Clemson’s No. 2 spot in the first College Football Playoff’s Top 25 rankings is about as ideal a position as it gets.
Alabama is clearly the best team in the country to this point. The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC), though, have three top-25 wins, including two from the top-10.
If the Crimson Tide falter at LSU on Saturday, Clemson is in position to move up into that top spot, and with just a few regular-season games left and a conference championship, it’s would be hard to knock the Tigers from that perch.
That would put Clemson in Atlanta for a playoff semifinal. If Alabama wins out, there’s a good chance the Tigers are headed back to Glendale, Arizona, the site of last year’s national championship game loss, for the 2-3 game.
More importantly, starting No. 2 basically means if Clemson doesn’t suffer a loss, it’s locked up a playoff spot.
Texas A&M, with its one loss, isn’t making a huge move up from fourth without a ton of help. No. 3 Michigan could conceivably leap Clemson with a win over Ohio State.
In some ways it seems like Clemson’s regular season ended with last Saturday’s 37-34 win at No. 22 Florida State. It was the last ranked team the Tigers play until at least the ACC title game in Orlando.
The Tigers will be heavily favored against Syracuse, Pitt, Wake Forest and South Carolina. But maybe it’s a tad presumptive to think this team will just cruise through the final month.
Clemson doesn’t have to look far into the past to find an example of how difficult it can be to handle the final third of the regular season.
Last year, Clemson beat FSU on Nov. 7. The Tigers had three regular-season games left and the ACC championship contest.
They needed a 42-yard field goal and later a clock-eating, 13-play drive to beat Syracuse. Following a 20-point win over Wake Forest, Clemson beat South Carolina by only five points. North Carolina gave the Tigers all they could handle in a 45-37 Clemson win.
This year’s Tigers have close games in their DNA. Five of Clemson’s eight wins have been decided by seven points or less, including a near-loss to unranked N.C. State at home on Oct. 15.
That’s a team the Tigers were supposed to dominate, like they’re supposed to do to these final four regular-season opponents.
Because of the CFP rankings, some teams are trying not to lose this time of year. That’s a lot different than playing to win.
Who: Syracuse (4-4, 2-2 ACC) at Clemson (8-0, 5-0)
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
Line: Clemson by 27 1/2