfpack muscled their way into the latest AP Poll at No. 23 behind a 4-0 record.

Florida State and Louisville have fallen so far off the top of the football mountain that it’s scary, but the final three games are the perfect set of traps. A road trip to Boston College, and home games with Duke and South Carolina could each easily spell disaster for the Tigers.

Clemson’s Remaining Schedule

Date Opponent
Date Opponent
10/06/2018 at Wake Forest
10/13/2018 BYE
10/20/2008 vs. NC State
10/27/2018 at Florida State
11/03/2018 vs. Louisville
11/10/2018 at Boston College
11/17/2018 vs. Duke
11/27/2018 vs. South Carolina

For a quarterback, you hope there’s three viable options at any given moment on the depth chart. Look back to Ohio State’s title run of 2014: Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones all graced the QB room. Miller was ruled out before the season even started, Barrett guided the team to the regular season finale against Michigan before getting injured, and Jones ran the gauntlet by slaying the defenses of Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to a national title.

A theory that’s been floated in the football world is that if you have two QBs, you have no QBs. Clemson, a team that was basically the college football version of Murphy’s Law (i.e. Clemsoning) before winning the national title a few seasons ago, has found a way to go from two QBs to zero QBs within a week. Chase Brice did a decent job filling in for Lawrence, going 7-of-13 for 82 yards. But he isn’t a Lawrence or a Bryant.

It’s not an ideal situation for Dabo and Clemson, but can you blame Bryant for wanting out? He guided the team to the No. 1 ranking and a Sugar Bowl berth last season, and now, was beat out for the starting job by a freshman. Personally, I would’ve kept Bryant in as QB1 until he consistently proved that he wasn’t QB1 material. Is Lawrence a better signal-caller than Bryant? That’s debatable on who you ask. But in my opinion, the person you go with as your No. 1 has to have not only talent, but enough experience to know that when you don’t have a viable backup to get out of bounds rather than recklessly lowering your head for a couple of inconsequential extra yards. If by some Freaky Friday event I became the Clemson head coach in August, Bryant is my QB. If I became the head coach last Sunday, Bryant would still be my QB.

Loyalty gets you in trouble. But on the other side of the coin, loyalty keeps the empire intact. What would happen if you based decisions solely on talent, rather than the whole picture? Would you have a team, or something that resembled a team? Show a little loyalty for the guys who do work hard in practice and on the field, and give them the advantage if an up-and-comer is gunning for their position, and there is some structure to a team.

Base everything on who has the most talent in the moment, and you still have a team, but are they as close as they could be? If I have to constantly look over my shoulder after every mistake, thinking that someone is coming for my spot, I’ll be a little more on guard and less free to do my job. Either way you take, there are pros and cons. That’s why coaching is a a balancing act, far more art than science.

With Dabo running the ship, and Clemson still in an incredibly weak ACC, I’m not sure that how he runs it is going to make much of a difference. So, when they likely win the conference crown again this December, you can just say that it was bound to happen, and you knew it all along.