As the College Football Playoff selection committee prepares to release its final set of rankings on Sunday afternoon, one of the biggest remaining questions is which final four participant it will choose for the No. 1 seed. The committee will consider stellar wins, horrid losses, strength of schedule and conference titles, among other data points. Here’s one thing Clemson has going for it: It looks like the best team.
The Tigers crushed Miami, 38-3, in the ACC championship game in Charlotte on Saturday night. The win makes their inclusion in the national semifinals a formality. Slotted No. 1 in the penultimate rankings last Tuesday, Clemson is the clear-cut favorite to occupy the same slot in the last version. Whomever it draws in its New Years Day matchup, that team won’t be encouraged by the film of what the Tigers did to Miami on Saturday.
A Hurricanes team known primarily for its propensity for forcing turnovers, and flashy piece of celebratory jewelry that accompanied those plays—it entered Saturday tied for the nation’s lead in TO margin—surrendered possession three times in the second half, including two interceptions on consecutive drives in the third quarter from junior quarterback Malik Rosier, as Clemson extended the 21-point lead it built before the break.
The Hurricanes would have had a hard time hanging with Clemson even if they did a better job hanging on to the ball, because they couldn’t slow down Kelly Bryant. The Tigers junior dual-threat signal-caller turned in one of his best performances of the season against a stingy Miami defense, completing his first 15 passes and 23 of 29 overall for 252 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions before being replaced by reserve Hunter Johnson in the fourth quarter.
With Bryant locked in, Clemson’s defense enjoyed a low-stress evening against a Hurricanes offense hobbled by injuries. Rosier connected on only 14 of his 29 throws with zero touchdowns and two picks, the Hurricanes managed only 104 rushing yards on 30 carries and the Tigers outgained them 331 yards to 214 yards. This game probably won’t help the offensive coordinator of Clemson’s playoff opponent find any weak points in the Tigers’ D.
Clemson will stroll into the playoff riding a wave of positive momentum. It has won its last three games by a combined score of 133-16, its only loss of the season came in mid-October, and Bryant left that game before halftime because of an injury. The ACC title tilt triumph extends Clemson’s winning streak to six games, and the margin of victory was in the single digits for only one of them (A 38-31 decision at North Carolina State on Nov. 4).
The Tigers have not always looked like one of the best teams in the country this season, but they navigated a challenging schedule while suffering only one three-point slip-up with an asterisk nearly two months ago, and they’re peaking at just the right time. This is what a national championship run looks like. Clemson looks ready to take the final, most difficult steps