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Sep 09, 2023

A New Era

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the Charleston Southern football gameday program.

There are some major changes in college football this year, changes that affect Clemson fans and the way they follow the Tigers, the ACC and college football in general. I am not talking about the transfer portal or NIL.

This past February, Woody McCorvey, the legendary former Clemson assistant coach and current “National Security Advisor” on Dabo Swinney’s staff for the last 15 years, attended a meeting of the minds when it comes to the rules of college football. McCorvey is one of the most respected administrators in the business and is a member of the national rules committee.

Much of the discussion centered around the length of college football games. While many believe there are too many commercial timeouts that contribute to the three hours and 22 minute average for a game in 2022, cutting back is not an option, because indirectly, or directly, those commercials are a major source of the millions of dollars schools receive from their conference television contracts.

That is what all the conference affiliation changes have been about during the summer.

A Clemson game on average lasted three hours and 27 minutes in the 2022 season, or five minutes longer than the national average. A big part of the discussion centered around the unpredictability of game durations. Clemson was a prime example. The season opener last season at Georgia Tech took four hours and 20 minutes to complete. The Furman contest took only two hours and 59 minutes, and the game at Notre Dame later in the season lasted three hours and five minutes.

The committee looked at many options, but the one it adopted was the NFL rule where the clock does not stop for a first down when the ball is in play until the last two minutes of each half. In the 2022 season when Will Shipley ran for a first down and was tackled in bounds, the clock stopped to reset the down markers. This year when Shipley runs for a first down in bounds, the clock will continue to run.

I asked McCorvey if the committee discussed how many fewer plays per game each team would run over the course of a game due to this new timing rule. He said the committee estimated each team would run seven to eight fewer plays per game. That seems about right, because on average, NFL games run about 15 less plays than a college game.

That does not sound like a lot, but that could be two less possessions per game per team if it is a defensive battle.

Like in 2006 when timing rules were altered, fans who follow their team and are into statistics must understand when they evaluate their offense, they must take the reduction of plays and yardage into account. If Clemson averages 6.0 yards per play this year, a normal average for Clemson’s offense over the last 10 years, that is a reduction of about 50 yards per game.

When fans look at a 500-yard total offense game as a barometer of excellence, they need to reduce that number to 450 yards.

I am sure at some point a national pundit will say Clemson’s offense is down in production this year because it is averaging 20 fewer yards per game. In reality, it would be improved.

The second point most fans attending today’s game realize is that there are no more divisions in the ACC. It is just one 14-team league. So, what is the big deal with that?

It is a good move because it will guarantee that the two-best teams play for the championship in Charlotte in December.

The 2018 season is an example of why the change is for the better. That season, Clemson and Syracuse had a thrilling game in Death Valley. Trevor Lawrence was injured in the first half and backup Chase Brice, who started the week as the third-team quarterback, had to come in off the bench.

He completed a fourth-down pass to Tee Higgins in the fourth quarter that kept the drive alive and Travis Etienne eventually scored the winning touchdown in the last minute.

Had Clemson lost that game, it would have finished with a 7-1 ACC record, the same final mark as Syracuse. However, Syracuse would have gone to the ACC Championship Game as the Atlantic Division champion, because they would have won the head-to-head meeting.

How would the CFP committee have looked at the Tigers if they had not even played in the ACC Championship Game?

By today’s setup, Clemson and Syracuse would have played again if the Orange had beaten the Tigers, giving Clemson a much better shot at getting into the playoff with an ACC Championship Game victory over Syracuse.

All this has come about because of the 12-team CFP format we will have starting in the 2024 season. No one wants to have an 8-4 team in the CFP as a league representative after an upset victory in a conference title game.

The drawback of having just one 14-team conference is that there will be more meaningless league games in November. When the teams were in divisions, there were more games that affected the division standings.

That is the price of progress.