CLEMSON — The ambition of Clemson football is to take the next leap in competitiveness and join the nation’s elite. Toward that end, No. 14 Clemson (10-2) has an excellent model to examine in No. 8 LSU (10-2) on Dec. 31 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. LSU played for a national title last year and was one defensive stop away against Alabama from perhaps doing the same this January.
ROSTER CONSTRUCTION BREAKDOWN
LSU recruiting from 2008-12Signees: 125Five-stars signees: 10Four-stars signees: 51Clemson recruiting from 2008-12Signess: 115Five-stars signees: 5Four-stars signees: 41
The Post and Courier examined both Clemson and LSU’s roster construction over the last five years to learn what has made LSU a consistent dominant force, and to better understand why Clemson has fallen short of elite status. The findings? LSU, like many Southeastern Conference teams during the SEC’s run of six straight national titles, is talented along both lines and has a raw numbers advantage.
From 2008-12, LSU signed 125 prospects, including 10 five-star prospects and 51 four-star prospects, according to Rivals.com.
By comparison, Clemson signed 110 prospects over the same period. Among the signees were five, five-star prospects and 41 four-star prospects.
LSU signed 15 more prospects than Clemson over the five-year period and 15 more four- and five-star prospects. The advantage comes in part from LSU’s strong brand and success, in part due to the over-signing practices in the SEC, and in part due to Clemson’s regime change that eroded the 2009 recruiting class.
But LSU’s success is not just about sheer recruiting volume: it’s about distribution.
Of LSU’s 61 combined four- and five-star prospects signed over the last five years, 16 were defensive linemen, including starting ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, who are expected to be taken in the first-round of April’s draft. Clemson signed 10 four- and five-star defensive linemen over the same five year period.
“That defense is built for championships,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s how they’ve recruited, that’s how they developed their depth. It’s an outstanding group. Their front four will be as anyone we’ve seen. We’ll have a great matchup on our hands.”
Loading up on elite defensive linemen is the key to the SEC’s sustained run of excellence. Eight of the last 11 national champions have started at least one first-round NFL defensive line.
And it is that defensive front that many suspect will give the Clemson offense problems again, like the talented South Carolina and Florida State’s fronts did in Clemson’s only two losses this season.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” Clemson senior center Dalton Freeman said. “They’re a national contender each and every year, so we look at this as a chance to go out and prove that we are who we say we are.”
LSU is also strong and deep along its offensive front. LSU was down three offensive line starters for much of the second half of the season but it still recorded a number of 100-plus yard rushing games. LSU signed nine four- or five-star offensive lineman over the five year period, Clemson signed six.
New over-signing restrictions put in place by SEC presidents combined with new NCAA academic standards in 2016 could cut down on the SEC’s numbers advantage. But on Dec. 31 LSU appears to also hold an advantage.
Swinney said starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland will not play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU. Breeland (groin) was injured on a special teams play against N.C. State. He started five of 10 games.
Fellow starter Darius Robinson (broken leg) will also miss the bowl game.
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