ACC: Oh so close …

Clemson is a bystander this weekend when No. 1 Florida State faces No. 20 Duke in the ACC title game. At 10-2, though, the Tigers are ranked No. 13 in the BCS standings, and still very much alive for an at-large BCS bowl berth.

If they finish in the top 14 of Sunday's standings, and if the Seminoles are in the national title game, then the Discover Orange Bowl looks like a very real possibility for Clemson for the second time in three years. (Just check the Twitter accounts of athletic director Dan Radakovich and the Orange Bowl itself.)

Could things have been better for Clemson this season? Possibly. Here's how close the Tigers might have been to playing for it all.

Where it all started: Everything looked Roses for Clemson at the beginning of the season. The Tigers, riding high off consecutive 10-win seasons and an upset over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to close 2012, entered this fall as the preseason No. 8 team in the nation. ESPN's "College GameDay" was on the scene for the Tigers' opener, a tight win over No. 5 Georgia, and a 6-0 start had Clemson all the way up to No. 3 in the country by the time GameDay returned on Oct. 19, when No. 5 Florida State visited.

Where it went wrong: Did someone say Florida State? The Seminoles made their biggest national statement at Clemson, dominating from start to finish in a 51-14 win that, believe it or not, probably was not indicative of just how badly they outplayed the Tigers. The initial BCS standings were unveiled a day later, with Florida State up to No. 2 and Clemson falling to No. 9.

Where it got back on track: Clemson recovered nicely from the loss to the Seminoles, winning its next four games by double digits and eclipsing the 50-point total in three of those four contests. Tajh Boyd rewrote the ACC record books during the quarterback's farewell tour, and the Tigers climbed back up to No. 6 in the BCS standings heading into their regular-season finale at rival and 10th-ranked South Carolina, which then beat them 31-17 for the fifth straight time.

Here is the thing about that game, during which Clemson lost the turnover margin by a ridiculous 6-0: The Tigers may have still had a slim shot -- with an emphasis of the word slim -- at getting to Pasadena, Calif., going into this past weekend. It would have taken a lot to fall into their favor, but think about some of these possible scenarios had Clemson beaten the Gamecocks: then-No. 3 Ohio State loses (which it almost did to Michigan, and still could this weekend against Michigan State), then-No. 5 Missouri loses to then-No. 21 Texas A&M (close, but no cigar) and the South Carolina team that Clemson just beat then tops Auburn in the SEC title game.

The decision for which team plays Florida State in the BCS title game then may essentially have come down to Clemson and Alabama, an argument that the Crimson Tide probably would have won anyway -- especially since no one wants to see a rematch of a game that was decided by 37 points -- but it is worth pondering. (Georgia, after all, recovered from a 35-7 loss to rival South Carolina last year to come within five yards of playing for it all.)