Back Clemson’s Schedule is Not a Problem

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Clemson’s Schedule is Not a Problem

By Dave Holcomb
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Clemson will be in the College Football Playoffs if it wins out.

Over the last handful of years, Clemson has joined Alabama as one of the top two programs in college football. Since the start of 2015, the two powerhouses have identical records of 62-4 and two national championships each.

When Alabama has been doubted in the past, things didn’t work out so well for opponents. Whether it was rebounding from their College Football Playoffs loss or heading into the 2017 playoffs when some doubted if Alabama belonged after not winning the SEC West, the Crimson Tide have a knack for playing their best when the critics are loudest.

This season, Clemson could take a similar path back to the title game.

The Tigers opened 2019 as the No. 1 team in the country following the first 15-0 season since the turn of the 20th century. But since the end of September, Dabo Swinney’s team has been steadily declining in the polls.

Clemson narrowly escaped North Carolina, 21-20, in a game the Tar Heels could have sent into overtime with an extra-point but chose to go for a two-point try with under two minutes remaining and missed. Clemson started slowly this past Saturday as well before running out to a 45-10 victory against Louisville.

Inconsistent play has been part of why the Tigers have dropped in the rankings, but the truth is, other teams have been more impressive against the eye test.

LSU and Ohio State have absolutely dominated competition, beating opponents by an average of more than 30 points per game each. And Alabama is, well, Alabama. The Crimson Tide moved up to No. 1 following Clemson’s first slide in the polls.

Some college football analysts have argued that moving Clemson to No. 4 isn’t a big enough fall for the Tigers. Joel Klatt of FOX Sports has been one of the Tigers’ biggest critics and ranked them No. 6, behind Oklahoma and Penn State as well, heading into Week 9. Before last Saturday, he had Clemson at No. 7 with Wisconsin in his Top 6.

Anybody can rank Clemson anywhere at this point, and analysts can talk until they are blue in the face about how weak the ACC is this year. At least in regards to the latter, they would be correct, as the American Athletic Conference has as many ranked teams as the ACC, and the only other Top 25 team from the Atlantic Coast this week is Wake Forest at No. 25.

But the truth remains, Clemson will be in the College Football Playoffs if it wins out. All the rankings with Clemson outside the Top Four until then is just fodder. Even if one agrees with Klatt’s rankings, Alabama plays LSU and Ohio State faces Penn State in November. One of those teams is going home with a loss, likely ruling them out of even a conference championship game appearance.

Outside the top six ranked teams, Baylor and Minnesota remain as the only other two undefeated Power 5 teams. But if either finishes perfect, that means Ohio State, Penn State and Oklahoma aren’t, again leaving, at most, three undefeated Power 5 teams outside of Clemson.

In other words, as we usually say every college football season, “this will play itself out.” Furthermore, the discussion about Clemson’s schedule being weak isn’t one worth having until or if the Tigers lose a game.

As just laid out, thanks to the Pac-12 and Notre Dame, there is no possibility of four other Power 5 teams besides Clemson holding an undefeated record at the end of the season. In that scenario, by virtue of being undefeated and in a Power 5 conference, the Tigers will be in the playoffs.

It’s as plain and simple as that. No schedule comparisons. No “eye tests.” Nothing. Clemson will make its fifth straight College Football Playoff with an undefeated regular season and ACC championship.

They wouldn’t be getting in because of brand recognition or due to the fact they are the defeating champions either. With the current playoff format heavily favoring the Power 5 conferences to the point where the committee left out an undefeated UCF two years ago (and really didn’t seriously consider them either), an undefeated Power 5 team will not and cannot be left out of the Top 4.

Once the Top 4 is decided, then there can be a debate of what seed a largely untested Clemson squad would land. Additionally, if the Tigers lose, then their schedule will be dissected and compared to possibly Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and potentially lots of other 1-loss teams.

But the Tigers are in the Top 4 if undefeated.

And as Alabama showed in 2017, all a team has to do is get in to have a chance. It appears as though Clemson is going to be doubted all season long, but assuming the Tigers take care of business in the ACC, they will have a chance to repeat as national champions.