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Clemson's Lawrence runs the ball against USC

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) makes a 32-yard run against South Carolina in Death Valley during the 2018 game. According to ESPN Analytics writer Seth Walder, speaking about Clemson’s 2019 schedule: “Their most difficult game, per FPI, is at South Carolina on Nov. 30. Alabama also plays at South Carolina, but that game is the Crimson Tide's fifth-most difficult game."

ESPN released its first "College Football Playoff Predictor" and by all accounts the Clemson Tigers are destined for another trip to the College Football Playoff and the CFP National Championship.

The predictor gives the Tigers an 83% chance to reach the playoff, No. 1 in the nation ahead of Alabama, which has a 71% chance to reach the playoff.

The Tigers also lead the way when it comes to chances to take home the national championship, as they have a nine-point lead on the Crimson Tide – 36% to 27%.

"Though they lost some imposing defensive talent in their front seven, the reigning champs have stability at head coach and a superstar talent returning at quarterback in Trevor Lawrence - both key factors in earning the confidence of ESPN's Football Power Index," ESPN Analytics writer Seth Walder wrote. "And though FPI had Clemson as the top team at this time last year, it thinks this season's squad is almost four points per game better than what it thought of Dabo Swinney's team 12 months ago."

According Walder, the reason their chances to reach the playoffs are so good this season is the schedule.

"Add in the fact that the Tigers' schedule rates as only the 56th-hardest among FBS teams, and it's just hard to fathom how Clemson could not make the committee's top four come Selection Day," Walder wrote. "We'll hazard a guess that over the next decade, no team will have a higher preseason chance to reach the playoff - per our model - than Clemson has right now.

"To put the Tigers' schedule into perspective: Their most difficult game, per FPI, is at South Carolina on Nov. 30. Alabama also plays at South Carolina, but that game is (ranked as) the Crimson Tide's fifth-most difficult game."

However, Walder did not stop his talking down of Clemson's schedule in his story. In fact, he went on ESPN's Paul Finebaum Show and doubled down on his critique.

"Clemson's schedule is so soft," he said on the Wednesday show. "We are talking about one of the easiest schedules in the Power 5. They are two-touchdown favorites over everyone on their schedule, and the toughest game is at South Carolina."

However, the facts from ESPN, Walder's employer, tell a different story about the Tigers' recent scheduling practices.

From 2016-2018, Clemson's schedule ranks as the toughest in the nation.

Opponents that the Tigers have faced the last three seasons have amassed a 61.13 winning percentage - ahead of opponents on schedules for Florida State (60.81), Auburn (60.36), Alabama (59.78) and UCLA (59.12), with Tennessee, Georgia and Notre Dame rounding out the top eight.

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia.

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