Earlier this week, Andrea Adelson wrote about the potential for Duke’s offense to be exceptional again this season because the Blue Devils are the lone ACC team that returns their leading passer, rusher and receiver. No doubt, that’s good for offensive rapport, and certainly Duke deserves to be considered among the favorites in the Coastal.
But what about the other side of that coin?
Last week, Andrea wrote that four teams had to replace their leading passer, rusher and receiver from 2013: Clemson (Tajh Boyd, Roderick McDowell, Sammy Watkins), Wake Forest (Tanner Price, Josh Harris, Michael Campanaro), Boston College (Chase Rettig, Andre Williams, Alex Amidon) and Georgia Tech (Vad Lee, David Sims, Robert Godhigh).
This week, we wanted to know if that was a sign of impending doom, so we looked for some historical precedent. Oddly, this kind of thing doesn’t seem to happen all that often.
In the last five years combined, there have been just six examples of ACC teams losing their leading passer, rusher and receiver in the same year. And really, that’s stretching the definition a bit. NC State actually returned its leading rusher in 2011, but Mustafa Greene missed the year with an injury. We counted 2011 Louisville, too, though the Cardinals weren’t in the ACC at the time. So really, the combined total for massive offensive attrition in the previous five seasons is matched by this year’s group alone.
Aside from the relative rarity, however, the outcome is what promised to be intriguing. If a team is losing an established QB, running back and wideout, surely its offense will take a nosedive, right?
Actually, the numbers don’t entirely support that logic. Here’s how the previous six fared.
In total, the six previous teams to undergo a complete offensive makeover saw effectively no change in scoring, total offense or yards per play. What they did see, however, was an increase in wins. In four of six cases, the teams upped their win total. One stayed the same. The sixth, 2011 NC State, slipped by just one game.
Of course, there’s more to the story than just the aggregate numbers. Four of the six teams did see a decline in offensive production. The two that showed rather significant gains were 2009 Clemson and 2012 Miami. In the case of the former, that can partially be attributed to the change from Tommy Bowden to Dabo Swinney as the head coach. In the latter, the new arrivals (Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett) were probably all improvements over their predecessors.
In other words, such vast turnover isn't likely to result in better numbers unless there's more to the story, but it certainly doesn't have to mean a sharp decline on the bottom line either.
So how do the four ACC offensive renovation projects this year compare?
At Georgia Tech, the replacements have some experience already, and Paul Johnson’s system tends to be immune to turnover in personnel. (Closest comparison: 2013 Pittsburgh.)
At Wake Forest, Dave Clawson has his work cut out for him with little to no depth anywhere on the offensive side of the ball. But really, the Demon Deacons were among the worst offenses in football last year, so there’s probably nowhere to go but up. (Closest comparison: 2011 Virginia.)
For Boston College, replacing the production of Williams and the veteran presence of Rettig and Amidon will be tough. Steve Addazio probably won’t have a Heisman finalist again in 2014, but Tyler Murphy could be an adequate stopgap at QB while the young runners develop in the backfield. (Closest comparison: 2011 NC State.)
But, of course, the most intriguing question is at Clemson, where the Tigers not only lose the trifecta of Boyd, McDowell and Watkins, but also No. 2 receiver Martavis Bryant and All-ACC lineman Brandon Thomas. The Tigers return a mere 26.9 percent of last year’s total offensive yards, ninth fewest in the nation (and sixth-fewest among Power 5 teams). Really, there simply isn't an honest comparison.
So what will become of Clemson in 2014? Repeating the magic of 2009, when the renovation led to an ACC title, is the goal, and from Deshaun Watson to Wayne Gallman to Charone Peake, there’s still some hype-worthy offensive talent on the roster. And, of course, Swinney can point to that defense as cause for optimism. And if the recent history of offensive renovation projects is a guide, that’s just as good a recipe for wins as any.