Clemson Football is undefeated at 5-0 and ranked #5 in the AP Top 25 poll. They have wins over Wake Forest & NC State, the two teams considered to be the biggest competition to the Tigers in the ACC Atlantic division.
The season has gone well enough that the question is now being asked: Is Clemson a College Football Playoff contender?
The obvious answer is yes, they are most definitely a CFP contender, which means being a contender to make the playoff, not necessarily to win the championship. Most objective observers still consider Clemson to be well outside the Top 3 favorites to win the national championship.
Even Paul Finebaum agrees that Clemson is a contender to make the playoffs, and we know Paul doesn’t say complimentary things about the Tigers unless he has no choice. Nice things about Clemson don’t sell well to Paul’s target market.
"“Absolutely, and I’m surprised I’m saying that because I didn’t think that early on but, look let’s now go back a week and a half and say the Wake Forest game – that was a really good win. I wasn’t overly surprised by what happened last Saturday, I’ve lived in North Carolina long enough to never expect the Wolfpack to do anything important when it matters, but Clemson’s got a really good path. They have Notre Dame later on this season, which doesn’t look all that difficult, so I think they’re in tremendous shape to make the playoffs.”"
It feels good as a Clemson fan to be nearing the midpoint of the season and be squarely in the hunt for a playoff spot. They had been eliminated by this time last year. To stay grounded, I think we need to keep perspective about what it means to be a contender to make the playoff after Week 5. There is still a lot of competition for those four playoff berths.
The traditional rule of thumb is that to make the playoffs, a team can’t have more than one loss.
These Power Five teams are still undefeated.
- Ohio State
- Oklahoma State
- Ole Miss
- Penn State
That is fourteen teams contending for four playoff spots. Several of those teams will play in the regular season, and then might play each other in conference championship games as well, but right now all fourteen of these teams control their destiny.
Remember, contender and favorite have two different meanings. Kansas & Syracuse may not be favorites, but they are contenders.
Additionally, it is not unusual for one-loss teams to grab playoff berths. Several of those fourteen teams could end the season with one loss. There are also sixteen Power Five teams with only one loss so far. Those teams can’t completely be ruled out either. Ohio State lost early in the season to Virginia Tech in 2014. Not only did the Buckeyes rally to win the Big Ten and make the playoff, but they also won the national championship.
I am also taking the liberty of assuming that no one from the Group of Five is likely to pull off what Cincinnati did last season by making the playoff, but if Tulane and/or Coastal Carolina run the table, who knows?
If we aren’t discriminating, being a contender after Week 5 simply means you are one of the thirty Power Five teams that haven’t lost two games yet.
If we want to be more discerning and consider the favorites to make the playoff, then Clemson is still in the discussion, but they have some serious competition. Unless we have chaos, it seems very likely that the SEC champion and the Big Ten champion would be locks for the playoff.
That means the ACC champion, the Big 12 champion, and the PAC-12 champion would be contending for the last two spots, along with teams from the SEC and Big Ten who can finish their seasons with only one loss.
Realistically, Alabama and Georgia could run the table in the regular season, meaning the loser of the SEC championship game could finish 12-1. If the runner-up in the Big Ten East plays the winner close in the regular season and finishes 11-1, they will likely be in the mix as well.
Clemson football is competing for one of the last two playoff spots
If we have chalk for the rest of the season, then Clemson would be competing for one of the last two spots with USC, Oklahoma State, the loser between Alabama & Georgia, and the loser between Ohio State and Michigan.
Clemson presently sits ahead of USC & Oklahoma State, and given their current resume it seems likely their resume will put them in the same position when the CFP committee releases their first rankings in November. Assuming any of the one-loss SEC or Big Ten teams would likely fall in the rankings a little bit, it would appear that Finebaum is right: an undefeated Clemson has a favorable path to the playoffs.