Why a one-loss Clemson should still get in the playoff
It's the oldest cliche in college football, yet it continues to ring true time and time again: Take a weekend that looks boring on paper and something insane is almost guaranteed to happen. It's a college football certainty, like Will Muschamp freaking out at a ref, or Jim Harbaugh washing down every meal with a warm glass of milk.
And if there was ever a doubt, it ran true once again on Saturday, with the most insane hypothetical, of all insane hypotheticals. In an upset no one could have seen coming, Pitt absolutely stunned No. 2 Clemson 43-42 in Death Valley on a field goal with under 10 seconds to go.
The victory is obviously huge for Pitt (it clinched them bowl eligibility in the process) but more importantly, it also throws a huge monkey wrench into the College Football Playoff scenario. At 9-0 entering the game, Clemson seemed destined to make it to the Final Four as an undefeated ACC champion. But now, the Tigers' loss creates a ton of chaos and we're left wondering where Clemson will fall in the playoff pecking order.
Still, while many pundits believe the loss is a death-knell for the Tigers' College Football Playoff chances, I actually believe it's the opposite. If Clemson wins out, they will still represent the ACC in the playoff.
With Clemson's loss, the obvious winner appears to be the Big Ten, mainly because it's now possible – and some would say probable – that both Michigan and Ohio State could get in to the Playoff as one-loss teams.
For that to happen, an undefeated Michigan team would have to lose to Ohio State on the last day of the regular season, and the Buckeyes would need to go on to win the Big Ten title game.
The argument for the Buckeyes to get in over Clemson would be obvious (they'd be a one loss Big Ten champ). But for the Wolverines, they would be 11-1 with their only loss coming to a Top 4 team on the road. Clemson's loss came at home to an unranked Pitt club.
It's a compelling argument, but I don't buy it. Let me explain why.
Since the advent of the College Football Playoff, the selection committee has said all along that when a choice isn't obvious (like say, an undefeated Alabama team this year), they would use a number of other factors to determine other bids. The two main ones are out out of conference scheduling and whether or not a team won their conference championship game.
Looking at out of conference scheduling, the advantage would have to go to Clemson over a one-loss Michigan. Even though the Wolverines scheduled Colorado, that win was at home and no one projected the Buffs to be this good. Clemson on the other hand, went on the road to face a preseason Top 15 team in Auburn — and they won.
Now, to the second point. Let's say Clemson wins out – which would obviously include an ACC title game win – and Michigan loses to Ohio State. At that point, the Wolverines wouldn't even be winners of their own division, let alone conference. So if the committee really values a team being winning its conference championship, how could they possibly give a bid to Michigan (assuming they're a one-loss non-championship team)? In theory, it would also eliminate Louisville as well.
For some historical context, a precedent was already set two years ago, when on the final night of the season, Ohio State thumped Wisconsin in the conference championship game on their way to a Big Ten title. TCU and Baylor were both tied at the top of the Big 12 but no true champion of the league was determined. That reason – the whole “one true champion” thing – was cited by the committee as a large reason why Ohio State got the nod over the Horned Frogs and Bears. It's also the reason the Big 12 added a conference title game.
Now, will it all play out like this? You never know because the committee seems to waver on their criteria from week-to-week. But if they stay true to their word, Clemson should have nothing to worry about.
To quote Aaron Rodgers, “R-E-L-A-X” Tigers fans.
Win out, and you should make the playoff.