After all the preseason handwringing over the ACC being left out of the College Football Playoff, the path to the semifinals is clear for Clemson, as long as the Tigers can continue taking care of business.
Saturday marks the beginning of the second half of the 14-week season, and Clemson has done everything it’s needed to do to be a part of the championship discussion, even if the Tigers are only a peripheral participant at the moment. This game – at Miami – is one of the two biggest hurdles left on Clemson’s schedule, the other being Florida State at home on Nov. 7, but 12-0 is a realistic possibility, as is a win in Charlotte over whatever the Coastal Division spits out at the end.
Florida State is a contender as well, but until the Seminoles beat someone other than Miami – and they’ll get that chance at Clemson and at Florida to end the season – it’s more worthwhile to focus on Clemson, which would be 13-0 with wins over Notre Dame, Florida State and South Carolina, the latter worth noting only because it’s an SEC opponent.
In other words, a resume that should be among the top four in the country, although that will depend on the way things shake out elsewhere – especially in the Pac-12.
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The Big 12 is going to get a spot, either the Baylor-Texas Christian winner or one-loss Oklahoma if things go haywire for the other two, since the Sooners can redeem their inexplicable loss to Texas with wins over Baylor and TCU.
The Big Ten is going to get a spot, and not merely because Barry Alvarez calls the shots in the committee room. Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa all have a good shot to go 13-0 with a win over one or both of the other two. (Michigan State and Ohio State play in Columbus on Nov. 21, with the winner potentially facing undefeated Iowa in the championship game.)
The SEC is going to get a spot, because it’s the SEC and college football would come to a screeching halt if it didn’t. But a one-loss Alabama team would be as worthy a representative as undefeated Louisiana State or 12-1 Florida, however it boils down in the end. All bets are off if the SEC grinds itself into a two-loss muddle, but that hasn’t happened since 2007, when 10-2 LSU played for (and won) the national title anyway.
That would leave two wild cards in Clemson’s path: the Pac-12 and Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is easier to dismiss. Even if the Irish wins out, the 11-1 Irish aren’t bumping the 13-0 Tigers aside, having lost to Clemson already. If Notre Dame gets in, it won’t be at Clemson’s expense. Or it shouldn’t be, anyway. (That might be a different story if Florida State is the ACC’s undefeated contender.)
The Pac-12 has undefeated Utah, with notable wins over Michigan, Oregon and California, but the Utes have to get past Southern Cal this weekend and presumably Stanford in the conference championship. That seems a hair tougher than what Clemson potentially faces.
If Utah and Clemson win out, and the SEC doesn’t implode, it will be very interesting to see how the committee assesses two very similar resumes. At the moment, the Sagarin ratings have the two teams in a virtual dead heat, with Clemson a mere .53 points ahead. The backroom political shenangians would be priceless.
All of this presumes the Tigers win out as well, which is far from guaranteed, although Clemson should be favored by at least a touchdown in each of its remaining games except Florida State.
There remains a long way to go, an entire half of the season to be played, but Clemson has injected itself into the semifinal discussion, and Florida State isn’t done yet. The ACC, far from being disregarded, is in prime position to participate.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock