Clemson University

Clemson might not be in the top four of first playoff rankings. And that’s OK

Saturday’s 59-14 victory over FCS foe Wofford by the nation’s No. 4 team won’t be much more than an afterthought when this season is all said and done.

The Clemson Tigers’ latest win will have little to no impact on the College Football Playoff committee’s season-debut rankings, which will be released Tuesday night.

The group of decision makers meeting in Irving, Texas, to rank the top 25 — and most importantly, the first top 4 — probably won’t care that Travis Etienne rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries or that Trevor Lawrence tossed three touchdown passes for the fourth consecutive game or that the Clemson defense held an option team from the Southern Conference to 139 rushing yards.

We all get that.

It also doesn’t help this dominating performance came the same week that No. 1 LSU, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 5 Penn State all had open dates.

So it won’t provide upward mobility in the Associated Press poll for the Tigers, but the criteria for the playoff committee’s decision making is a little different.

Which is why it’s time to ask: Will Clemson be in the top 4 of the playoff committee’s first rankings?

The Tigers have a case. The defending champs started the season No. 1 in the AP poll, which shouldn’t matter to a committee that’s tasked with evaluating this season’s results alone, but it’s impossible not to think preseason narratives exist in their minds.

That goes two ways for Clemson.

The Tigers have been dinged by the national media, falling three times in the poll for not looking like the best team in the country.

Pundits have criticized the offense for Lawrence’s eight interceptions in the first seven games and the lack of competition on the schedule. That’s fair, even though Clemson can’t help that the ACC is down. Lawrence can help his interception rate, which has been zero the last two games.

It’s also fair to point out what the Tigers have accomplished since a 21-20 win at North Carolina.

“We’ve never scored 45-plus points four games in a row,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “For an offense that’s so-called ‘struggled’ this year, it’s pretty dadgum amazing what this group has done.”

In terms of resumes, LSU and Ohio State could very well be ahead of Clemson on Tuesday. Alabama might start in front of the Tigers as well, even though what the Crimson Tide has done is less distinguishable from a strength of schedule standpoint. Coming into the week, the Jeff Sagarin ratings ranked Clemson’s schedule seven spots tougher than Alabama’s.

And then there’s Penn State, undefeated with wins over ranked teams Iowa and Michigan.

For Swinney, though, Tuesday night won’t be a culmination or a disappointment, but could it be a distraction for a team that’s heard, fair or not, that it isn’t living up to expectations of others?

“It’s not a distraction at all,” Swinney said. “We’re right where we need to be.

“We’ve got a saying around here. Some horses start fast. Some start slow, but the thoroughbred is great at the final pole. At the end of the day, somebody will cross that line first. We’re just trying to run our race and be the best version of us.”

Clemson could start fifth Tuesday and it won’t matter. LSU and Alabama play next week. Penn State still has undefeated Minnesota and Ohio State.

“We don’t control anything with somebody sitting in a room in Texas, what they think,” Swinney said. “We just need to take care of our business. If we do that, it’ll all work out.”

If Clemson wins out, it’s getting in, and the Tigers are doing what Swinney wants: peaking down the stretch.

The offense is playing at the level that it should be. The defense has been surprisingly consistent with its dominance.

The Tigers aren’t perfect, and they have their issues on special teams, but Tuesday’s first ranking could only fuel what the coaches dub “championship phase” this month.