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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?

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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)
4-Year
F/+ Rk
Team Close
Record
Close
Win%
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.