Clemson’s playoff bid takes hit, then falls back into place in few chaotic hours
Chaos parked its car outside of college football's door, pulled out a boom box and then went all Lloyd Dobler in the front yard.
They were made for each other, and Clemson got to ride this love roller coaster through its sorrow and majesty.
Take stock of the situation after Pitt's Chris Blewitt nailed a 48-yard field goal with six seconds left to knock off the second-ranked Tigers 43-42 Saturday, a loss that seemingly left the conference with no clear path to the College Football Playoff.
The Tigers were and are still in the driver's seat in the Atlantic Division — which they can clinch next weekend at Wake Forest — and Clemson was in position to stay ahead of current No. 6 Louisville, thanks to that head-to-head win. But Dabo Swinney's crew didn't have enough opportunities ahead of them to make up ground to get back into the playoff picture.
That was only compounded with what happened on the other side of the conference.
No. 14 Virginia Tech needed only a win at home — where it has won by an average of 26 points — and instead lost 30-20 to Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium. Along with No. 17 North Carolina stumbling 28-27 at rival Duke, we'll enter the final week of the regular season with two in-state rivalry games deciding the Coastal division.
That scenario was going to leave Clemson hoping the Hokies or Tar Heels could give them enough of a boost in the ACC Championship Game to differentiate itself from the other on-loss teams. That all-important conference title was still there, but had the Tigers — pardon the pun — Blewitt?
But then No. 4 Washington stumbled 26-13 at home to 20th-ranked USC and minutes later, Iowa knocked off No. 3 Michigan 14-13 on freshman Keith Duncan's 33-yard field goal at time expired.
Now, Clemson may be right back where it started, and with the same objective: win out and Dabo Swinney and Co. are headed right back to the playoff.
The Big Ten is now a mess. No. 5 Ohio State would seem to be a beneficiary, except that the Wolverines' loss now means that if the Buckeyes knock off their rivals on Nov. 26, it could put two-loss Penn State in the title game opposite No. 7 Wisconsin since the Nittany Lions knocked off Ohio State.
Washington's resume was oft-criticized, with the selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt saying after last week's ranking unveil that there was much deliberation between the Huskies and Buckeyes at No. 4. Now, there is no debate, and the Huskies figure to be behind the other one-loss teams in Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State, Louisville and West Virginia.
Speaking of the Mountaineers and the Big 12, that conference just got a lot more interesting. Current No. 16 West Virginia faces No. 11 Oklahoma next weekend, a game that could — along with the Sooners' regular-season finale vs. No. 13 Oklahoma State on Dec. 3 — position its champion as a viable threat to break into the top four, especially if the Huskies happen to stumble in the Apple Cup opposite No. 23 Washington State.
There is still the Cardinals factor as far as Clemson is concerned.
Pulling past Wake Forest 44-12 after a slow start gives Bobby Petrino's crew five straight wins, three of which have come by 30-plus points. There is the possibility the Cardinals could find themselves ahead of the Tigers in the next set of rankings, though it seems unlikely given the 42-36 loss Oct. 1 in Death Valley. Plus, the Cardinals can't even play for a league title unless Clemson falls to the Demon Deacons.
The committee's infatuation with a conference title and a non-champion needing to be “unequivocally one of the four best teams in the country” may be one of the things that Heisman Trophy leader Lamar Jackson can't hurdle for the Cardinals.
As a certain Presidential Election showed us, forecasting can be a fool's errand, and trying to understand how the CFP's think tank is going to sort things out after this chaotic Saturday may be a fool's errand in its own right.
But what's certain is that in a matter of hours, Clemson went from all but spoiling its hopes of returning to the playoff to getting right back in the mix.
Welcome back, chaos — and just when we thought you didn't have it in you this season, you go and send shock waves through the entire college football nation.
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, 'Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,' is out now, and 'The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners' will be released Nov. 22, 2016.
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