I hate to say I told you so, but…well, I kinda did.
And now that Clemson has lost, we are reminded—once again—that conventional wisdom exists to be contradicted in 2016. The Tigers’ one-point defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh came out of nowhere for many observers, and it wasn’t the only one. College football was turned upside down on Saturday—or so it seemed.
It turns out that the system works just like we all knew (or should have known) it did: Teams that only lose once and win their respective divisions and conferences qualify for the College Football Playoff. That’s why Clemson’s loss isn’t the end of the world.
Certainly, this feels like the end of the world, precisely because it’s the end of an era. Clemson went just more than two full regular seasons without losing a single game. It hadn’t lost against an unranked team in five years, and it hadn’t lost at home to one since Dabo Swinney’s first game as interim coach back in 2008.
Just because losing doesn’t happen often at Clemson right now doesn’t mean it’s uncommon for the rest of the country. Over the past two seasons, only two unbeaten teams have made the College Football Playoff. The other six had one loss.
Clemson was the perfect representative a year ago, while Florida State went into the inaugural playoff with an unblemished mark in 2014. Neither of them won the national championship. Only one made it past the semifinals.
The fact is that while Clemson fans were mourning a rare home loss to an unranked opponent, its peers at the tip-top of the college football mountain were also feeling the pressure of playing for high stakes in November. This has created an interesting dynamic since the chaos that defined last Saturday on the gridiron promises to affect the CFP rankings very little, if at all, this week.
Conference championships still reign supreme. Head-to-head matchups still break ties. Strength of schedule and victory are still significant factors in the big picture. None of that has changed.
Because of this, almost no one—some lunatic fringe prognosticators who like to rock the boat notwithstanding—has Clemson outside of its top four. Even those that do are accepting the premise that the committee will contradict itself by putting a team like Louisville ahead of the Tigers in spite of all the factors listed above.
Slowly but surely, this realization is spreading throughout the Clemson fan base. The doom and gloom that followed Saturday’s debacle have been replaced with a sense of optimism because the national media members that have bailed in the past are sticking around this time to see if giving the Tigers the benefit of the doubt will bear fruit.
When the committee’s rankings are unveiled on Tuesday night, Clemson’s name will likely be one of the four listed in the virtual bracket. Even if it isn’t, though, it’s assumed that winning a proverbial conference championship will rectify the situation. Clemson is still in control of its destiny.
This is all very new for a fan base that still thinks of itself as a group of low-class citizens. Clemson is at its best when it can unite to protest alleged unfair treatment by the elite class, whether it’s an extra year of probation in the ‘80s or an array of questionable calls just a few short days ago.
Clemson isn’t getting the shaft anymore. It’s new, and it’s weird, and it might make fans feel icky. But it’s happening, and Tuesday’s rankings should prove it, once and for all.
One-loss Clemson, welcome to the big time.