There’s plenty of debate raging about whether a win in the ACC championship game would assure North Carolina a trip to the playoff, but perhaps the more interesting argument is whether a loss necessarily eliminates Clemson.
As our pals over at FiveThirtyEight note, the Tigers’ resume, even with a loss in the ACC championship game, would be solid.
Finally, don’t write off Clemson — which could have an opportunity to make it in even with a loss. In the event it fell to UNC, Clemson would have a résumé similar to Ohio State’s as a one-loss non-champion — but with a better strength of schedule, an additional win (Clemson would be 12-1 to Ohio State’s 11-1), and victories over Notre Dame and Florida State.
It’s an interesting dynamic the committee is no doubt hoping to avoid, but play the scenario out and it’s tough to say Clemson should be on the outside looking in:
Both the Tigers and Buckeyes would lack a conference title.
Clemson would have more wins (12), more top-10 wins (2), more top-25 wins (2) and the same record vs. bowl-eligible teams (6-1). Both teams would have a loss to a top-10 foe. But perhaps most importantly, Clemson’s loss would’ve only occurred because it was forced to play a 13th game that Ohio State didn’t have to play.
And, of course, that opens the door to more North Carolina debate, too, because if the Tar Heels win but miss the playoff because either a team they just beat gets in or a team with a similar resume to the one they just beat gets in, that creates some chaos.
This is a big reason the conference is supposed to value conference champions above all else. To reward a team for not playing while punishing another team — one that was already ranked five spots ahead — for playing an extra game against a top-10 team would be patently unfair.
On the other hand, if Florida upsets Alabama or USC upsets Stanford, those teams certainly wouldn’t make the playoff — even with a conference title. They’re too far back as it is.
In other words, it’s complicated — and perhaps it’s just complicated enough that Clemson’s future could be determined not just by the outcome of Saturday’s game, but by the chaos that ensues from it.