Though No. 4 Clemson is undefeated heading into Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference matchup with Wake Forest (3:30 p.m., ESPN), the Tigers have been less than impressive in their five victories to this point, especially when comparing them to other big-name programs such as Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame.
Those teams have either crushed their opposition or have played well against top 25 competition to this point. Clemson on the other hand struggled at Texas A&M in Week 2, not an easy place to play keep in mind, and then snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Syracuse last week.
Granted, the Tigers had some issues and challenges to deal with last week. Kelly Bryant quit the team after Trevor Lawrence was named the starter at the beginning of the week. Then Lawrence got hurt in the second quarter followed by injuries on the offensive line and in the secondary, two areas the Tigers were already struggling at.
However, behind a running game that netted 293 yards—203 and three touchdowns from Travis Etienne—and backup quarterback Chase Brice making some big-time throws in the fourth quarter, Clemson rallied from 10-points down in the fourth quarter to win.
And though it was an impressive comeback by the Tigers, the nation was not impressed. Clemson slipped to No. 4 in both major bowls and some college football analyst wonder if the Tigers have what it takes to make the College Football Playoff this year.
ESPN’s College Football Playoff Reporter, Heather Dinich, told The Clemson Insider earlier this week, “If Clemson runs the table and wins the ACC – which it is perfectly capable of doing – this is a moot point.”
If anyone should know, it’s Dinich. Because of her relationships with the selection committee members, she has a good feel on what the CFP Selection Committee is thinking from week to week.
However, as Dinich expressed on her many ESPN appearances last weekend, she does have some concerns about the Tigers going forward. From what she has seen to this point, she isn’t convinced Clemson can go unblemished even though the schedule is very favorable.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 ACC) do have to play No. 23 NC State at Death Valley in two weeks, plus there is a trip to Boston College on Nov. 10 on the horizon, and then a possible date with No. 17 Miami in the ACC Championship Game.
Dinich says if Clemson were to lose, like it did the previous two years to Pittsburgh and Syracuse but still made the CFP, it is unlikely to recover this time.
“The biggest difference between this year and last is the rest of the ACC,” she said. “Last year, with (Virginia Tech) and Louisville as ranked opponents — and remember how many ACC teams they played over .500 — plus a ranked Auburn team, Clemson still had a very strong (strength of schedule) in spite of the loss. This year the ACC is weak, which is only an issue if the Tigers lose.”
Dinich said she did not have Clemson in her top four last week because of the quarterback situation, at the time she did not know how long Lawrence was going to be out. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced earlier this week that Lawrence will start at Wake Forest on Saturday.
“In order to beat the elite teams, they need a QB who can make the throws to win the game,” she said. “The secondary also clearly has issues, which Jimbo Fisher first exposed and Syracuse also capitalized on. Yes, the committee considers injuries to key players and they did that in Clemson’s loss last year. They would do it again — same for Ohio State and Nick Bosa.”
However, Dinich’s main concern when it comes to Clemson is its schedule.
“Remember, the committee has to compare the five Power 5 champs after their title games,” she said. “If Clemson is a one-loss champ, how does it’s resume stack up against the others? And does Clemson look like a top four team with whomever is playing QB?”
The CFP Selection Committee will announce its first poll of the year on Oct. 30.