No. 1 Clemson got a scare at North Carolina but was able to hang on for a 21-20. The Tigers remain projected to be the No. 2 seed in the final College Football Playoff Rankings, but that performance begs the question of whether Clemson could make the CFP with a loss.
I would not like its chances. Clemson’s ACC schedule is not good enough for the Tigers to sustain a loss in the regular season and make much of a claim to be selected for the playoff. The ACC is way down this year with Virginia as the only other team besides Clemson in the current AP Top 25. The Tigers do not play the Cavaliers in the regular season. Clemson could finish 12-1 with a loss to an unranked team and only two wins over ranked opponents. That might not compare favorably to even a 12-1 Pac-12 champion, especially if it is Oregon.
Clemson is assumed to be a playoff team because it is expected to run roughshod through a schedule in which it will be a multiple-touchdown favorite every week. Everybody has an off week. Clemson needs to make sure it does not have another.
2020 College Football Playoff
Short of a major upset involving the Tigers, it does not look good again this season for the Pac-12 to produce a playoff contender. Arizona State’s win at Cal knocked out the remaining unbeaten team in the conference, which means — at best — the league can produce a 12-1 champion. However, the strength of schedule in the Pac-12 — because of general lack of quality nonconference wins — means any 12-1 team will have trouble stacking up to one-loss teams from the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12. Of course, the Pac-12 has to have one of its five one-loss teams win out first, and the parity at the top of the league suggests that may be difficult to achieve.
My New Years’ Six projections have two regular season rematches among them. You might think the CFP Selection Committee would try to avoid that, but their hands are tied. Three of the six CFP bowls are tied to conferences. The Rose (Big Ten vs. Pac-12), Sugar (SEC vs. Big 12) and Orange (ACC vs SEC/Big Ten/Notre Dame) all get either a league champion or the highest rated team remaining from their conference partners.
The committee has the least flexibility this season because none of those three bowls are part of the playoff. So, with the SEC and Big 12 champions in the projected playoff, the Sugar Bowl gets the highest ranked team remaining from each league. That happens to be LSU and Texas in this projection. It does not matter that they played this season and will again next year.
The Orange Bowl gets stuck, too. With Clemson in the playoff, I am projecting the next-highest rated ACC team to be Virginia. Their opponent is the highest remaining team among the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame. That is expected to be the Irish, which would create a rematch of the game played on Saturday.
Selection committee bowl games
It is a potential unfortunate circumstance, but that is what happens when rankings and contracts make decisions. We are not even half-way through the season yet. Those projections will likely still change.
The number of bowl-eligible teams is down to 80 again, which is still more than needed. One team that dropped out this week is Purdue after losing All-America wide receiver Rondale Moore and senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar to injury on the same play in a loss to Minnesota. The teams expected to be bowl eligible but left out are Liberty and Buffalo.