It’s not technically possible for Clemson to lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff until the final ranking is released on Dec. 8, but go ahead and put the Tigers in.
Anyone who doesn’t is, well, probably a South Carolina fan.
Instead of eking out a two-point win like in 2018, Clemson dismantled Texas A&M 24-10 on Saturday in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. With the most difficult game on the schedule now complete, ESPN’s FPI gives the Tigers an 80% chance of winning each remaining game. Clemson’s chances of reaching the playoff skyrocketed to 84% after the win over A&M, according to the Allstate Playoff Predictor.
But even that number feels conservative. Sure, it’s not easy to go undefeated, but it’s easy to see why Clemson should: It might not play another ranked opponent the rest of the season. The Tigers next travel to Syracuse, which hours ago seemed like a trap game (again), but after Maryland manhandled the Orange on Saturday, there doesn’t appear to be much of a spoiler lurking in the Atlantic Division.
Maybe the road trip to North Carolina will surprise us. Maybe Louisville, which gave Notre Dame some headaches early, will learn how to finish. Maybe rival South Carolina will have something to say about it.
Eh, probably not.
That means two things: Clemson should finish undefeated (again), and it might have to if the rest of the ACC drags down its schedule strength. The win against A&M, though, should resonate through November with the committee, just as it did last year.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the receivers made eye-popping plays, and the rebuilt defense — which revealed a rising star in sophomore defensive end Xavier Thomas — smothered the run and flustered Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond into a forgettable performance.
“Last year, a lot of people said it was lucky that we got out of there with a win,” Lawrence said, “so we wanted to leave no doubt this year.”
Go ahead and check that box — and probably the next 10, as the Tigers are set for a rerun of 2018.
The SEC might run a little deeper …
It isn’t Alabama-and-everyone-else, at least not based on the two-week snapshot we have. It’s Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Auburn. With LSU’s win at Texas, a game in which quarterback Joe Burrow catapulted himself into the Heisman conversation, the Tigers legitimized their playoff hopes and made their case for a top-four ranking in the next AP Top 25.
Can they stay there?
“I know that we have a good football team,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “I’ve always felt like we had a good football team. But there’s some things we’ve got to better on defense. We can’t give up 38 points and get where we want to go. We got some one-on-one mismatches, we didn’t get enough rush, we missed some tackles, some of our best players missed some tackles. So we have to get better and take it one game at a time. We have to be hungry, we have to be humble, look at the things we did wrong and get better at them.”
Consider this: ESPN’s FPI projects LSU to win each of its remaining games except a Nov. 9 trip to Alabama (31.3%). What if that’s LSU’s only loss and Bama wins the SEC? We’ve seen an SEC team finish in the top four without winning the West (Alabama). The same question can be asked for Auburn, which also has a thrilling nonconference win, against Oregon.
What if … LSU and Georgia finish with one loss, each to the SEC champ, Alabama?
OK, OK, we’re jumping ahead here, but the SEC’s performances the past two weeks have opened the door to the possibility of multiple SEC teams finishing in the top four. Again.
That could make life difficult, of course, for the other Power 5 conference champions that finish with at least one loss, especially if Texas runs the table and wins the Big 12. Yes, Oklahoma is the conference’s team to beat until proven otherwise, but it’s hardly as if Texas fell apart against a talented LSU team. If LSU and Texas are both in the mix — and Texas has a league title and LSU doesn’t — things could get very tricky for the selection committee.
More of the same from Michigan …
Based on what we’ve seen the first two weeks, Ohio State — not Michigan — is the front-runner to win the Big Ten East and contend for a top-four spot. Wisconsin, in the West, has also looked better than Michigan, which is struggling to find its offensive identity under first-year coordinator Josh Gattis. The Wolverines have lost five fumbles in two games, and quarterback Shea Patterson accounted for two of them on Saturday. The Wolverines averaged 2.5 yards per carry and had nine penalties against Army.
To be fair, Army is difficult to defend. The Black Knights pushed Oklahoma to double overtime last year, and the Sooners went on to a CFP semifinal. Saturday’s game doesn’t have to haunt the Wolverines (they won, by the way), but Michigan hasn’t shown any reason to believe it’s a playoff contender yet.
That’s a problem because after missing the CFP the past two seasons, the Big Ten needs Michigan and Ohio State and Wisconsin to be ranked and in the mix, especially if the possibility of two SEC teams remains. And right now? With Auburn, Georgia, Alabama and LSU all winning, it’s a possibility.
“We have to keep grinding, just getting it more well-oiled,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We’ve got to get the well-oiled machine going.”
Quickly. Next up: a Sept. 21 road trip to Wisconsin.