College Football playoff madness: Where will Clemson wind up?


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If Clemson wins out, will they have another shot at the College Football Playoff?
If Clemson wins out, will they have another shot at the College Football Playoff?

Are the Tigers back in the hunt for the College Football Playoff?

Early last Saturday, the Louisville Cardinals needed for chaos to reign in order to see a boost to their playoff chances, while second-ranked Clemson needed for the status quo to still be in effect 24 hours.

Louisville got its chaos, and Clemson didn’t get the status quo, but the Tigers still control their own destiny when the latest rankings in the College Football Playoff poll are announced tonight at 9 p.m. EST. Where will the Tigers land after a staggering 43-42 loss to Pitt? It’s anybody’s guess right now, but early speculation has the Tigers remaining in the top four.

Let’s recap what has happened in the last week, first.

There wasn’t a lot of movement when the rankings were released last Tuesday – Alabama was still in the top spot, Clemson was in second, Michigan was in third and newcomer Washington vaulted into the fourth spot.

Alabama destroyed Miss. St. and will retain the top spot, but Clemson got beat on a late field goal, Michigan got beat on a late field goal and USC blasted Washington with a dominating performance. Number five Ohio St. won easily, while number six Louisville struggled with Wake Forest for three quarters before running away with a 44-12 victory.

Chaos reigned supreme, but that turned out to be a good thing for the Tigers. If Michigan and Washington had won, it would be easy to see Clemson drop to sixth or maybe worse. Instead, the day was filled with upsets, and we went from five undefeated teams to just two (and only one of those, Alabama, is in a Power Five conference).

So, what is Clemson’s path to the playoff? Win out, pure and simple, and that starts Saturday night at Wake Forest. The Tigers have Wake Forest and South Carolina left in the regular season, but provided they beat the Demon Deacons Saturday and win the ACC Atlantic Division Championship, they will play in the ACC Championship Game against likely ACC Coastal winner Virginia Tech.

That would give the Tigers a 12-1 record, a conference championship and wins over at least four ranked teams, including wins over Louisville and Florida St. in the tough Atlantic.

The committee has said – over and over – that conference championships weigh heavy when deciding the final four, and there are five Power Five conferences. Assuming that the Big 12 champ doesn’t get in (they won’t) that leaves the ACC, the Big 10, the SEC and Pac-12 fighting over the final four spots.

If Washington wins out, the Huskies will finish 12-1 as Pac-12 champs. If Michigan wins out, they will represent the Big 10. But then the Big 10 gets complicated – if Penn State wins out (at Rutgers, at home against Michigan State) and Ohio State beats Michigan, the Nittany Lions win the division. That means Ohio State could be ranked as high as No. 2, but it still wouldn't play in its conference championship. That would put the committee in a bind.

Alabama – as long as they win out – they are in.

That brings us to tonight. Alabama will be number one, and then it’s anybody’s guess, but I’ll take a swing at it.

1. Alabama. They stay here until someone knocks them off. And keep this in mind, they look unbeatable right now, but every team has that “bad game” that occurs at least once a season, and Alabama hasn’t really had that bad game.
2. Ohio St. The Buckeyes have responded after the loss to Penn St. and will jump into the second spot. They’ll stay there as long as they keep winning, and then face Michigan for a chance at the playoff.
3. This is where it gets tricky, but Clemson’s season resume is better than the other two teams I think could jump into this spot – Louisville and Michigan. The Tigers have more resume-building wins and beat Louisville head-to-head.
4. Michigan…or Louisville. I get it, I’m hedging my bets here, but it will be on these two teams.


As for the playoff itself, where does Clemson wind up if they win out? It looks likely to me that they wind up in Phoenix against Michigan, Ohio St, or Washington, but only because I think they’ll be in that three spot and not move from the third or second spot. Louisville could sneak into the top four and play Alabama in the Peach Bowl, but again, I think conference championships carry the most merit, and right now I see Clemson and Ohio St. in the Fiesta with Alabama and Washington in the Peach.

Tonight’s rankings show will be the first one that I’ve watched this season with keen interest – it will be interesting to see where everybody winds up after last weekend.


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