Playing one game at a time might work for Dabo Swinney, but it sure takes the wind out of a good debate.
Conversation this week quickly turned to the obvious. Is it a quantum leap to think that since Clemson already negotiated the most treacherous stretch of its schedule and beat the best team it would face, the Tigers should be favored in each of their remaining games?
Absolutely. Will they win them all? In all probability.
After climbing from 12th in the preseason polls to fifth with a bullet this week in the Associated Press media poll, as long as they continue to win, the Tigers will be major players in the conversation for the College Football Playoff, regardless of the prevailing indifference for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Vegas Insider listed Clemson with the seventh best chance of winning the national championship with 13-1 odds, a better return on investment this week than umbrellas.
And the Football Power Index by ESPN projects a 15.3 percent chance of Clemson running the table. Among undefeated teams, Clemson is fourth behind Baylor (25.9), Toledo (21.5) and Ohio State (17.9).
As a footnote, once-beaten Boise State and App State are 1-2.
Massey Ratings, which contributed to the BCS Championship formula, compiles a weekly composite ranking of 21 polls and calculations that weigh virtually every metric available. Clemson this week was fourth behind TCU, Utah and Florida. Five had Clemson at No. 1.
Most all the preseason questions have been answered and optimism abounds with a healthy Deshaun Watson, a productive run game led by Wayne Gallman and a defense, featuring outstanding rush ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, that might be better than the one last season that finished No. 1 nationally.
Here’s a look at Clemson’s final seven games:
Eventually it’s going to become a conundrum for BC. The Eagles haven’t faced much blowback nor shown much offensively, while Steve Addazio tinkered with two quarterbacks. They tempted Florida State by stacking the box and stuffing Dalvin Cook – remember that name – but the Seminoles scored only one offensive touchdown.Wake Forest won with just a field goal even though BC reached the 1-yard line in the final 30 seconds. Clemson coaches like to compare BC to Notre Dame defensively, but they’re being kind. On homecoming in Death Valley, favored by 15½, Clemson wins a sixth straight and begins to prepare for a trip to Little Cuba.
The Canes’ sheer athleticism allows them to hang with anybody. They beat an ordinary Nebraska team in overtime after blowing a 23-point lead, and had Florida State on the ropes in the fourth quarter until Dalvin Cook – that name again – thrust himself into the Heisman conversation. Brad Kaaya, a stereotypical pro-style pocket passer, carries the ACC’s highest quarterback rating, but the Canes don’t have a complementary run game and defensively allow nearly five yards a rush. If Clemson’s players from South Florida show out, this could turn ugly. Clemson should cover the 8½-point spread and win No. 7.
At N.C. State
This could be Waterloo. The Wolfpack were supposed to contend in the ACC Atlantic in Dave Doren’s third season, but after crushing four marshmallows, they were exposed by Louisville and Virginia Tech. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett can be dynamic. They closed last year with three wins. And defensively, they’re third nationally behind BC and Michigan. Clemson won 41-0 at home last season. Four years ago, a .500 Wolfpack team took down seventh-ranked Clemson by 24. This one feels scary. Favored by 7, Clemson can’t cover but the Tigers win the eighth, setting up a potential top 10 showdown.
After a tumultuous offseason in the courtroom, the Seminoles are a plodding 5-0 and ranked 11th, but Louisville and Georgia Tech stand between now and then and either they’ll blossom into a contender or begin to fade into a spoiler role. Even with Cook and Everett Golson the Seminoles aren’t as scary as they were with Jameis Winston, and they haven’t been dominant defensively. Jimbo Fisher has continued to recruit well. He just needs to keep the lawyers on speed dial. If Clemson gets to this game 8-0, it’s going to be loud in Death Valley. Favored by 3½, Clemson might cover – or not.
Facing a four-game gauntlet with Pitt, FSU, Louisville and Clemson, the Orange should have a reasonable idea of how good they are when Clemson arrives in a snowstorm. Syracuse weathered its first visit to Death Valley, losing by 10, but Deshaun Watson did not play (broken hand). Syracuse is 13th in ACC defense and 12th in offense through its first five games. If Big Mo (momentum) does its job, Clemson should make it 10 straight in the comfy confines of the Carrier Dome, though the Tigers might not cover as 8½-point favorites.
If Clemson still needs style points to remain in the playoff conversation, this might require a juggling act. The game should serve the same purpose as Wofford and Appalachian State at the start of the season – win without getting anybody else hurt before the South Carolina and ACC Championship games. The Deacons are currently one of six ACC teams ranked top 15 nationally in total defense, but like most of Clemson’s opponents, there’s a talent gap. This, too, will be the Deacs’ first look at Deshaun Watson, and they’ll wish it was the last. Clemson covers, beats the over and goes to 11-0.
Truly, throw out the record books. Nothing can minimize the scope of this game for either team. There’s no reason to think the Gamecocks will have more than four wins, so this will be their Super Bowl. The Tigers have better personnel on both sides. They should be heavily favored. And they know who their coach will be for the foreseeable future. Two years ago, this game had national implications for both teams. Now it is for one team – a 7 1/2-point favorite. If they play confidently and not arrogantly, the Tigers head to the ACC title game undefeated and one step from the playoffs.
Saturday: Boston College (3-3, 0-3 ACC)
Oct. 24: at Miami (3-2, 0-1 ACC)
Oct. 31: at N.C. State (4-2, 0-2 ACC)
Nov. 7: Florida State (5-0, 3-0 ACC)
Nov. 14: at Syracuse (3-2, 1-0 ACC)
Nov. 21: Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2 ACC)
Nov. 28: at South Carolina (2-4, 0-4 SEC)
Tigers vs. Eagles
Who: Clemson (5-0, 2-0 ACC) vs. Boston College (3-3, 0-3)
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
Line: Clemson by 15 1/2