Clemson football’s playoff resume isn’t entirely based on what they do on the field.
Clemson is looking to return to the top of the ACC mountain in 2022, and hopefully that will include another berth in the College Football Playoff. Unfortunately, a spot in the CFP is no longer a lock for the ACC champion, as demonstrated by Pittsburgh in 2021.
The Panthers lost two games and it was enough to keep them out of contention for the playoffs because the perception nationally is that the ACC doesn’t have enough competitive teams to give their champion a strong strength of schedule. If a team doesn’t have a strong schedule, it can put them behind other conference champions who do play tougher opponents, and sometimes behind the runner-up of conferences like the SEC.
While Clemson’s out-of-conference schedule is usually a positive for their resume, in recent years the ACC schedule has usually hurt their overall strength of schedule (SOS). Metrics don’t dictate everything though. Sometimes perception can be swayed in college football with some early season successes. The lack of respect for Clemson’s conference often stems from losses in the non-conference schedule by other ACC teams. If a team that wins an ACC division or is a runner-up loses in the early season to the 5th place team in the SEC West, it reinforces the national belief that the ACC, and thus Clemson’s schedule, is inferior.
If the Tigers can win the ACC championship (which is by no means a slam dunk), they will be a candidate for the CFP. If the ACC teams on their schedule can win these games in 2022, Clemson’s resume will look a lot stronger.