The Clemson Tigers have fallen out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since November 2014 and ending a streak of 107 consecutive releases.
The Clemson Tigers, along with the Alabama Crimson Tide, entered the 2021 NCAA football season as top two programs to win the National Championship. So exacting was their dominance, that bookmakers projected they would pick up from where they left off despite the personnel changes that occurred during the offseason with a number of players heading to the NFL.
According to preseason college football lines that went to press, the Clemson Tigers were the second-best bet at +400 to win the coveted championship title, after the Alabama Crimson Tide, who were priced as the +245 bet.
The Clemson Tigers lost their prized quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, to the NFL in the 2021 draft as the young gunslinger went No.1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In spite of his departure, the markets clearly felt the program was strong enough and deep enough to absorb the loss.
Tale told, they didn’t. And as the college football season passed the halfway mark this week, the Clemson Tigers slipped out of the AP Top 25 frame on the heels of a 3-2 record overall and 2-1 record in ACC Conference play. The poll which came out on Sunday afternoon dropped the Tigers just outside of the Top 25.
The Tigers, after beating Boston College 19-13 on Saturday, received 96 votes. While, at the same time as Clemson was being demoted, the AP Top 25 welcomed five teams into its fold, including San Diego, SMU and Kentucky – the latter two making it inside the coveted rankings for the first time this season.
One of the main reasons for Clemson’s struggles this season has to be the departure of Lawrence. His replacement D.J. Uiagalelei is simply struggling to fill the big shoes he left behind.
D.J. Uiagalelei earned the position after filling in for Lawrence a couple of times in 2020, but it’s one thing to step in as a replacement another to be the newly-appointed starter for a prestigious program such as Clemson. Taking over from Trevor Lawrence, who had long been touted as a generational talent, a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback, was a big ask. It’s safe to say, Uiagalelei is finding it difficult, so far.
Clemson started the season with a disappointing 10-3 loss to Georgia. Although the Tigers bounced back with a relatively straightforward win over lesser opponents in S. Carolina State, clinching a comprehensive 49-3 victory, their offensive struggles returned to the forefront the following week. The Tigers narrowly edged GA Tech 14-8 in their ACC opener, and while the victory was welcome, it revealed a number of concerns on the offensive side of the ball.
Uiagalelei ranks in the bottom of the ACC quarterback standings. Through five games, the Clemson quarterback is dead last (13th overall) in efficiency at 104.7. He has three touchdowns to three interceptions and has put up 793 passing yards.
The coaching staff isn’t giving up on the young quarterback yet. They’re committed to giving him a fair chance while working to teach him the fundamentals in order to become a more efficient passer.
On the heels of Clemson’s win over GA Tech a fortnight ago, head coach Tony Elliot stressed this commitment. “[Quarterback coach Brandon] Streeter’s working his tail off to get him to fully commit to the fundamentals all of the time,” Elliott said. “In fairness to him, we’ve got to get him more opportunities to throw down the field to work on his timing.”
Following the win over GA Tech, Clemson succumbed to the narrow 27-21 loss to NC State, marking their first loss to an ACC rival. They bounced back against Boston College this Saturday before a Week 6 bye.
Clemson will take this week off to regroup and refocus its campaign, before returning in Week 7 to face Syracuse on October 15. Ideally, the best-case scenario is that the week off will help spark a new streak and propel Clemson back into the upper echelons of the college football rankings. However, for that to happen, Uiagalelei’s performance would have to improve substantially. Whether that happens, remains to be seen. The early prognosis isn’t promising though.
By contrast, Alabama Crimson Tide has managed to hold on to its No.1 spot, which is a testament to the program Nick Saban has built. The Alabama Crimson Tide come into the season as the defending National Champions, and while they too lost their starting quarterback Mac Jones in the NFL draft (selected No.15 overall by the New England Patriots), the program hasn’t been affected. In fact, Saban lost a record eight players in the NFL draft earlier this year, and yet, the Crimson Tide continues to ride roughshod over the rest of the college football field.