We Simulated Clemson’s 2019 Season, but with LSU’s Schedule

Clemson got a lot of grief for their quality of competition last season, going 12-0 in the ACC en route to a College Football Playoff berth – Clemson dominated the ACC, but they wouldn’t have stood a chance in the SEC – or so the rabid fans down south would like you to believe. Yes, Clemson has dominated the ACC, but last year, only one other team put up a nine-win season, and that was Virginia, who lost by 45 points to Clemson in the ACC title game – not exactly elite by any stretch. However, there’s no question Dabo Swinney runs an excellent program, and you only have to go back two years to recall Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers dismantling Alabama by 28 points in the title game. Was last year’s championship loss another mere reflection of LSU’s dominance, or did it symbolize that Clemson simply wouldn’t be as good as they are in a different conference. To answer this question, we simulated Clemson’s 2019 season, except we stacked them up against LSU’s schedule, to see how the Tigers may have fared. Granted, this is only one simulation, but it’s curious to see if LSU, and the SEC as a whole, has some merit in their constant berating of Dabo’s team. Let’s see if Clemson can shut them up. 

Week 1 vs. Georgia Southern
Win 38-6 (LSU Result: Win 55-3)
Maybe LSU had a little more dominance, but this one wasn’t ever close. No questions are answered after this game. 

Week 2 @ Texas
Loss 20-17 (LSU Result: Win 45-38)
Ouch. A Week 2 loss already in the books for Clemson. They had much better defensive success against Sam Ehlinger, but a 32-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left dooms them. This game wasn’t a cakewalk for LSU either though, and a three-point non-conference loss hardly dooms Clemson’s playoff hopes (if they run the table in the SEC). 

Week 3 vs. Northwestern State
COULD NOT SIM
Our simulator does not allow us to clash with FCS opponents, but we know this one would have been a blowout win for Clemson either way. It was never going to tell us anything we didn’t already know. 

Week 4 @ Vanderbilt
Win 44-19 (LSU Result: Win 66-38)
In their first SEC clash, Clemson answers the bell with ease, dominating the hapless Commodores. Travis Etienne – he’s dominant in any conference – puts up over 250 yards of offense as Clemson opens up a 34-6 halftime lead. LSU’s margin of victory is slightly bigger, but nothing jaw-dropping here. 

Week 5 vs. Utah State
Win 62-13 (LSU Result: Win 42-3)
The only thing we learned from this one is that Jordan Love can’t do anything against LSU or Clemson – wouldn’t be too confident if I’m a Packers fan right now. Clemson wins by 10 more than LSU did, with Trevor Lawrence tossing six touchdowns, but both teams cruise.

Week 6 vs. Florida
Win 31-26 (LSU Result: Win 42-28)
What a game! People forget that Kyle Trask and the Gators were the only team all season to lead LSU in the second half. They never actually lead Clemson in this one, but they’re very close all game, and Clemson can’t breathe easy until Trask tosses an interception at the Clemson 38 with under a minute to play. Still a very solid SEC win for the Tigers, however. 

Week 7 @ Mississippi State
Win 42-21 (LSU Result: Win 36-13)
Nothing much to see here – Clemson cruises on the road against an inferior team that was barely bowl-eligible. It wasn’t even as close as the score indicated, as the Bulldogs scored in the final minutes to pull within 21. The next few weeks have some bigger tests in store.

Week 8 vs. Auburn
Win 58-10 (LSU Result: Win 23-20)
Wow, absolute dominance by Clemson. Auburn rarely struggles like this on defense, but Clemson was simply all over them from the start. A rare time that the Clemson offense did far more than LSU did, as Trevor Lawrence (389 yards, four touchdowns) and Travis Ettienne (213 all-purpose yards) were simply finding gaping holes in the defense. Is this a testament to who has the real Death Valley as well? Bo Nix looked horrific here, but he almost led the Tigers to a big upset at LSU..

Week 9 @ Alabama
Loss 47-7 (LSU Result: Win 46-41)

That’s a tough look right there. Clemson went into Tuscaloosa, but unlike Joe Burrow, they didn’t pull the upset. Not only that, but the Crimson Tide laughed Clemson out of town, as the Tigers failed to score until 1:37 left in the third quarter. Alabama had the offense to go toe-to-toe with anyone, and Clemson’s offense was simply not up to the task. Since the rest of the SEC results will hold, this means Alabama finishes the season 7-1 in SEC play, and thus Clemson will not play in the SEC title game. The Playoff  is a distant memory at this point, and they can only hope to play for a potential New Years’ 6 Bowl Game. (Apologies, there were some issues with the boxscore link on this game).

Week 10 @ Ole Miss
Win 28-18 (LSU Result: Win 58-37)
It’s been a pretty consistent trend (sans the Alabama debacle) – Clemson fared much better defensively against the Rebels than LSU, while their offense suffered considerably more struggles. Ole Miss led for much of the first half, but Clemson seizes control late in the second quarter and pulls away.
Week 11 vs Arkansas
Win 54-17 (LSU Result: Win 56-20)
Arkansas is exactly the same thing to Clemson that they were to LSU: SEC punching bags. The Razorbacks never had a chance. Clemson unleashes some of their frustration from their horrific loss and frustratingly close win against Ole Miss. 

Week 12 vs. Texas A&M
Win 33-3 (LSU Result: Win 50-7)
The Aggies are a good, not great, SEC team. It’s a useful measuring stick to see how Clemson sizes up against a team that is certainly in the upper half of the conference. They proved clear superiority in this one, much like they did in their actual game against Texas A&M this past season (albeit much earlier in the season). The Aggies are held to three points, as they were on the actual gridiron, and Clemson tacks on a few more field goals in this virtual contest, wrapping up their regular season. At 10-2, with ranked victories over Florida and Auburn, Clemson has a decent chance at swinging a New Years’ 6 game, but nothing more than that, as Alabama takes on Georgia in the SEC championship. 

The Verdict
Clearly, Clemson was not the power that LSU was, but we already knew that from their championship game clash. The Tigers went 10-2, with a 7-1 SEC mark, proving that they would be right there with the best of them in the conference. The biggest bragging right the SEC can hold over Clemson is much tougher road atmospheres. Clemson went 3-1 in SEC road games, struggling to do much against Ole Miss and getting absolutely blown out by Alabama. Throw in their Texas loss, and the Tigers went 3-2 in true road games, with a point differential of just +13. Maybe Clemson is in for a bit more trouble than people think when they visit Notre Dame, who hasn’t lost at home since 2017, in the upcoming season. The ACC doesn’t provide intimidating road environments – not exactly surprising for a basketball-dominated conference – and Clemson clearly struggled in hostile environments in this simulation. However, nobody, regardless of conference, touches Clemson at Death Valley (real or not).

It’s completely unfair to say Clemson is not a great team that benefits from a bad conference. Yes, their ACC schedule is easy, but Clemson would be extremely competitive and near the top of the SEC, even if they weren’t a near-lock for 12-0 every season. Their mauling in Tuscaloosa does raise some questions abut their physicality, and emphasizes the difference in a full-season grind in the SEC versus the ACC – however don’t mistake that for mediocrity. Clemson is a premier program and would still compete for a Playoff spot against a much tougher schedule.

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