ESPN CFP reporter on Clemson: 'If they win, they're in'


by - Staff Writer -
Clemson just needs to win to make the Playoff.
Clemson just needs to win to make the Playoff.

The College Football Playoff rankings before the final call on Dec. 8 are more entertainment than anything but they do provide some insight into the mind of the 13 Playoff committee members.

ESPN has had college football reporter Heather Dinich embedded in Texas with the committee over the years and she said on an ESPN podcast this week there's a different feel these rankings versus the final one. She called them more "business-like" and expedient than the highly-scrutinized last top-25.

That said, Dinich says the so-called 'eye test' weighed heavily on Tuesday with Ohio State being ranked No. 1 ahead of LSU then Alabama, Penn State and Clemson among the five unbeatens at the top.

"I say that because they put Ohio State at No. 1, which you can certainly make a case for. That's not surprising," Dinich said on the podcast. "But the reason for it, according to committee chair Rob Mullens, was because of how Ohio State had played and how dominant they've played. He referenced the best defensive player in college football, obviously talking about Chase Young. The justification for Ohio State ahead of LSU, which has played a tougher schedule -- beating both Auburn and Florida -- was the eye test.

"You look at No. 3 Alabama, which has just one win over a Power 5 opponent with a winning record...and Rob Mullens is talking about Alabama at (No.) 3 and he didn't even mention their schedule. He talked about the way they looked on both sides of the ball. But what's interesting is that with Penn State at No. 4 -- the reason was the schedule. Wins against Iowa. Against Michigan. Against Pitt. And then when he was asked if Penn State's schedule is so good, why aren't they ahead of Alabama? The answer was that Alabama is 'just better.' That really gives credence to the eye test for this particular group of 13 people."

In addition to look on video, both Alabama and Clemson have rated ahead of Penn State in metrics such as the ESPN-housed Football Power Index and SP+ but both are at least 20 spots behind Penn State in strength of schedule so far per Sagarin (Penn State - 39; Alabama - 59; Clemson - 64). Penn State paces that trio in ESPN's strength of record metric as well (Penn State - 2; Alabama - 4; Clemson - 8).

Despite the No. 5 ranking, ESPN's Playoff Predictor still has Clemson second-only to Ohio State in Playoff projection (84.7 for Ohio State; 73.7 for Clemson) and looks to control its own destiny moving forward.

"To me, Clemson on the bubble at No. 5 tells me one thing: they cannot lose. If they win, they're in," Dinich said. "There's no margin for error with them obviously. Not surprising that Penn State was ahead of them because of those wins that Penn State had. But at the same time, I go back to that debate between eye test and resume and Clemson's a very talented team and we can all see how much better they've gotten since that North Carolina game. But yes, if they win -- they're in. If they lose, they're in huge trouble." 

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