Before we fall head over heels into rivalry week, let’s examine a particularly precarious situation for Clemson fans.
Let’s suppose Clemson wins on Saturday, ending a four-game losing streak to South Carolina in Columbia with a win over a top ten team. The reason we need to assume a win is that a loss makes all of this null and void.
A week removed from wishing every malady but certain death on Gamecock nation, Clemson’s best chance to possibly play for a national title might be rooting for a result that might ordinarily cause a massive meltdown on message boards and around the water cooler.
That’s right. The Tigers might need South Carolina to win the SEC Championship. Let me explain why.
For starters, I’m throwing out any scenario where Florida State loses a game. The Seminoles will be heavy favorites against a dumpster-fire Florida team and whoever comes out of the Coastal. It’s not about whether FSU wins, it’s about how large the margin is—even if Jameis Winston’s future is decided by the legal system.
Florida State’s virtual automatic bid leaves only one spot in the title game unaccounted for. This is where things get interesting, which is all we need to justify playing a quick game of “What-If”.
What if Alabama beats Auburn this week? Auburn would be knocked behind Clemson in the BCS standings with no games remaining. The Crimson Tide would then win the SEC West title and advance to the conference championship game.
What if Texas A&M beats Missouri on the road this week? This is a more plausible scenario than some people think. Last week’s 24-point beatdown in the Bayou was Kevin Sumlin’s first non-home loss in almost two full seasons at Texas A&M. Johnny Nightlife and company relish the underdog role and may see fit to play with their backs against the wall in Columbia Midwest.
If this happens, South Carolina would win the SEC East, while Mizzou would go down below Clemson in the polls. Keep in mind we’re assuming a Clemson win on Saturday, just for kicks and giggles.
The above scenarios would probably put Clemson into the fourth slot in the BCS standings heading into a bye week in which the rest of the teams above them are in peril. Keep reading—it gets better.
What if Michigan State beats Ohio State to win the Big Ten title? It’s certainly plausible, infinitely more plausible than Devin Gardner leading Michigan to a home win over the Buckeyes. (That game should be preemptively filed into the “LOLOLOL” category of rivalry games.) Sparty can stop people at an impressive rate and has found an offense. I smell an upset brewing.
That would mean only one team stands between Clemson and a spot in the national title game. Which is why we must ask the following question:
What if South Carolina beats Alabama for the SEC Championship?
The question is loaded in so many different ways, especially for Clemson fans. You can never count on Bama dropping multiple spots in the standings after a loss to anyone (see every season since 2008 for further proof of this). It’s still possible Alabama loses to South Carolina, the Gamecocks win the SEC, the Tide drop to second place, and they still play for a title while the Tigers become the third wheel.
It’s dicey because of this. Just imagine for a second rooting for South Carolina to win a conference title so you can get to the national title game, only to see the team they beat back into it—leaving Clemson stranded in a BCS bowl somewhere south of Orlando.
If Clemson fans rooted for the Gamecocks to win a conference title, then failed to reap the desired benefits, the current four-game losing skid in the rivalry may pale in comparison to the disappointment felt by the Tiger base.
The slightest alteration could render this whole experiment meaningless. An Auburn win over Alabama on Saturday means both of those teams would likely sit stop Clemson in the standings, blocking any chance of ascending into the second slot. Ohio State winning out would throw a monkey wrench into the plans. The same goes for Missouri.
Even if everything goes right for Clemson, the Tigers still may not be able to vault into the national title game. So much has to go so well that it seems downright impossible.
But that’s why we play “What-If”. You never know when college football can get crazy.