CLEMSON – Clemson has been ranked in the Top 4 of each and every College Football Playoff ranking over the past two seasons, but that streak could be in jeopardy come Tuesday night.
The first College Football Playoff rankings for 2017 will be announced Tuesday at 7 p.m. on ESPN, and the Tigers may find themselves on the outside looking in for the first time.
The defending national champions are 7-1 overall and 5-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference after Saturday night’s 24-10 victory against Georgia Tech, but the lofty ranking to which the Tigers have grown accustomed is being challenged by multiple undefeated teams and a one-loss Ohio State that toppled No. 2 Penn State on Saturday.
So do the Tigers belong in the playoff?
It depends on who you ask, but at this point probably not.
If more than a couple of the top challengers win out, Clemson’s loss at unranked Syracuse on Oct. 13 could weigh heavily against the Tigers.
Alabama, which lost to Clemson in last January’s National Championship Game and has been ranked No. 1 in both polls through this season, and Southeastern Conference counterpart Georgia are both unbeaten at 8-0. Although they would meet in the SEC Championship Game, the selection committee could very well include the loser in the playoff since their lone defeat would be at the hands of a highly rated opponent.
Neither Alabama nor Georgia has a brutal schedule ahead, although both must play at Auburn, which is ranked 16th.
Ohio State would seem a lock as well, particularly if it runs the table and claims the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes lost to Oklahoma, but the Sooners remain a Top 10 team and Ohio State snagged a big signature win by knocking off Penn State.
Wisconsin is unbeaten, but has no signature win and no prospects for one, save for an upset in the Big Ten title game; the Badgers close the regular season with four unranked opponents – Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.
Notre Dame may prove the most problematic obstacle to overcome from Clemson’s perspective. The Fighting Irish are 7-1, but that lone loss was a one-point defeat at the hands of Georgia. Notre Dame has two ranked opponents remaining – Miami and Stanford, both on the road.
Clemson, which entered the weekend ranked No. 7, moved up two spots to No. 5 in the Amway/USA Today Coaches Poll and one spot to No. 6 in the Associated Press rankings. In the AP poll, the Tigers were leapfrogged by Notre Dame, which on Saturday defeated N.C. State – Clemson’s next opponent.
The Wolfpack is 6-2 overall, but remains atop the Atlantic Division – and Clemson – with a 4-0 ACC record. N.C. State slipped to No. 19 in Sunday’s coaches poll.
“We’re excited about going to Raleigh and taking on a really good N.C. State team,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
Clemson will follow that by hosting Florida State and The Citadel before closing the regular season against South Carolina. Clemson’s calling card is it remains the only team in the country to defeat three Top 25 teams.
“We’re right where we want to be,” Swinney said. “It’s November and we’re moving into the next phase of our journey. If we want it, we can go get it.
“We’re one of the teams that has a chance. We’re just thankful we’re positioned the way we are. It’s up to us to take advantage of it.”
After Tuesday’s initial College Football Playoff rankings, new rankings will be announced every Tuesday before the announcement of the four playoff semifinal teams on Sun., Dec. 3.