There has been one nearly unanimous reaction to Clemson being ranked No. 5 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.
Poor, N.C. State.
The theory goes the Tigers (9-0, 6-0 ACC) now have an extra incentive to convincingly beat the Wolfpack (4-4, 1-3) on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., ABC) at Carter-Finley Stadium to impress the CFP selection committee.
“I’m sure it fires them up,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said of the committee’s initial ranking.
But Doeren said while he has great respect for the Tigers and the program Dabo Swinney has built, he wasn’t interested in wading into a debate about where the Tigers should be ranked.
“I don’t know what goes on in the (CFP) meetings,” Doeren said. “I’m not going to get involved in that conversation.”
On the strength of running back Travis Etienne (1,102 rushing yards), quarterback Trevor Lawrence (2,027 yards, 20 TDs) and a rebuilt defense (ACC-best 11.7 points per game), the Tigers have won their six ACC games this season by an average of 32 points. They did struggle in their last trip to the Triangle, a 21-20 win at North Carolina on Sept. 28.
That close call with the Tar Heels, and the overall lack of schedule strength, are the primary reasons the Tigers are temporarily on the outside of the playoff picture.
The close call in Chapel Hill probably has provided more motivation than CFP rankings. They have won their three ACC games since then by 31 (Florida State), 35 (Louisville) and 52 (Boston College) points.
That last number feels like the most troubling for the Wolfpack. Clemson beat Boston College 59-7 on Oct 26, while the Eagles beat N.C. State 45-24 on Oct. 19.
Throw in a 44-10 loss at Wake Forest last week for the Wolfpack and there aren’t many people outside of the program who are giving them, a 32-point underdog, a shot on Saturday night.
“I just told (the players), you’ve got nothing to lose,” Doeren said. “Just go as fast and as hard as you can. We need to be a better football team, obviously, than we were the last time out.”
N.C. State had been competitive with the Tigers before last year’s 41-7 loss at Clemson. The Wolfpack lost 38-31 in Raleigh in 2017 and 24-17 in overtime at Clemson in 2016.
The Tigers went on to win the national title in 2016 and again last year. They have made the playoff the past four years but aren’t being given much credit for their historical run from the selection committee.
Ohio State, LSU, Alabama and Penn State rank ahead of them. Of course, the Crimson Tide and LSU play on Saturday and the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions will meet on Nov. 23, so there’s no real damage in being No. 5.
Also, since the CFP was adopted before the 2014 season, no “Power 5” conference team has gone unbeaten and been left out of the top 4.
The chance to play spoiler and to be back home for any game, the Wolfpack has been on the road since Oct. 10, is what Doeren wants his team to focus on.
“Being able to come home and have homecoming and the opportunity to play a great team, that’s what it’s all about,” Doeren said. “That’s what you play college football for.”
Note: Senior cornerback Nick McCloud has missed the past seven games with a knee injury but returned to practice this week, Doeren said on Thursday.
McCloud is one of seven starters, and one of four cornerbacks, who missed the Wake Forest loss with an injury.
“Hopefully, he’ll be able to play on Saturday,” Doeren said of McCloud. “Just having his spark and leadership (in practice) has been great.”