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Those Damned Close Games (Fun Stat Nerd Tidbit: Clemson)

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UPDATE: Stereotypes And The Clemson Tigers is now up at the SBN mothership.

Oh, Clemson. The Tigers of Death Valley rank 15th in terms of both recent recruiting and four-year F/+ performance. They have, in a sense, cracked the code; they know how to put a high-quality team on the field, and in four-year performance they rank ahead of No. 16 Georgia (11-2 in 2007, 10-3 in 2008), No. 17 Missouri (40 wins in four years), No. 18 Arkansas (10-3 last year), No. 20 Iowa (11-2 in 2009) and No. 21 Wisconsin (11-2 in 2010). They are constantly bringing in high-caliber recruits and producing high-caliber pros.

And they haven't won ten games in a season since 1990. What gives? What explanation could there be for Clemson's odd allergy to big seasons, other than a curse, or a muscular gag reflex, or a general funk that occupies Death Valley, or "F*** Clemson," or whatever other generalizations we can muster? Almost every single year, Clemson fields a team that is strong and athletic, and almost every single year the Tigers win fewer games than it seems they should. The last time they had a winning record in one-possession games was 2004; they are 11-23 in such games in that span ... not quite as bad as their unbelievable 1-13 stretch from 1997-99, but not good. Just a .500 record in such games would add an extra win per season. But Clemson evidently doesn't win these games. Why not?


Close games have wrecked season after season for Clemson in recent years. Despite a Top 15 ranking in Four-Year F/+, the Tigers went just 31-22 from 2007-10. In games decided by more than one possession (eight points), they went a resounding 25-7, meaning that, like most high-quality teams, they're blowing teams out a lot more than they are getting blown out. But they've gone just 6-15 in games decided by one possession. Over the last six years, they're just 11-23, by far the worst of any top team. In fact, only one team -- Iowa -- comes even close. Chin up, Clemson fans. At least Death Valley's pretty awesome.

Here's a list of the nation's best recent teams and their recent record in close games.

The Nation's Best Programs (According to
Recent Performance) Ranked in Order of
Close-Game Win Percentage (2005-10)
F/+ Rk
Team Close
7 Oregon 15-6 0.714
10 LSU 25-10 0.714
5 TCU 14-6 0.700
9 Boise State 11-5 0.688
14 Auburn 21-11 0.656
12 West Virginia 17-10 0.630
13 Penn State 10-6 0.625
11 Texas 14-9 0.609
1 Florida 12-8 0.600
3 Oklahoma 15-10 0.600
6 USC 15-11 0.577
2 Ohio State 9-7 0.563
16 Georgia 18-14 0.563
4 Alabama 16-14 0.533
17 Missouri 10-9 0.526
19 South Carolina 16-15 0.516
18 Arkansas 14-15 0.483
8 Virginia Tech 10-11 0.476
20 Iowa 12-19 0.387
15 Clemson 11-23 0.324

A few notes:

  • Yes, I did six-year close-game record with four-year performance rankings. I realized my error when I was sort of past the point of no return. That said, it's not like the recent history rankings change much. The "Six-Year F/+" list looks awfully similar.
  • Penn State, Ohio State and Boise State are evidently allergic to close games, having played far fewer than anybody else on the list.
  • Poor, poor Clemson.