- Travis Etienne is already Clemson’s all-time leading rusher.
- Etienne totaled 2,046 yards and 23 touchdowns this past season.
- The Clemson Tigers offense averaged 528.7 yards of offense last season (fifth in the nation).
The Clemson Tigers knew they’d be getting back one star as quarterback Trevor Lawrence isn’t eligible for the NFL Draft just yet. However, it was assumed that running back Travis Etienne would jump to the draft after a marquee season. Instead, he surprised a lot of people by returning. Does that mean the Tigers are a strong play for the 2021 National Championship?
2021 CFP National Championship Odds
|Ohio State Buckeyes||+400|
|Alabama Crimson Tide||+500|
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish||+3000|
Odds taken Jan. 17.
Etienne Surprises Everyone By Returning
Etienne is fresh off a season where he compiled 2,046 total yards and 23 touchdowns. He’s arguably been the most effective running back on a per-touch basis for the last two seasons. With running back being viewed as a position that has a short shelf life in the pros, it was widely assumed that Etienne would simply jump up to the NFL level and declare for the draft.
After all, with a ring on his finger (from 2018) and coming off an incredible season, it feels like there’s more downside to return and possibly jeopardize his NFL chances with an injury.
Part of the challenge is that grades on him were wide ranging. Some mock drafts had him going as high as the back end of the first round, whereas others had him graded as a third-round prospect. Maybe with one more year of seasoning, he can secure himself a spot in the first round.
Clemson’s Case Strengthened
The NFL’s loss is surely Clemson’s gain. Although they’ve been a running back factory lately, who says no to a 2,000-yard player returning? He’s the school’s all-time rushing leader. And keep in mind that Etienne is a fantastic receiver out of the backfield too, so he brings a lot more to the table than just someone to hand the ball off to.
The offense will have some work to do as they’ll have to replace four starting offensive lineman and wide receiver Tee Higgins who’s jumped into the NFL Draft. At the same time, the pieces are in place as Lawrence, the Heisman Trophy favorite, is back along with wideouts Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers.
This offense averaged 528.7 yards per game last season, which was fifth in the nation, and could be even better next year. If the defense can improve slightly, they’ll be in the conversation to win the National Championship all season.
Clemson Is A Good Bet Because Of Their Schedule
The main reason why the Tigers are a good bet in the 2021 CFP title odds is their schedule. Sure, we don’t know who all of their opponents will be but the ACC is such a weak conference that Clemson should have no problem being undefeated in conference play again. Virginia won the Coastal Division but finished 9-5 while Louisville was second in the Atlantic (behind Clemson) at 8-5.
With the ACC in shambles, Clemson will only really have one or two games where they’ll have a chance to stumble. We know they’ll play South Carolina, which could be a tricky opponent (they beat Georgia last season) but the Tigers will host the Gamecocks next season. Beyond that, they might have one other semi-tough non-conference game.
That being the case, Clemson is the best bet of the bunch to get back to the College Football Playoff. Think about LSU, who lost quarterback Joe Burrow and both offensive and defensive coordinators. Or Alabama, who has to deal with LSU, Georgia and the rest of the SEC, which now just added head coaches Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin.
What about the Ohio State Buckeyes? They have to deal with the rugged Big Ten, which finished with six teams in the top-18 spots of the final AP Top-25 rankings. The Oklahoma Sooners are in an easier conference but have to replace quarterback Jalen Hurts. Who has an easier path than Clemson?
The Tigers might be the best team in the country as is but on top of that, they’ll have a much easier path than any of the contenders. With this type of prop, part of the risk is even making it to the College Football Playoff and with Clemson seemingly having the path of least resistance, they are the best bet among the favorites.
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