ESPN Insider's "20 teams that can win it all" series is previewing each of the top 20 teams in Brian Fremeau's five-year program metric (for a full explanation, and links to all of the previews as they are published, click here), with the help of ESPN's Stats & Information group. This is the entry for Clemson.
Sitting pretty at 8-0 in late October, the Clemson Tigers appeared to be a legitimate player for a title. That turned out to be true in a lesser sense, with the Tigers winning their first ACC championship in 20 years to advance to the school's first BCS game.
Given the start, though, Clemson had higher hopes than an Orange Bowl bid -- and the 70-33 blasting it suffered against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Coach Dabo Swinney, young and energetic, has talked in the time since about finishing the season strong. He says he believes the ACC will soon win a national title and it might as well be his team.
Here's our two-part breakdown of the Tigers' title chances, starting with why they have the potential to make the national title game.
Why Clemson can win it all
Sammy Watkins is special
Freshmen are not supposed to do what Watkins did in his first year. In Chad Morris' first season as Clemson's coordinator, Watkins exceeded all expectations in the spread system, catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. A lot of his damage came after he hauled in passes -- according to ESPN Stats & Info, 60.2 percent of his receiving yards came after the catch.
Watkins can expect to see a lot more attention -- bracketing and the like -- but he has the earmarks of a target who is versatile enough to find ways to get open anyway. "He's one of those guys," a BCS-level assistant said. "You cover him, however you want, and he will get open."