Clemson Football places 3rd in initial College Football Playoff rankings

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Clemson football holds the No. 3 spot in this year’s first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings. At 7-1, Dabo Swinney’s team only trails the 7-0 Alabama Crimson Tide (No. 1) and 8-0 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (No. 2). However, there’s a chance that Clemson moves at least into the No. 2 spot before the College Football Playoff begins.

Clemson’s only loss came several weeks ago in a double-overtime contest against Ian Book and the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame prevailed 47-40, but a rematch looms on the horizon. Assuming the Tigers take care of Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech and Notre Dame loses fewer than two of its final three games, the two ACC powerhouses will square off in the ACC Championship Game.

Conference champions have a huge advantage when it comes to making the College Football Playoff. Both programs should treat the game as a do-or-die matchup. If the Fighting Irish lose, they open the door to let the playoff selection committee bounce them out of the top four in favor of an extra SEC team. If the Tigers lose, they’ll miss the playoffs with two losses.

The Tigers should view holding the No. 3 seed as a short-term win. That puts some cushion between them and the two SEC teams looking to break into the playoffs (Texas A&M and Florida). Even if Clemson struggles as Trevor Lawrence readjusts to game action after missing time with COVID-19, the Tigers should retain a spot in the playoff picture.

The selection committee made the right decision elevating Clemson over the 4-0 Ohio State Buckeyes. While Ryan Day’s team just beat a talented Indiana Hoosiers squad by one score, that’s the only formidable opponent they’ve faced all year. Ohio State’s other wins came against Nebraska, Rutgers and an 0-5 Penn State team. With only four games under their belt to Clemson’s eight, the Buckeyes don’t deserve a higher seed than the Tigers.

Four ACC teams finished in the College Football Playoff selection committee’s top 25. The North Carolina Tar Heels claimed the No. 19 spot despite three-point losses to the unranked Florida State Seminoles and Virginia Cavaliers. The 7-1 Miami Hurricanes finished tenth, trailing the 5-2 Georgia Bulldogs.

Manny Diaz’s Hurricanes suffered trials in recent weeks, narrowly beating their last three opponents by nine points combined. However, Miami’s only loss is still the 42-17 beat down they suffered at Clemson’s hands in early October. Having a win over a top-10 team gives the Tigers hope of holding onto a spot above Ohio State, assuming that neither Clemson nor Miami drop another game this season.

As Clemson learned in its loss to Notre Dame, player health is critical to finishing the year strong and making a significant playoff push. Getting Lawrence on the field is the first step to assembling a healthy team, but getting Tyler Davis, Mike Jones Jr., James Skalski, and all of the players who went down in the Notre Dame game back could be Clemson’s biggest challenge this season.