By Will Vandervort
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was pretty persistent Thursday afternoon when he told the media that his football team can play with anyone in the country. And he is right. They can.
The Tigers can play with anyone in the country and they have proven it. In the last three years alone, Clemson has seven wins over top 25 teams – the most in a three-year period in school history. Of those seven wins, four have come against top 10 teams, including victories over No. 7 LSU to end the 2012 season and No. 5 Georgia to start the 2013 season.
And though the 12th-ranked Tigers, who will play No. 7 Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, have proven they can beat the best, they have also proven they can lose to them, too. In that same three-year period in which they have beaten seven-ranked opponents, they have lost to six more, including defeats at the hands of No. 1 Florida State and No. 9 South Carolina this year.
So what’s the difference in the seven wins and the six losses? That’s easy, it’s turnovers.
“It’s about Clemson and our guys understand that,” Swinney said. “The big thing for us is our plan to win and really winning that turnover margin.”
Clemson (10-2) is 6-0 versus ranked opponents in the last three years when it does not lose the turnover battle, while it is 1-6 when it does. The Tigers lone victory when it losses the turnover margin came against LSU in the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl. Clemson had two turnovers that evening to LSU’s one.
The turnover margin in those six wins in which Clemson won the turnover battle was plus-6. The turnover margin in the six games it lost was minus-14
“When we win the turnover margin, we win. That’s just a fact,” Swinney said. “That’s what history says for our guys because we are good enough. When we go out there and we make critical mistakes and we lose that turnover margin, we get beat.”
In the Tigers’ two losses this season, they turned the football over 10 times, four in a 51-14 whipping at the hands of top-ranked Florida State and six in a 31-17 loss to the Gamecocks in Columbia. Of Clemson’s 22 turnovers this season, 10 came in those two games.
“We have proven that we are not good enough to beat good teams when we turn it over,” Swinney said.
In Clemson’s 10 wins this season, the Tigers won the turnover margin eight times and tied the other two. Clemson had a plus-13 lead (25-12) in turnovers forced-to-lost, while it was minus-9 (1-10) in the two defeats.
“That has to be a key thing to get done if we are to have a chance to beat these guys,” Swinney said.
In case you are wondering, the Buckeyes have forced 22 turnovers this year and rank 27th in the country (+0.5) in turnover margin.