Dabo Swinney often says he does not deal in hypothetical situations.
He will not speculate on whether Clemson would be unbeaten had he started freshman Deshaun Watson from the outset of the season. Swinney won’t go there when discussing the promising future of his budding star quarterback. He will not guess how quarterback Chad Kelly could have fit into Clemson’s plans had he not bolted for a junior college.
There is one hypothetical Swinney kind of likes addressing: Is Clemson still alive in its quest to reach the four-team College Football Playoff?
“Oh, no, I think the playoffs can happen,” Swinney said this week when asked if Clemson’s early season losses to Georgia and Florida State eliminated the Tigers.
“So, I certainly wouldn’t think it knocks you out with four (teams),” Swinney said. “Obviously, you’ve got to have some help. There’s got to be some things happen, a few more weekends like this past weekend.”
Actually, there is a pretty clear path for Clemson to reach the final four, albeit as much improbable as it is plausible.
Consider this scenerio:
• Florida State runs the table while winning the ACC’s regular-season title and championship game. The Seminoles would be ranked No. 1 in the country and likely the top seed in the playoff.
• Georgia runs the table while winning the SEC East title and the league’s championship game. The Bulldogs’ lone loss would be at South Carolina in the season’s third week. They likely would BE the No. 2 seed in the playoff.
• Clemson runs the table and finishes with a 10-2 record. Its only losses would be road games against the top-two seeded teams. That resume likely would earn the Tigers a spot in the playoff.
A couple of other factors play in Clemson’s favor. For one, the 13-member selection committee has been told it can consider injuries or other factors that influence a team’s record. Also, while it might not seem likely now, it is possible for a two-loss team to reach the playoff.
The “other factor” in Clemson’s case is Watson. He did not start in either of Clemson’s losses, throwing four passes for 59 yards against Georgia before earning the starting job following a 19-for-28, 266-yard passing performance against Florida State.
Should Clemson win its remaining games – that is not a given with Louisville, Georgia Tech and USC still to go – a case could be made that the Tigers were a different team before Watson emerged on the scene. Twisted the other way, Clemson was a playoff-worthy team with Watson at the helm.
As for the two losses, consider the 2007 BCS national championship game. LSU lost a pair of three-overtime games during the regular season, still won the SEC West and defeated Tennessee for the conference championship. Despite the two losses, the Tigers climbed to No. 2 in the national rankings and topped Ohio State for the national title.
If a two-loss club could reach the title game under the old system when the BCS determined only the national championship game participants, then it is conceivable that a two-loss team could make the four-team playoff.
“Hopefully, we can continue to build some momentum and become the team we want to be, and have a great October and a great November,” Swinney said. “If we do that, we’ve done what we can control, and we’ll see where the chips fall.”
Of course, none of that will happen if Clemson loses to Louisville on Saturday, or Florida State loses a game or two the rest of the way, or Georgia does not win the SEC East, or ...
All that is hypothetical.